Cathie Anderson

Google explains the thinking behind its comment-provoking search page doodles

Fred Korematsu Day is celebrated on Jan. 30 in Hawaii, California, Virginia and Florida.
Fred Korematsu Day is celebrated on Jan. 30 in Hawaii, California, Virginia and Florida. Google

As protests erupted nationwide over President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Google customized its logo with artwork saluting Japanese internment activist Fred Korematsu.

Known as Google doodles, these images are viewed by millions who use the Google search engine daily, and these logo makeovers frequently spark conversation on social media and in the news media. Journalists around the globe wrote about the Korematsu doodle and its reference to another moment in history when a U.S. president played to fears over national security and signed an executive order singling out a group of people.

The Korematsu doodle, however, was also the third time in less than a month that Google had customized its logo to feature Americans who were denied mainstream inclusion because of racial prejudice, gender inequality or discrimination on the basis of national origin or physical ability.

There was disability rights activist Ed Roberts on Jan. 23, pioneering aviator Bessie Coleman on Jan. 26 and Korematsu on Jan. 30. And, on Feb. 1, the start of Black History Month, the doodle celebrated sculptor Edmonia Lewis, who won international acclaim in Rome but encountered racial discrimination that prevented her from completing her fine arts degree at Oberlin College.

The appearance, one by one, of these diverse trailblazers left this columnist wondering what was afoot at Google. Was the emphasis on human rights just a coincidence, or was it an intentional response to reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center and other agencies of increase in hate crimes in the United States following Trump’s election?

To answer these questions and others, Google arranged an interview with Perla Campos, the tech company’s doodle marketing lead.

Q: Has the current atmosphere in the country influenced choices for Google doodles – not just in terms of featuring people of color but also women and a disability rights activist?

A: I would say yes because, with doodles, we try to be as relevant as possible. Obviously ... development of a doodle is a process. Diversity is something that, even before recent events happened, it is something that we’ve embraced.

We try to make sure that our pipeline is as inclusive as possible, to celebrate pockets of people who have not been celebrated as much or who have not been recognized as much. …

Each of those stories (Roberts, Coleman, Korematsu and Lewis) need to be told right now. They are so inspirational. It’s a combination of pleasant coincidence but also us making sure that we are being relevant and inspiring delight and curiosity for people through our content.

Q: What prompted the Korematsu doodle?

A: It was actually an idea that we had received just prior to that doodle’s launch. Timing is everything. It was not only Fred’s birthday but it was Fred Korematsu Day in some states.

I believe California, Florida, Hawaii and one other state (Virginia) consider Jan. 30 to be Fred Korematsu Day, a day dedicated to remembering civil liberties and the Constitution. It was a wonderful time to celebrate him because of his birthday and the day, but also it was a story that we feel was really relevant to current times and we were honored to represent that to people.

Q: What are the responses to, say, the Edmonia Lewis doodle, and others like it?

A: A lot of positivity, for sure. Whenever we launch doodles, we basically look at whether the press is talking about them, but we also check out social (sharing). It’s a huge indicator of sentiment.

We love it when we see a doodle launch, and sometimes within a couple minutes or sometimes within a couple hours, it’s trending on Twitter or Facebook. …

The doodle’s purpose is to make people smile or to make them feel proud of who they are, who they identify with and things they celebrate. If we see a lot of people are talking about them, then it indicates to us that we’re talking about things that resonate with our users, which is our top priority.

Q: You don’t always do a doodle. Is there a certain number you do per country? How does that work?

A: No, there is no set number, and yes, we do run doodles all around the world. It really just varies from year to year, but it’s pretty safe to say there is a doodle running somewhere in the world, if not every day, maybe like every other day. …

We really encourage people to check out our archive. If you go to google.com/doodles, you can see all of the doodles that we have launched, even the ones that aren’t up on google.com, which is the U.S. domain.

Q: Why do the doodle?

A: Our biggest goal as a team, and something we all really rally around, is this idea that Google doodles are to inspire delight and curiosity. We really want to make sure the topics that we’re covering do that and feature people, places and things that really haven’t had the recognition that they deserve in history. …

The Edmonia Lewis doodle kicked off our celebration of Black History Month. That doodle and the one on Bessie Coleman were extra special to me. They were both obviously women, but they were women of biracial backgrounds. Both Bessie and Edmonia were African American and Native American women who really trail-blazed for not only one community but two. Because of that, there were a ton of people internally who it meant a lot to, but also as we saw from the public reaction, it meant a lot to other folks as well. …

Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin) … put up the original doodle as kind of an out-of-office message. (On Aug. 30, 1998, the Google founders integrated the Burning Man stick figure into their homepage logo as a way of indicating they were at the annual festival in the Nevada desert.) That was more just … out of a need to quickly communicate something to our users. … That’s really where the doodle was born, but very early on, as a company, we saw the value and the power that the logo space could have. We very quickly realized, not only is it a way to communicate our values to our users, but it’s also a way we can celebrate them, to let them know we’re not a machine, we’re people just like them, and we have the same values and we celebrate the same things and we cherish the same landmarks that they do.

Want to submit an idea for a Google doodle? Send it to proposals@google.com.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

  Comments