Sunday, September 27, 2015

Go Ogle

I like to call Google “go ogle,” because that’s what you do. You go there to ogle stuff.

The name makes sense, and so do its colors: primary, basic, something you can build on with a billion shades of nuance or search results.

The capital G, standing alone as a logo, even makes sense too: a pie in wedges, or a clock, or a fat on/off button. It’s fat and stupid and friendly and inviting enough.

But the redesign of the word “Google” is a disaster  trying to be clever. Ostensibly, it reduces the number of bytes it takes to create, and simplifies every shape into geometric elements that are aggressively circular. It’s embraced the sans serif age the way a teenager does when trying out his first tongue kiss: too much too soon, and utterly unrefined. The girl, you, me — pull away afterwards feeling a bit used, a bit embarrassed for leaning in in the first place.

But why?

There’s nothing wrong with sans serif: in the right hands it can be elegant, lightweight, flirting with white space seductively. Gil Sans, Futura: they’re beaux in tuxedos waiting for a dance.

But a sans serif in the wrong hands is a blind date you can’t get out of fast enough — clumsy, heavy-handed, presumptuous.

The new Google is this guy, and boy, is he ugly. Let’s examine why.

The word Google consists of five circles and a straight line. It’s a design fact that Google has exploited in many a Google cartoon. But such a word is highly problematic from a typography perspective. What happens is that the vertical line, the l gets squashed between those circles, leaving the second half of the word feeling claustrophobic, rushed. The same thing happens aurally with the word when you pronounce it: the long o sounds come to an abrupt end with the l.

All that white space inside the circles needs balance: when that font makes the o a circle, it creates discord between the essentially horizontal line of the circles and the vertical of the l, which has been made into a straight line, exaggerating the problem. While the old o’s were also circles, their inside bowls leaned to the left (like the bowl of the g), giving them an elongated element that tricks the eye into thinking they take up less space.

The old logo used a double-looped lowercase g, which drew the eye downward before drawing it up with the l. The new logo cuts that off, pushing the eye straight on to the silent but cheeky e, tilted on its side like a grin that isn’t fooling anyone. It’s supposed to be a rule-breaker, and all it does is remind us how bad those rules are in the first place. I want to slap it silly.

One of the things the red caboose of an e does is echo the big capital G that looks like a thug with its chin stuck out: the letter is based on a circle like the o’s, but proportionately it contains far too much white space in its gaping maw. When the capital G pulls that jaw up into a horizontal, it gives it humility and acts as a reflection of the vertical l.

The art of typography takes into account that individual letters are combined to make whole words, and that the spaces created require careful management. This is called kerning.

There’s a difference between letters that looks like they could have been drawn by a child and letters that looks like a child drew them. The difference is aesthetic refinement. Most of the time this is successful only when it is invisible: when we aren’t even conscious of when it is deployed. Otherwise, what we look at feels dumbed down, rather than revolutionary.

It doesn’t turn you on. It turns you off.

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