The Israeli Woman Behind the Google Logo

Ten years ago at Stanford, two students asked Ruth Kedar to design a logo for their new company.

Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar
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Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar

Ruth Kedar could have been a rich woman today. Ten years ago at Stanford University, two students asked her to create logo for their new company.

Unlike other start-up companies at the time - which offered shares in exchange for such services - these entrepeneuers believed in their company and insisted on paying for the design.

Kedar designed the logo and moved on. The two students also moved on, and while the names Larry Page and Sergey Brin may not be known to everyone, there are very few people who have not heard of their company, Google.

The logo itself has become one of the symbols of the modern Internet age.

Kedar, 53, was born in Brazil and moved to Israel at a young age. She studied architecture at the Technion in Haifa, completing her degree in 1979. At the time, she did not want to learn graphic design, because - in her words - she was more interested in computers and mathematics.

Her dream was to bridge architecture and graphic design. But all the designers she spoke to told her she was overqualified and the architects did not have the funding to employ her.

In the end, Kedar approached Zacharia Drucker, one of the biggest Israeli contractors at the time, and set to work with him on a number of signage projects.

In 1985, she moved with her then-husband and two children to complete a masters degree at Stanford University and stayed in California afterward. The topic of her thesis? To design a deck of cards.

"What attracted about the product was that it had existed for thousands of years and is used in an infinite number of games. You can use it to play solitaire on the computer, kids have their own games, and in the casino, you play poker," she said.

In 1988, she was approached by Adobe company, now the the world's largest graphics programming company. The company asked her to design a pack of cards to accompany the launching of their Illustrator - a program still used today.

Kedar continued to work at Adobe as an art director, and at the same time began to teach at Stanford. She later left the company to open up her own graphic design studio.

In her first meeting with Page and Brin, Kedar says, the two told her they were establishing a company based on Internet searches.

"Most of the companies that offered searches at the time were big portals like Lycos, Netscape and Hotbot, and results of the searches were similar to results from the Yellow Pages: If you wanted to appear in them you had to pay," Kedar said.

"This was the beginning of the era of gathering information on the Web. Sergey and Larry wanted to do something else, what we call today an 'organic search' or a 'natural search', which brings relevant results. They already believed then that the future of the Internet was hidden in searches," she said.

There are two reasons why the Google logo looks so simple: First, it is based on an earlier sketch Brin designed using the free design program GIMP; second, was the designer's decision to create something simple, catchy and user-friendly.

While first sight the logo seems basic, as if it were never really "designed," Kedar says that it went through many changes along the way.

"Someone who sees the logo for the first time doesn't necessarily need to absorb all the layers and considerations behind every decision - it's better for him to discover something new every time," she said.

Page and Brin, Kedar says, knew from the beginning of the process what they needed. They did want to be perceived as part of the establishment, as something heavy and cumbersome - they wanted to break conventions and create something completely new. This, Kedar says, is another reason the logo comprises only letters and no symbols.

"From the outset, it was clear to us that the name of company had to stand at the center of the logo," she said. "It must be remembered that at the time, many people were afraid to use the Internet, and it was important to broadcast something user-friendly both on the home page and in the logo. Something simple, that you didn't need to be scared of, something catchy and full of life."

The use of primary colors - blue, yellow and red - was born of the same desire, to design something that at first sight wouldn't be threatening.

"With green there is something that stands on its own, that's not apologizing," she said, "and also the two Os that lean slightly to their sides. This gives a little drive to the logo, but also shows that nothing on this site is standard."

Kedar demonstrated, using some of the earlier sketches, the quest to represent the infinite search.

In one old sketch, an 'O' is transformed into a magnifying glass, an attempt to show that search results bring the seeker closer to his goal.

Another sketch has the 'O's at the center of a target to portray accuracy, and to emphasize that the result of a search is important.

Kedar even used capital letters in one design, in contrast to the final result in which only the G appears in capitals. This was intended to instill a feeling that the company is solid and serious, while attempting to protect the feeling of playfulness that comes from every letter being a different color.

In yet another sketch, Kedar turned one of the Os into a face and added a smile, in an attempt to portray a positive search experience.

Kedar says that when she first brought the sketches to Page and Brin, they would look at the pages, place them on the table, and discuss with their visions for the company.

"It was important for them to tell me about themselves, what they believe in, where they see themselves in the future and which people they were looking for to work with them, even at a time when the entire company numbered five people," she said.

"In general, when people speak about their big dreams in life, they apologize many times for it, for the pretension. They [Brin and Page] weren't like that. It was clear to them from the start that they had something big in their hands."

Kedar is no longer perturbed by the criticism that any child could draw the Google logo.

"Ultimately, the question was whether to portray a feeling of playfulness without using a familiar symbol that would limit us in its meaning, something that is possible to appreciate in retrospect," she said.

"We worked very hard in order to create something simple, and that's also the reason all the other sketches were cancelled out on the way. Or that they were sophisticated, or that they were too sharp. We didn't want Google to be restricted to something, just like the search is also not restricted."

Ten years later, the logo Kedar designed still continues to touch and surprise her.

"It somewhat amuses me to turn on the computer and look at the logo I designed. But it also fills me with pride," she said. "When you say Google to people today, they immediately see the colorful logo."

"Also, 'Google doodles' - the illustrations of Dennis Hwang that accompany the logo in special events - don't disturb the design. On the contrary, they awaken the strength of the product and play with the logo in an exciting and very nice way," she said.

"From my point of view, that is a big achievement," she said. "I get a lot of pleasure from this child."



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