GOOGLE ICON PIONEER

Google Icon Pioneer
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GOOGLE ICON PIONEER



Written by Flora King
13 Monday 13th September 2010

You’ve probably never heard of him, yet he’s arguably the most famous artist of our time. Meet Dennis Hwang, Google’s undercover doodler. Until recently, if somebody had asked me who Dennis Hwang was, I’d have drawn an absolute blank. Dennis who? No, doesn’t ring a bell I’m afraid. If the name means absolutely nothing to you either, then you’ll be as equally shocked to learn that Hwang is in fact an artist, and not just any artist… quite possibly the most famous living artist in the world. I’m not talking Picasso or Van Gogh famous.

Hwang’s work doesn’t hang in gilded frames and attract huge-scale heist operations from the Louvre or the Tate. But it is viewed by 180 million people each day. And even if you think you’ve never seen one of his artistic creations – unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last ten years – there’s an almost 100% likelihood that you will have done.

In truth, Korean-born Hwang is not some extra in a Kung Fu movie (as his karate-chop resonant surname might suggest), but the resident graphic artist for the biggest internet search giant on the planet, and the man attributable for brightening up our dull Monday mornings in the office with those quirky, delightfully unexpected Google doodles. Designing Google’s specialty logos ever since web entrepreneurs Larry Page and Sergey Brin commissioned him to commemorate Bastille Day on July 14 2000, Hwang has without doubt become the best known, unknown artist of our time. Once an intern for the company, now as much part of the parcel as the CEO himself, his work has achieved cult status in tech and design-savvy circles, and left scores of Google-geeks waiting with baited breath for that next homepage Hwang creation. 
Festivals, sporting events, celebrity birthdays, national holidays and independence days; you name it, Dennis has got it covered. Creating an average of fifty customised logos a year, they’ve ranged from an interactive Pac Man gaming logo, a Thanksgiving turkey raking leaves, a double helix logo to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA and a Michelangelo-inspired fresco in honour of the artist’s birthday (the latter drawing vitriolic responses from prudish businessmen for having to confront a nude David during client meetings). In 2004, when an astronomer emailed Hwang to say that within 24 hours Venus would pass in front of the sun for the first time in 122 years, the ever-ingenious designer quickly mocked-up a logo where the Google ‘O’ became the sun, which went live the very next day. Revealing such imagination in his art, such originality and energy, who could fail to love a Hwang logo? Even DNA discoverer James Watson asked for his personal signed copy. 
Besides his role as Google-doodle man, ‘Webmaster’ Hwang – despite being just a tender 29 years old – manages a team of thirty people and is responsible for maintaining the company’s public content web pages in more than 100 languages. The logos themselves are of vital importance, and beyond being whimsical and irreverent little pictures they carry the weight of the entire Google brand image and are hugely responsible for keeping that image consistently fresh. Hwang meets quarterly with a team of corporate big shots and creative directors, considering coming calendar events and planning the logos meticulously. “Showing my mock-up then holding my breath while I wait for Larry and Sergey to do their thumb-up, thumb-down thing is never boring”, says Hwang.
Of all the logos he creates, Hwang’s favourites are the national holidays, as he enjoys the pressure to get it right. But he also worries about finding new ways to be innovative, and says “there are only so many ways to draw a turkey or a pumpkin.” Asked about whether or not he enjoys his job, Hwang’s response is gushing. “Google is the perfect place for me. It allows me to combine my two greatest passions – technology and art – and have a programming job while expressing myself creatively.” Although, interestingly, the actual process of designing is entirely digitised, using a tablet to sketch out the ideas then adding the finishing touches in Photoshop. While Hwang likens his Googleplex office to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the fact he has no imminent plans to leave the empire will come as a relief to most. After all – if this doodle-happy international treasure couldn’t come up with a new way to draw a pumpkin – who the hell could?
To browse Google’s logo archives and see some more of Dennis Hwang’s designs visit www.google.com/logos  

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