This is a column I wrote in 2004 when I met the Google doodler at the time. I was reminded of the proflic doodlers today with Google’s toast to Yosemite Park’s 123d birthday on the very day it was closed because of the government shutdown.
You want pressure?
Try sitting in Dennis Hwang’s chair the day before Earth Day, knowing that tens of millions are waiting to see what you’re going to do about it.
“The number of people that see my images is mind-boggling, ” says Hwang, 26. Hwang, you see, is the Google Doodler, a man in one of the hottest seats at one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. It’s Hwang’s job to create the whimsical holiday logos that regularly show up on Google’s main page — a page visited by many tens of millions of Web searchers every day.
He’s not bragging. More marveling.
Who would have thought Hwang’s art would become among the most widely viewed in the world?
You bet users expect something special when a special occasion rolls around. And Hwang, who works primarily as a Web master, feels an obligation to deliver.
Think about it. Anybody who visits Google regularly (OK, everybody) has seen Hwang’s modifications of the multicolored Googlelogo. Not since the Yahoo Yodeler has a search engine icon reached such heights.
“I don’t walk around going, ‘Oh, I’m the Google designer, ‘ ” Hwang says.
Of course, he doesn’t. He’s an artist — an artist who creates art for art’s sake. Well, and for Google’s sake.
It started simply enough, back in 2000, when Hwang was hired as an intern at the Mountain View company. The doodles, which were created by a contractor at the time, were already appearing on the company’s site. Hwang occasionally would clean up the designs.
“I started dabbling in it, ” he says. “They later found out I was an art major.”
And it was all over.
Hwang became the go-to guy. New Year’s Day? Hwang. Martin Luther King Day? Hwang. Valentine’s Day? Hwang.
Fan e-mails poured in with praise and suggestions. A small committee was formed (hey, it is a corporation) to decide which days to commemorate.
The committee wanted to mark the traditional holidays, but it wanted to throw in a few curves, too. So, the anniversary of flight was doodled, and Einstein’s birthday. And of course, Gaston Julia.
“Sometimes I have to do extensive research, ” Hwang says.
(Of course, we all know Gaston Julia was the French mathematician known for his work on the iteration of rational functions.)
Hwang’s work has become a happening. His images, which usually play off at least one letter in Google, are preserved at http://www.google
logos.html. Doodle fans have sent in their own versions, some of which are also displayed on the sites.
Hwang plays it close to his vest. He won’t say what’s coming next. And no, he won’t say whether he has anything in mind for Google’s expected initial public stock offering.
His doodles still bring in oodles of laudatory e-mail. Well, mostly laudatory. There was the DNA incident. After Hwang sketched a double helix among G-O-O-G-L-E to mark the 50th Anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s structure, he heard from renowned scientists.
Great job, they said, except two of the threads were intertwined in reverse order.
“They were just joyfully pointing it out, ” Hwang says.
It’s all part of being in the hot seat — a seat from which Hwang anxiously counts down to his next doodle-worthy day.
(Photo of Dennis Hwang by Mercury News photographer Nhat V. Meyer)