Doodle 4 Google: what does it take to have a Doodle grace the Google homepage?

26 Mar 2014

Kelly McCabe's 'My Adventure in the Jungle', overall Doodle 4 Google Ireland winner

As eight-year-old Kelly McCabe’s winning Doodle welcomes us to the Google Ireland homepage today, we talk to the winning Doodler, competition organiser Karin Griner and professional Doodler Katy Wu about what it takes to create illustrations viewed by millions.

Ireland’s Doodle 4 Google winner was selected from almost 2,400 entries across five age groups ranging from junior infants to sixth-year pupils. This vast selection of drawings was then narrowed down to 300 semi-finalists who faced the expert judging panel.

Imaginosity marketing manager Ciara O’Shea, Irish artist Christine Crotty, and Jim Fitzpatrick, creator of the iconic red and black 1968 Che Guevara poster, then singled out 15 finalists for each category. The finalists’ Doodles went up for a public vote online, receiving more than 130,000 votes in total.

Google Ireland executive assistant Karin Griner, who heads up the competition in Ireland, believes it’s certainly one of the countries where Doodle 4 Google is most popular. She says the judges look for colour and creativity, and how well the letters of the corporate logo have been incorporated into the entries.

The public vote determined the category winners, and then it was the job of professional Doodler Katy Wu to single out an overall winner.

This was Wu’s first time judging a Doodle 4 Google event, which she said was both challenging and really exciting. “There’s a lot of creativity and very unique ideas, and a lot of different age groups too, so it’s very hard to decide from all that.”

Doodle 4 Google Ireland winner

Kelly McCabe jumps for joy at an event in the Google Foundry where she was announced this year’s Doodle 4 Google Ireland winner. Photo by Marc O’Sullivan Photography

The Doodle that started it all

Eight-year-old McCabe from Scoil Carmel Junior National School in Firhouse, Dublin, was over the moon and a little bit in shock at having won, as were her mother and Teresa Lea, her teacher. McCabe was awarded a Chromebook and a €5,000 scholarship fund, as well as a Chromebook for Lea and a €10,000 technology grant for her school.

But, perhaps best of all, McCabe’s Doodle is today featured on the homepage – and she couldn’t ask for a bigger platform for her artwork.

“To be live for millions of people to see, that’s a great incentive (to enter the competition),” said Griner.

But where did all this Doodling come from? As the Google legend goes, it all started when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used the two Os in the company logo as an ‘out of office’ message, just for fun. “That was the first time that someone actually ‘doodled’ with the Google logo, so to speak,” said Griner.

This injection of fun has since grown to become a regular feature on the Google homepage, with a whole team dedicated to Doodling at Google HQ in California.

Doodle 4 Google Ireland winner on Google homepage

Kelly McCabe’s winning Doodle on the homepage

What’s in a Doodle?

While it takes months of gathering submissions, online voting and judging to determine each Doodle 4 Google winner, this lengthy process is typical for creating a Doodle. Once a person, event or subject has been approved, teams of professional Doodlers either choose or are assigned to a Doodle.

For Wu – who worked on Doodles for Halloween 2013, Erwin Schrödinger’s 126th birthday and Frank Kafka’s 130th birthday – Doodles start not with sketches but with research. “Often it’s something I don’t have a very deep understanding of, like a historical person or event in another country,” she said. “I’ll research it online and, if it’s from a different country, I’ll talk to a manager from the Google office in that country to also get more information.”

Just as users often click on Doodles to find out more about the subject, Wu has learned a lot about different people and events around the world through her work. “It’s always interesting in that way,” she said.

“Sometimes (the subject) is well known,” she said. “But when it’s not well known it can pique someone’s curiosity, and when they click on it it will go to a Google search and then they can go down the rabbit hole in that way.”

For interactive Doodles, like the Halloween one, Doodlers might start work five to six months in advance, but, generally, the intensive Doodling starts about three months before it goes live.

Erwin Schrödinger's 130th birthday Google Doodle

Physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s 130th birthday Doodle

Making the cut

Wu previously worked on animated feature films but, when the studio shut down, she made the move to the Google Doodle team. Though she describes it as “the odd duck” in terms of a career choice, she’s happy with how things worked out.

As well as marking major holidays and events, Google also honours people who have made a contribution to the world as we know it. The selection process is as rigorous as the design work that follows, though, as the company with the motto ‘don’t be evil’ has to ensure it doesn’t Doodle for any unsavoury characters.

“We want to make sure that we don’t accidentally celebrate someone who was a racist or killing people,” as Wu puts it.

It has often been pointed out that Doodle honorees are mostly men, and Wu acknowledges this, noting that the search giant strives to reach a gender balance with Doodles. However, sometimes the history books are against them.

“We’re trying to remedy that (gender imbalance) by making sure that the percentage of Doodles on women are increasing, but the unfortunate thing is that women are often not recorded in history, so we often have to dig very deep to find women candidates to do Doodles on – probably because mostly men were writing history!” she said.

For the females who perhaps haven’t been recognised in the past, a Google Doodle can offer long-overdue worldwide recognition.

Grace Hopper Google Doodle

A Doodle for computer scientist Grace Hopper, which appeared in December 2013

Doodle what you love

McCabe’s Doodle isn’t about a historical figure or international event. It was created under the theme ‘My Adventure’ and, as she wrote in her supporting statement, “The jungle is where you can find lots of exciting things, just like Google.”

“To me it’s not always about technical skill. Sometimes it’s about what image is the most eye-catching,” said Wu, explaining her winning selection. “I felt like her characters had a lot of personality. It was just a really fun image to look at.”

McCabe also revealed the source of her inspiration. “I just love drawing animals and that’s the first thing that popped into my head,” she said.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.