Android, not built by robots

Thanks to the explosive growth of the smartphone market, Google’s Android logo is becoming ubiquitous – it’s another example of the successful ‘five-minute icon’

Part of the skill of designing memorable marks is in making it seem like they only took five minutes. A few, though, really are instant.

My personal favourite in the ‘five-minute icon’ category is the Greenpeace ‘graffiti’ wordmark. The organisation didn’t have an official logo until one of its Paris volunteers, needing a mark for a publication, thought of asking an artist friend to help out. He found him in a bar around the corner, gave him a fat green felt tip and a beermat, and the rest is history.

Perhaps the latest example of the five-minute icon is the symbol for Android, the open source smartphone operating system developed by Google, which is rapidly achieving a form of ubiquity, and was designed and signed off with uncommon briskness.

The little green automaton was the creation of Google’s own Creative Labs, the multimedia hothouse responsible for new and ingenious ways of marketing the digital giant, such as Parisian Love and its Search Stories ads, and the Arcade Fire video, The Wilderness Downtown.

In October 2007, Irina Blok was one of the small team tasked to create a logo for Android, which Google had acquired two years earlier and was planning to launch. “The objective was to create a mark that spoke to what the company stood for, and established an emotional connection with the brand,” Blok recalls. “The logo was targeting developers – it was meant to be a bit like the Linux penguin. We didn’t expect it to become consumer facing in such a huge way.”

After a discussion with Android founder, Andy Rubin, and some mood-boarding of robots and possible design directions, the four designers got down to drawing. Four days later, all agreed that the pick of the bunch was the basic, green, unisex droid Blok had sketched in the first five minutes. “I think the simplicity of the mark really made a statement,” she says.

Four years later, Android has 50% of the smartphone OS market and there are 200,000 Android apps. Like the Android platform, the logo is open source; anyone can modify it and make it their own. “It’s cool to see how it has taken on a life of its own,” says Blok. “It’s just like giving birth.” Samsung, Motorola and T-Mobile are all using their own 3d versions of Blok’s droid in their commercials, posters and in-store displays. There are even droid toys and apparel. “It was the most important five minutes of my design career so far,” says Blok.

There’s something irresistible about the instant logo – the one that someone doodles minutes after the client’s brief and ends up everywhere. It seems to satisfy the desire in most of us for the signs of our time to be the product of raw human imagination, rather than the outcome of protracted analysis, discussion and collaboration.

But the truly instant logo is a rare thing. Even those conceived on the bus, in a cab or in the shower are often preceded by months of immersion in the client’s issues, not to mention years of learning and doing, trial and error. As Paula Scher said of the Citibank logo, drawn on a napkin in her first meeting with the client: “It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.” 

Michael Evamy is the author of LOGO and the forthcoming Logotype, both published by Laurence King.

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