In the late 90′s (I think it was 1998), in my role as a website designer, I was at a convention for internet professionals called Internet World in New York City. One of the exhibitors was an enthusiastic group at a low-rent table, with a rather bare bones display, handing out leaflets and encouraging people to check out a new search engine with an odd name.
Alta Vista was the hot search engine at the time, wowing people with its (for the time) large searchable databased index of web sites. Few gave much attention to the upstart, though word was that it was producing surprisingly good results.
Not that many years later, Google became synonymous with searching on the web, and is now an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the globe. One of Google’s original decisions, a choice that made it stand out as something different, was their spare interface; it was an exercise in minimalism amid the other search engines, who were looking to maximize profit by cramming dozens of news, feature and advertising boxes into their search page, to the point where the search feature was almost lost.
Much to their credit, Google has kept that simplicity on their main search page even now. But they have, over the years, lightened it up with variations on their iconic logo; at first with a few cartoon-like objects replacing the “O”s; eventually, as the practice became more common, with more elaborate illustrations, often with the “Google” almost hidden in the design (though always discernible if you look).
The Google Doodles as they are sometimes called, are now done by a team of designers at Google, along with occasional guest Doodles and Doodle contest winners.
Of course, you can always go to the source and view Google’s own archive of Doodles, along with a history of the practice.
One of the features I’ve come to enjoy is the inclusion of a number of Doodles celebrating the birthdays of artists, illustrators and cartoonists.
(Doodles above for: Vincent van Gogh, Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso, Ilya Repin, Leonardo da Vinci, Edvard Munch, Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Norman Rockwell, Albert Uderzo.)