New Google Favicon (sucks or not?)

Google introduced an new favicon that looks like this
new google favicon

And this is the old favicon …. I think you re all familiar with it.

classic google favicon

Which one of these favicons could you pick out of a lineup? Whether they’re in your dock, taskbar, bookmark list, feed reader, or browser tab, the whole point of icons is to differentiate themselves. For sadistic bonus points, the new Google favicon is translucent, so in an unselected browser tab it’s even harder to see:

new google favicon sucks

It’s disturbing to see Google attempting to “prettify” their favicon. Google has always been about applications that are homely but powerful and easy to use. The old favicon was hideous‡ but it did its job better than the new glossy, drop shadowed, translucent one.

Why is the new Google favicon so ugly?

When I first saw the new lowercase “g” favicon for Google, I thought it was a glitch. The blue of the icon was a bit too bright for my taste, and the “Web 2.0″ spin on it (shiny, rounded-corner button) was not characteristic of Google at all. A few hours later I saw that people started to talk, nay, complain about it. And then I realized it was a tiny Google redesign, after all.

Here’s the official explanation from the Google Blog:

Some people have wondered why we changed our favicon — after all, we hadn’t in 8.5 years(!). The reason is that we wanted to develop a set of icons that would scale better to some new platforms like the iPhone and other mobile devices. So the new favicon is one of those, but we’ve also developed a group of logo-based icons that all hang together as a unified set.

And here’s the whole suite of icons for the redesign:

It looks a bit nicer in higher resolutions, but as a favicon, not at all. The small “g” is just a few pixels away from becoming indistinguishable to the number “8″. It also looks like it’s struggling to stand up straight, but failing miserably at it.

How much does Google favicon suck?

  1. Mayer claims that the redesign is not final, and is even invoking the wisdom of the masses to submit their own Google favicon ideas. Spec much?
  2. A logo redesign takes a lot of effort (which was also mentioned in the post). The inability to stand by their decision to change the favicon shows flakiness on the company’s part. On the other hand, it’s a good thing for such a gigantic company to be this sensitive about the smallest thing about them. Maybe because they don’t want to act like “the big G”.
  3. The rounded-corner button look and the specific mention of the iPhone tells me they’re designing for Apple, not for themselves or for any other mobile device. Is Steve Jobs this good at being a design dictator?
  4. Users have created scripts to bring back the old favicon.
  5. A comment on TechCrunch: “Google has a design team?” More on that here and here. I’m sorely tempted to write about how Google’s designs are so Web 1.0 (now trying to be Web 2.0), but had no particular reason to. This favicon renewed that desire.

Note: When I use “Web 1.0″ and “Web 2.0″ as design terms here, I mean them sarcastically. I am fully aware that there is no such thing as the “Web 2.0″ look. Glossiness, reflections, and rounded corners are design characteristics that came from Apple first.

Point is, Google never cared about “looking Web 2.0″, never cared about looking a certain way—until this favicon redesign. Despite some very bad design choices, Google’s interfaces are clean, simple, and easy to use. They’re not trying to be what they’re not. But this favicon is. It’s the end of an era, alright.

Remember Blackle? Google is so universal that any small change can turn out to be a huge impact. In the case of Blackle, it was about saving energy. In the case of this favicon, it’s about associating an ever-visible icon on the browser tab bar with the most-used search engine out there. People will have to get used to looking for that small “g” instead of that big “G” when they’re cycling through tabs.

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