There is an extremely common misconception that I encounter over and over when speaking with non-designers about designed things: that simple design is easy design. This has been a particularly irksome recurrence since the recent redesign of Google's visual identity system. I find myself regularly attempting to deflect what I see as sincere but uninformed criticism of the redesign, which many deem simplistic, flat, plain, boring, or otherwise lacking in distinction or embellishment, bells or whistles.
Of course, given Google's ubiquity in the daily lives of so many people, it's not surprising that all kinds of folks, designers and laypeople alike, would have strong opinions about something they see and interact with so often. That said, I strongly suspect that most of the bitterness surrounding the redesign is plain old aversion to change. When you get used to something that you use a lot and come to rely on, you develop an emotional attachment to it and are taken aback if it ever changes substantially. This is a big reason why it's not a good idea for companies to rebrand too often, but sometimes a little facelift is so beneficial to a company's mission or goals that its potential can't be ignored. The people who make these decisions for companies like Google are really good at what they do, and no branding decision of this magnitude is ever taken lightly.
So why, given a supposedly important opportunity to refresh their image, did Google develop something so conspicuously basic? So free of flash and frills? The answer is pretty plain to modern designers, especially those who work in digital environments.
Any creative person you speak to will explain to you that one of the hardest parts of their work is editing—taking a large body of unprocessed ideation and whittling it down to its most important, elemental structure and content. There is great value in simplicity, and it takes enormous skill to selectively refine an idea into a final iteration that satisfies all of its purposes in the simplest, most concise way possible. Time and time again, I hear people criticize beautiful work for being too plain, too bland or too flat, without so much as a passing thought given to the possibility that there might be a perfectly good reason for avoiding graphic over-complication. As it happens, there are a number of reasons, both aesthetic and logistical, why the simplified geometry of the new Google logo should be seen as an improvement.
Of course, Google itself has offered a fascinating explanation of the thought process behind the new look. Even if you're still annoyed for whatever reason by the new mark, you owe it to yourself to at least read through a thoughtfully expressed and beautifully illustrated rundown of the underlying motives. (It's always valuable to hear out a designer's justification for their decisions, and being able to provide such intelligent justifications is a standard to which all designers should be held.) I'll offer my own defense of the new logo here, starting with some technical considerations and moving on the purely aesthetic.
As a company whose interactions with the public occur across an enormous variety of digital media, Google is hugely concerned with how effectively and consistently its brand is communicated on diverse platforms and devices. The new mark addresses this issue in several ways. Its geometric simplicity is more legible and more graphically assertive and recognizable at small sizes than the old serifs were. The Googlites themselves elucidate another advantage which I hadn’t considered until I read about it:
It's not hard, then, to understand what a massive advantage the new mark holds over the old one. Regardless of how you feel about the way it looks, it does an objectively better job carrying the Google brand across the digital landscape to the greatest possible number of users, including those in areas where only low-bandwidth connections are available (rural, poor, developing, etc.). It is a vital part of Google's mission to make their brand and products universally available and trusted, and the new mark furthers that mission better than the old one.
Technical advantages aside, there are also purely aesthetic reasons for the revision. Google’s brand assets always strive to evoke a child-like wonder, playfulness and simplicity. While its UI/UX design has achieved this consistently for years now, its primary logo has continued to cling to a scrap of elegant sophistication with distinctive, sharp serifs and old-fashioned stroke construction. The new mark, at long last, fully embraces the company’s elemental, playfully juvenile aesthetic with geometrically constructed forms that speak of building blocks, games and toys. These appeals to our most elemental creative and curious impulses are essential to Google’s brand, and the new mark supports that brand more perfectly than its predecessor did.
"But I don't like it," you say. It's "ugly" or "dull" or "makes you think of babies." Well it may surprise you to learn that being liked is often not one of the primary purposes of a logo. A visual brand exists to do a job, and while there may be times when that job involves having enough mass graphic appeal to sell imprinted T-shirts and such, most of the time that's not the mark's main function. A logo exists to carry a brand's visual identity in a concise manner across all of the platforms where the public encounters it. It is a cog in the company's grander mechanism whose power is only realized when it is placed in context. When the context is as extensive and diverse as Google's online empire, simplicity becomes not only advantageous but vital. Criticizing a logo for being too simple is like criticizing a stop sign for not being poetic. Ask what the thing was made for.
Google's objective with this redesign was not to produce a logo that people like, but to produce one that works better. The new mark passes this test with flying, bouncing, orbiting, hopping colors.