Irina Blok may have drawn one of the most recognized logos in the world, but her association with the green Android has not made her famous. Blok can think of only one incident when she garnered the public’s attention for designing it. In 2010, she and her 6-year-old daughter were in a movie theater waiting for “Alice in Wonderland” to begin when an Android logo flashed on the screen. Her daughter, Blok recalls, suddenly stood up and yelled, “My mommy invented that!” Everyone in the row in front of them turned around to stare. Blok was so embarrassed, she says, that she sank down behind her tub of popcorn.
Click here to view the Original Image Size
The Android logo was born three years earlier, when Blok worked as a designer at Google. As Google prepared to endorse the Android software platform for mobile devices, Blok and her design-team colleagues were told to create a look for the software — something that consumers could easily identify. The logo, she was told, should involve a robot, and so she studied sci-fi toys and space movies — anything that might help her create a character. In the end, she took inspiration from a distinctly human source: the pictograms of the universal man and woman that often appear on restroom doors. She drew a stripped-down robot with a tin-can-shaped torso and antennas on his head.
While Blok worked on her design, she and her colleagues agreed that the logo, like the software, should be open-sourced. “We decided it would be a collaborative logo that everybody in the world could customize,” she says. “That was pretty daring.” Most companies, of course, defend their trademark from copycats, and million-dollar lawsuits have been filed over the rights to corporate insignia. This one would remain free.
In the years since, the Android logo has been dressed up as a ninja, given skis and skateboards and even transformed into a limited-edition Kit-Kat bar. Blok (who is now creative director at Edmodo, a social network for students and teachers) says that creating the logo was like raising a child: “You give a life to this individual, and then they have a life of their own.”
Ji Lee, a communications designer at Facebook, has created logos for nonprofits, stores and start-ups.
What makes a great logo? Simplicity and timelessness. Those are two very difficult things to achieve. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of companies trying to update their logos — Yahoo has just introduced its much-debated logo. And AT&T, U.P.S., Pepsi and American Airlines are also giving themselves little face-lifts. But a great logo shouldn’t need any revision. The logos of I.B.M., Nike and FedEx have survived the test of time. That has a lot has to do with their simplicity. I can’t imagine Nike’s logo changing, even in a hundred years; there’s nothing left to subtract.
Why are you a fan of the FedEx logo? Between the letters E and X there is negative space that forms the shape of an arrow. It’s a subtle wink, so at first you don’t notice it. FedEx’s public-relations firm wanted to highlight the arrow so it would be obvious. But the designer, Lindon Leader, fought them on that — he thought it would be overkill. There’s something about making people discover something on their own that’s a lot more powerful than italicizing it to make your point.
You designed a logo for the New Museum — it’s an outline of the building facade, with no words. What was the idea there? The New Museum at the time was opening its new location and new building, and Droga5 — the ad agency I worked for then — ended up doing the campaign. We realized the silhouette of the building could become an icon for the entire institution.