What’s in a Font . . . or a Logo?

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On Tuesday, September 1, 2015, Google introduced a new logo:


I noticed the change the minute I booted up my laptop, which has Google set as its home page. Well, not exactly. I didn’t notice the change; I noticed something different, something not quite what I’d been looking at since 1999.  (You can see changes to the logo across time on Google’s official blog). Since then, the web—and Twitter particularly—has been abuzz with response, with some loving the move, some hating it, and a lot of folks in between.

The new typeface is clean, simple, sans serif. Dubbed Product Sans, it’s reported to have been inspired by schoolbook lettering, yet there’s no old-time feel to it, at least to me. Moreover, in Margaret Rhodes’s take on the changes (in WIRED), Google has also “introduced a suite of sub-logos, like a four-color ‘G’ icon that’ll dot the Google app on phone homescreens, and a microphone icon that guides you through voice search. It’s a self-described “simple, friendly, and approachable” design.” Overall, the new design set aims to come across not as an “all-knowing, all-powerful entity, but as a benevolent guide to this new world—one that considers humans, not machines, the most important thing.” This in spite of the fact that Google exercises enormous power over us and knows more about us than we would like to think.

If there were ever any need for proof that style matters, this would be it. Google—with 70% of the search engine market share—is working overtime to create and recreate its brand image, knowing that there’s a strong relationship between that image and the company’s continued success. We could say the same for Apple, Microsoft, Walmart—or the 2016 presidential candidates, most of whom are struggling to get name—let alone face—recognition in a very crowded field. What Richard Lanham argued in The Economics of Attention (2007) is even more true today: in an age of instant and constant information, what can get and hold our attention wins the day. And that’s all about style.

What this means for teachers of writing has been clear for some time: students need to be able not only to recognize and analyze the stylistic moves others make (such as Google’s change of logo) but to create messages that can gain attention and to build credible ethos for those messages. For me, this means spending more time on rhetorical stance—really interrogating the personae that students create in their digital lives—and on the nitty gritty details of style, including sentence structure, word choice, rhythm, and image. It seems clear that one of the fallouts of the process movement—which made such a productive turn from an obsessive focus on the final, absolutely correct, written product—was a loss of attention to style. We focused so much on gaining fluency and on nurturing the processes of student writers that there was little time for attending to style. But that was then. Today, teachers of writing are inviting students to join them in considering questions of style, of just what elements can attract reader and viewer attention. One good way to start might well be with analyzing Google’s changing logos over the years and what those changes say about the values and image the company wants to project.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.