Sometimes, the best inspiration is right in front of you.
Every second of every day, people around the world are capturing their memories through photos and videos. Humankind has already taken trillions of photos and will take another trillion this year alone. But the more moments we capture, the more challenging it becomes to relive those memories. Photos and videos become littered across mobile devices, old computers, hard drives, online services which are constantly running out of space, or collecting dust in old shoeboxes.
Google Photos launched in 2015 as a new standalone product that gives you a home for all your photos and videos, helps you organize and bring your moments to life, and lets you share and save what matters. I joined a few years prior, as the team began the process of turning a much loved feature in Google+ into a standalone product, working on coming up with concepts to make sense of all the ways that groups of photos and videos could be presented. With the new standalone experience, Photos also needed its own logo to clearly identify itself.
With a tight deadline fast approaching and multiple stakeholders we needed to shop a direction to, the team assembled a small crew of internal visual designers to sprint on ideas. The ideas ranged from evolutions of the previous Android Gallery icon to completely abstract forms. Multiple rounds of iterations came and went without a clear direction that felt right. I knew I wanted the icon to embody the tenets of the product, and could also work as a compelling visual by itself. Staring at my computer on a late night working on ideas, I looked up, focusing on anything other than my monitor to give my eyes a break.
My gaze landed on a pinwheel that was decorating my desk area, a bit of leftover Noogler decoration that I had kept from my first day joining the team. It then dawned on me that a pinwheel is a perfect metaphor—a whimsical childhood toy that could symbolize the moments and memories of times since passed. Its formal elements of bright primary colors and simple lines meant it could be easily rendered as an icon, and also felt 'Googely'. The pinwheel paired with a star, already something from Google's iconographic universe that implied techno-wizardry, became the perfect metaphoric pair that embodied the product—the pinwheel symbolizing the photos and videos that capture your precious memories, and a star to symbolize all of the special magic Google uses to enable you to experience your memories in new ways, and make the photos you're looking for easier to find and share.
Working with the rest of the Photos team, we were able to refine and expand on the concept, launching just a few weeks after the initial sprint. In 2017, Google Photos reached 500 million active monthly users, uploading 1.2 billion photos and videos to the service every day.
"When starting up the new Photos app, users will be greeted with the awesome pinwheel animation seen above as part of a splash screen."
"Looking at the Google Photos pinwheel icon...we can see folded pieces of paper. The folds, done tastefully, add a subtle dimension to the icon that makes it look like something you'd want to touch."