Google Doodles weren't exactly born with the advent of Google. When Google first launched in the late 1990s, one of the things people liked most was the simplicity of its homepage: just a logo and a search bar. But then in 1998, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were going to the Burning Man festival, and wanted to notify users of their absence in case the servers crashed.
So they added a little Burning Man-style stick figure to the logo, as a kind of fun way of setting an out-of-office message. People loved the notion, and the Google Doodle was born.
Subsequent Google Doodles were designed by an outside contractor until 2000, when Page and Brin asked PR guy Dennis Hwang to design a logo for Bastille Day. Since then, a team of employees called ‘Doodlers’ have organised and published Google Doodles on a regular basis.
Over the years, Google Doodles have evolved from simple tweaks to the logo, to full-blown illustrations, animations and beyond. Read on, as we select the very best Google Doodle designs created since 1998...
01. The Great Wave of Kanagawa
Google Doodles often combine iconic art with the Google logo in clever ways, and here’s one of the best examples. Celebrating the birthday of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, this Google Doodle from 2010 remixed his most famous painting, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, to beautiful effect.
02. Moscow Metro
One of the biggest surprises for first-time tourists in Moscow is that its Metro stations are sumptuously ornate: like a cross between a palace and a museum. This Google Doodle from 2015 gives you a taste of what’s in store, with an evocative illustration inspired by vintage Russian posters.
03. International Women’s Day 2017
In this Google Doodle a little girl’s grandmother tells her a bedtime story about her favourite heroines, from US journalist Ida Wells from Korean activist Lee Tai-young.
04. Birth of hip-hop
In 2017, Google celebrated hip-hop's 44th anniversary with an ambitious Google Doodle that included a custom logo by graffiti artist Cey Adams, interactive turntables on which you could mix samples from classic tracks, and a serving of hip-hop history, with an emphasis on its founding pioneers.
05. Zaha Hadid
Born in Iraq in 1950, architect Zaha Hadid captured the world's attention and shattered stereotypes with her award-winning buildings. This Google Doodle from 2017 portrays her next to The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, which draws on many elements of classic Islamic design.
06. Georges Méliès
In 2018, the first-ever virtual reality Google Doodle, a collaboration with Cinémathèque Française, paid tribute to Georges Méliès, the trailblazing French film director celebrated in the movie Hugo. You can enjoy the full 360-degree experience using Google’s Cardboard or Daydream VR viewers.
07. Virginia Woolf
British author Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style established her as both a great novelist and a feminist icon. This 2018 illustration by English illustrator Louise Pomeroy celebrates Woolf’s minimalist approach and incorporates falling leaves, a frequent visual theme in her work.
08. The hole punch
Google Doodles don’t just celebrate glamorous topics, but also the humble creations that have changed our lives in subtle ways. A perfect example is this fun animated doodle from 2017 paying tribute to the hole punch, an incredible feat of German engineering that deserves to be marvelled at.
In March 2019, the world got its the first AI-powered Google Doodle. This interactive experience allows you to compose a two measure melody of your choice. With the press of a button, the Doodle then uses machine learning to harmonise the custom melody into Bach’s signature music style.
10. Lygia Clark
Artist Lygia Clark was a Brazilian painter, sculptor and teacher who co-founded the Neo-Concrete movement, which sought to change art from a passive viewing experience to an engaging interaction. This captivating 3D Google Doodle from 2015 was a fitting tribute to this groundbreaking artist.
11. Sochi Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi became the centre of worldwide protests against Russia's homophobic laws, and Google didn't sit on the fence. This rainbow-hued Google Doodle made a simple but powerful statement, while the quote from the Olympic Charter below spelled out exactly where it stood.
12. Robert Moog's 78th birthday
One of Google's best-loved interactive doodles celebrated the 78th birthday of Robert Moog, the man who created the eponymous synthesiser, in 2012. His creation featuring heavily in songs by The Beatles, The Doors and others, and this clever Google Doodle lets you try it yourself.
13. Jules Verne
Google paid homage to sci-fi writer Jules Verne on what would have been his 183rd birthday, with this interactive Google Doodle in 2011. The logo showcases a view of the ocean from a submarine, inspired by his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and you can explore it using the lever on the right.
14. Claude Debussy
Popularised by the movie Oceans 11, Clair de Lune is one of the most hauntingly beautiful piano suites of all time. This animated Google Doodle, celebrating the 151st anniversary of its composer in 2013, uses it as the soundtrack to a Parisian riverside scene, and it's quite magical.
15. Saul Bass's 93rd birthday
8 May 2013 would have been graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass's 93rd birthday. And this cleverly animated Google Doodle cleverly recreated some of his best-known designs, including his work on Anatomy of a Murder, The Man with the Golden Arm, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.
16. Freddie Mercury
In 2011, Queen guitarist Brian May collaborated with the Google Doodle team to pay tribute to his late friend and colleague Freddie Mercury. The result was this animated Google Doodle to celebrate Freddie's 65th birthday, accompanied by classic Queen track Don't Stop Me Now.
17. Charlie Chaplin
From one moustachioed hero to another. This Google Doodle paid tribute to silent film star Charlie Chaplin, with a video for what would have been his 122nd birthday. It shows a Chaplin lookalike read a Google newspaper, interact with a Google logo and try to draw a Google Doodle, in typically shambolic fashion.
18. 8-bit Winter Wonderland
There's nothing like a Google Doodle that you can interact with, and this fun game is one of our faves. Dedicated to Frank Zamboni, the American inventor of the ice resurfacer, it features some pesky ice-skaters that create marks on the ice. It's your job to smooth things over, using the arrow keys.
19. 150 years of the London Underground
London's Tube map, created by electric draughtsman Harry Beck in 1931, turned out to be one of the best design ideas in the world, and widely imitated everywhere. The design takes on a new form in this doodle, with 'Google' being spelt out within the rail lines. You need to look closely, but it is there!
20. Winsor McCay's Little Nemo
Little Nemo in Slumberland, a comic strip about a small boy's adventures, ran in the New York Herald from 1905-1911. This 2012 Google doodle celebrated artist Winsor McCay's 107th anniversary through an interactive comic strip. You click the tab at the end of each animated section to move on to the next part.
21. The Brothers Grimm
Crafted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the brothers Grimm, this Google Doodle from 2012 tells the tale of Red Riding Hood through 22 lovingly crafted flat-design illustrations. If you spend the time to click through them all, you're rewarded with an alternative ending to the classic story.
22. Halloween 2012
Halloween has seen many great offerings from Google, but it was this interactive Google Doodle from 2012 that we loved the most. With an eerie soundtrack, this fun animation features a spooky street, with a series of friendly monsters to discover behind each of the doors. Explore more Halloween Doodles, including the 2019 version in our dedicated Halloween Doodles post.
23. JFK 50th anniversary
In 2011, a special Google Doodle marked the 50th anniversary of JFK's inaugural address, which included the famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The team took the words from Kennedy's speech and rearranged them to spell out the Google logo.
24. Will Eisner
Graphic artist and comic writer Will Eisner is widely regarded as the father of the graphic novel. In 2011, this stylish Google doodle honoured what would have been his 94th birthday by combining a 3D comic-style rendering of the Google logo with Eisner's character The Spirit; a detective from beyond the grave.
25. Amelia Earhart
In 2012, Google celebrate the life of pioneering female pilot Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, on what would have been her 115th birthday. This illustrated Google Doodle depicted her standing on an aeroplane, with 'Google' subtly painted on the underside of the wings.
26. Les Paul
In 2011, to honour the late musician and inventor Les Paul, Google created this playable guitar as the day's Google Doodle. In just 48 hours, Americans used it to record 5.1 years worth of music (40 million songs), and those songs were played back 870,000 times. See it in action in the video above.
27. Robert Doisneau
Most Google Doodles have been illustrated or animated, but here's a notable exception. To mark what would have been the 100th birthday of French photographer Robert Doisneau, this Google doodle features four of his famous images: The Tugboat, The Three Children, Dog on Wheels and The Kiss.
28. Gideon Sundbäck
It's not often Google makes you go 'wow', but here's a notable exception from 2012. Clicking the zipper on this special Google Doodle made the page split in two, revealing the doodle's inspiration: Gideon Sundbäck, the Swedish-American credited with developing the zipper. See it in action in the video above.
29. John Lennon
A short music video of Imagine to commemorate what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, this interactive illustration was created by the Google Doodle team's Mike Dutton, who said: "I hope a moving picture will help me adequately – and simply – thank John for the memories."
30. Live lunar eclipse
In 2011, an interactive Google Doodle represented the lunar eclipse in (almost) real-time. Astronomy website Slooh provided Google with images from cameras set up in South Africa, Dubai and the Canary Islands, and if you clicked on the slider underneath the Doodle, you could experience the eclipse in all its glory.
31. Martha Graham
This animated Google Doodle is one of the most entrancing we've ever seen. Created to recognise what would have been the 117th birthday of American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, it features five dancing ladies who spell out the world 'Google' with their movements.
Google unveiled its first interactive doodle in 2010 to mark the 30th anniversary of classic arcade game Pac-Man, remains one of its best. Based on the original game logic, graphics and sounds, and even original bugs from the 1980s masterpiece, it's still an addictive treat to this day.
33. The Wizard of Oz
In 2010, 71 years after Wizard of Oz burst onto cinema screens, Google honoured the classic movie with this loving tribute. Using the landscape to subtly spell out the logo, it depicts Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Toto the dog as they first spot the Emerald City.
This cool Lego doodle was created to mark the little toy brick's 50th anniversary in 2008. Fun fact: Lego art has a special place in Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin's hearts: they used the bricks as the casing for 4GB hard disks, for a server they were making when they were developing the search engine.