Storm in a teacup

Favicons, those tiny icons that identify websites in most browsers' address bars and bookmark menus, have become a simple yet important identification tool for websites

Tags: BrowserGoogle IncorporatedUSA
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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  January 19, 2009

Favicons, those tiny 16 x 16px icon images that identify websites in most browsers’ address bars and bookmark menus, have become a simple yet important identification tool for websites.

Some may have noticed that Google has changed its favicon twice in the last year. Google previously had an uppercase letter ‘G’ encased by red, green and blue borders. This favicon was then replaced by a lowercase blue ‘g’ that was not surrounded by any border. However, in January 2009, the team at Google changed the search engine’s favicon again. At the time of writing, the new favicon is a ‘g’ that is surrounded by ‘blobs’ of red, blue, green and yellow; colours represented in the Google logo.

“Back in June [2008], we rolled out a new favicon — the small icon that greets you when you access Google on your URL bar or your bookmarks list — and we encouraged our users to submit their ideas for this important piece of Google branding. We were impressed by the volume of submissions we received, and today [9 January 2009] we are happy to introduce a new Google favicon inspired by those submissions by our users. While the final icon is a reinterpretation of one contest submission, it draws on design elements and ideas from many of them,” says Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience on the official Google blog.

“André Resende, a computer science undergraduate student at the University of Campinas in Brazil, submitted the design that inspired our new favicon. His placement of a white 'g' on a colour-blocked background was highly recognisable and attractive, while seeming to capture the essence of Google. Although we changed the colour layout slightly and moved the 'g' off centre, his submission formed the basis for our new design. Incorporating all four of Google's colours (red, yellow, green, and blue) into the four corners of the favicon was a theme we liked in many submissions,” Mayer continues.

Personally, I think Google’s new favicon looks ‘nice’, but a good-looking favicon doesn’t necessarily serve its purpose of helping the end-user easily identify websites in their bookmarks menu. My home page, for example, isn’t set to Google; so, I’ve bookmarked Google under my browser’s bookmark menu and when Google changed its favicon, it annoyingly took me a while to locate it amongst all the other favicons in my favourites bar. Maybe I’m a lazy web surfer, but I prefer to find my favourites in my bookmarks rather than performing the task of typing out the URLs of my favourite websites every time.

I can now easily locate Google’s new favicon amongst my favourites list, but I found the previous favicon of just a simple ‘g’ on a white background to be more easily identifiable with Google. It may have been more boring than Google’s current favicon, but it served its purpose.

One has to ask whether Google actually takes favicons seriously though. Google obviously doesn’t need to worry too much about these small images as Google is the most well-known website in the world. The issue that I have with the new favicon then is just a storm in a teacup, but perhaps Google’s approach to favicons is a bigger sign of how this search giant has become too powerful.

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