Creating Google doodles that ‘Surprise & Delight’: 5 Questions with Doodler Sophie Diao

Earth Day 2016 Google Doodle, designed by Sopie Diao

Earth Day 2016 Google Doodle, designed by Sopie Diao

Today’s Google doodle honoring author Louisa May Alcott is the work of doodler Sophie Diao. She is the artist behind many of the images featured on Google’s home page, including this year’s doodle marking the 37th anniversary of “The Neverending Story” and a doodle honoring the US National Park Service Centennial.

Diao joined the Doodle team after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts. She says one of the things she appreciates most about her work is being pushed to realize that there are bigger and more interesting things in the world.

“I love getting to learn a bunch of random things I’d never have learned otherwise. I love researching a bunch of fun topics and getting to read about amazing people and events.”

When asked if she has a favorite doodle, Diao says she was really happy with the series she did for Earth Day this year. “It was really fun for me,” says Diao.


Diao’s research for today’s Louisa May Alcott doodle goes all the way back to fourth grade for the artist, when she remembers first reading “Little Women.”

“After I read ‘Little Women,’ I checked out ‘Little Men,’ and then I checked out ‘Jo’s Boys,’ says Diao, “Her life story is very, very interesting, and the parallels between her and Jo are clear — but, also the places where she deviates from Jo are really, really cool. Like the fact that she never married, and she was really adamant about not needing to be in a romantic relationship.”

In advance of today’s doodle, Diao told us what it’s like to be part of the doodle team and shared her process around designing artwork for Google’s homepage.

5 Questions with Doodler Sophie Diao

Amy Gesenhues: Before we dig into today’s doodle, can you tell me more about the Google Doodle team — how many people make up the team, and how is it structured?
Sophie Diao: We have our team lead — he is the creative vision for what we do and what direction we want to go in, but underneath him we have a couple more senior art director people and lead engineer people. They are more involved in the actual direction of each project.

Obviously, doodles encompass all sorts of things — we have illustrations and animations, and sometimes we have videos, and sometimes we have the interactive games — so there’s a lot of different skill sets on the team and a lot of different types of people on the team. Whenever we have to make one of those bigger projects, we gather up a small group of people who have different skill sets, and they form a team that starts making the project.

We have about around a dozen artists right now, and about six or seven engineers (it’s been a while since I checked). They are the main doodle people.

AG: How many doodles are you developing at any given time?
SD: Probably between three and four at the moment — or just a handful. It depends on the time of year. Sometimes they’re busier than others, sometimes they’re lighter than others, so it’s hard to say how many I’ll be working on at any given time, but it’s more than one.

AG: How did the Louisa May Alcott doodle happen. Was it your idea?
SD: Last year, I saw we didn’t have a Louisa May Alcott doodle in our backlog. We had never, ever done one, and I was, frankly, surprised by this, because I think she’s so cool and awesome. She’s such a classic — I suggested that we do a doodle for her.

When I suggested it, other people on my team agreed that she was a good candidate for a doodle. They okayed it, and I was able to start working on it.

AG: Can you take me through the process of creating the Louisa May Alcott doodle?
SD: I started by rereading “Little Women” because it had been a long time since I read it when I was a kid. I wanted to get back into that kind of world, and get familiar with her characters again.

I liked the idea of having the four March sisters in the doodle because they’re so iconic in a way.

When I was a kid, I always knew which March sister I was. I think a lot of people felt the same way, they identified with a different sister — I definitely identify with Jo the most.

I think she is the main character. She’s the one Alcott identified with the most — so I wanted to have her be front and center, but also show the other sisters, and Laurie, too.

I wanted to frame a composition around the five of them, each of them doing what they’re passionate about. Beth is at the piano, and Amy’s drawing, and Meg is watching over them and knitting, and Laurie’s at the door, about to come in a neighborly way.

I wanted to set a little scene with all five of them in there.

AG: Does the Google Doodle team have a central philosophy that drives the decisions around the doodles you create and the design work involved?
SD: In terms of the overarching philosophy, I would say, when it comes to deciding what Doodles we’re going to do, we try to pick things that are interesting, obviously, and things that reflect Google’s values and personality — Google values being love of innovation, equality, inclusivity, education.

Those are the things we try to look for when we’re choosing which doodles to do. We also want to pick things that maybe a lot of people don’t already know about — because then they can learn about it. That’s where our motto, “Surprise and Delight,” comes in.

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