When designing a cover for a classic in the book publishing world, there is usually room for some artistic experimentation and subtlety. This is for a couple of reasons. One, the readers are already familiar with the imagery in the book, which gives the artist an opportunity to reinterpret or "refresh" the imagery in a contemporary way. Two, the title itself will usually attract the reader's attention – in many cases, the reader is looking specifically for this title. This relieves some of the burden or obligation for the illustration to portray a key moment of suspense or high drama from the story in order to attract more potential buyers. Some bold examples of this approach can be seen in the work of one of my favorite designers, Alvin Lustig, whose subtle yet bold designs have evolved into classics in their own right.
Image search screencap of "Alvin Lustig New Classics"
Of course, for a Google doodle it is still very important to lend as much context as possible to create a rich and informative user experience, leaving slightly less flexibility than Lustig might have had in his day. So I had my goals: to create a contemporary interpretation of a classic story, rich in context but subtle in its own way.
One idea that surfaced early on was to somehow tie the white space of the homepage into the whiteness of Moby Dick (the whale), so that he wouldn't be immediately visible at first glance.
The sketch itself seemed a little gritty and frightening, and possibly not authentic to the scene either.... although Captain Ahab and his crew spend much of the novel in search of the whale, this moment should be more confrontational. Still, the doodle team encouraged further exploration of this idea. So I played with a second concept, in which Moby Dick is like an overgrown child, happily swimming about in the aftermath of the ship he's just destroyed, with the wreckage spelling out Google.
Casting Google as a shipwreck would probably not go over well, even with the best of lighthearted intentions, so the idea was quickly scrapped!
As I thought more about the theme of "search," I wondered if Moby Dick himself could be a large maze, designed in such a way to resemble the intricate tattoo patterns of another character in the story, Queequeg.
This robbed the user of all narrative context, however, and the team ultimately opted for the "white space" idea in the first concept, echoing my own notes to make it brighter and altogether less frightening. After a couple of compositional studies, I got going on the final, which is what you see at the top of the page today.