February 18, 2015
Alessandro Volta’s 270th Birthday
As a new artist here at Google I was given the exciting opportunity to design the Doodle for Volta as just my second doodle. This was particularly thrilling given he was the 18th century Italian physicist, chemist and electrical pioneer who invented the first electrical battery.
To my surprise this discovery almost came by accident while Volta and his friend Galvani, an anatomy professor, were dissecting a frog. When the animal’s legs unexpectedly twitched from an electrical discharge, Galvani went on to hypothesize that animals generated their own electricity, a theory that would eventually go on to inspire Mary Shelly’s novel, ‘Frankenstein’. But Volta had his own theory: that the electrical discharge had been caused by two different metals touching the frog’s body.
Experimenting with different metals and solutions, Volta ended up creating the first electric battery: the Voltaic Pile, a stack of alternating metal discs separated by cardboard and cloth soaked with seawater. But what made this battery so remarkable was that it was easy to construct out of common materials and enabled experimenters for the first time to produce steady, predictable flows of electricity. Within just weeks it inspired a wave of discoveries and inventions and ushered in a new age of electrical science.
Having done my initial research I didn’t want to just settle on using Volta’s portrait for the Doodle, especially since most of the world wouldn’t recognize him. I wanted instead to represent his accomplishment.
Digging into visual research I looked first for images of his inventions, then wider to other scientific equipment of the time. WIth an interest in graphic design I also looked to designs of the period and was especially inspired by the intricate and ornate details of some early Victorian posters for their dimensionality and dynamic layout.
With this inspiration I quickly thumbnailed out some sloppy sketches experimenting with different concepts and compositions. Some of these I turned around into quick value compositions in Illustrator to share with my fellow Doodlers. My original thinking was to show different devices being powered by the battery, but the concepts felt too busy and distracted from the battery itself.
So I settled on a simpler layout featuring the battery dead center where it would simply light up the letters in Google. One key idea I wanted to communicate was how the voltage of the battery increased as the stack grew. I added electrical gauges, or voltmeters, which would animate with the stack. In keeping with the spirit of my reference, I added Volta’s name and the year he invented the battery as typographic elements.
Having a basic design, I now needed to add more antiquated texture and detail to make it feel as though it could have been the first advertisement for the world’s first electrical battery. Switching to Photoshop, I layered in old paper textures, re-tuned the values and contrast, found a cool engraving filter and dialed in my fonts. I then sent it out for another round of feedback and learned a couple more things: namely voltmeters hadn’t been invented yet and the only kind of electric light that would have existed around the time were early arc lights.
For the sake of authenticity, I swapped out the gauges for the ornamental symbols of Copper and Zinc, swapped out his name for the base elements of the battery, but kept the illuminated letters for artistic license. With one final suggestion to translate the text to Italian the design was done.
I tinkered with different animation timing, finally settling on the letters coming on one at a time to show the increased voltage now that the voltmeters were gone, and saved out different formats for different platforms.
So that’s the story of my second Doodle. I hope it brings a little light to the Doodle process and to this very interesting person. And just for fun, I made a portrait version...
Posted by Mark Holmes, Doodler