More than 150 million Web surfers around the globe celebrated Korean Independence Day Aug. 15, 2001. Well, at least for a few moments while they were visiting the popular Internet search engine Google. That day, the Korean national flag and several roses of Sharon, the Korean national flower, adorned the familiar "Google" logo on the homepage of the Web site.
With its seemingly magical ability to produce the most relevant search results, Google is already an established destination for the Internet savvy. Recently, Hwang's creative logos have been expressing the playful heart of Google behind the impressive technology.
For Piet Mondrian's birthday, Hwang transformed the "Google" logo to emulate the artist's signature style of utilizing colorful blocks. Claude Monet's birthday saw the logo turned into a dreamy watercolor, complete with floating lily pads.
Hwang recently spoke with The Korea Herald to give his take on the artistic side of the popular Internet search engine.
The Korea Herald: How long did you live in Korea as a child? What was it like?
Dennis Hwang: I was born in Knoxville, Tenn., but moved to Korea when I was about five years old. My hometown was Gwacheon where I had a very normal childhood. I went through public schools like everyone else, spending six years at Gwacheon Elementary School and two years at Munwon Middle School. Actually, much of my ideas and style stem from the time I spent during my childhood in Korea. Whatever challenges the logos bring, I can often rely on the little doodles that I used to do in school when I was young. Something that used to be frowned upon turned out to be my greatest asset.
Herald: When did you move back to the United States?
Hwang: I came back in 1992 when my father received a Fulbright Scholarship to research in the United States.
Herald: What was it like going to an American school all of a sudden?
Hwang: I was placed in a public middle school but was completely unprepared for it. I didn't speak a word of English. For the first six months, I couldn't communicate with the teachers or students. With the help of ESL programs though, I got better. My father returned to Korea, but my brother and I decided to continue our education in the States. My parents have made unimaginable sacrifices for us over the last 10 years, and I wouldn't be this successful without their support.
Herald: What was the first logo you designed for Google?
Hwang: Google had been using outside contractors to do the earlier logos, so the first project I got was modifying the Fourth of July logo in 2000. The two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, wanted something more fun, so I redrew parts of the image. The next logo was for Bastille Day, which is the first logo I did from scratch.
Herald: Which letters are your favorite targets for manipulation?
Hwang: Understandably, the "O" and the "L" are the easiest to deal with. The "O" has become a Halloween pumpkin, a Nobel Prize medal, the Korean flag symbol and the planet earth. The "L" has been used as a flagpole, the Olympic flame cauldron or a snow ski. The first "G" is the most difficult to deal with, and I don't think the "E" has gotten much action because of its location.
Herald: How did you come to do the Korean Independence Day logo?
Hwang: Google makes a big effort to recognize holidays that aren't necessarily mainstream. The Korean Independence Day logo was seen globally by tens of millions of people. Numerous Korean-Americans wrote to thank us on Aug. 15 last year. Many expressed how proud it made them to see the Korean flag.
Herald: Do you have plans for other Korea-related logos in the future?
Hwang: I'll definitely to a special logo for Korea hosting the World Cup.
Herald: You're only 23 years old. What are your future plans?
Hwang: Who knows? It's very important to me that I can work both technically and artistically. Google is a perfect place to do that. It allows me to have a programming job while letting me express myself artistically, with the added bonus of having my work be seen by tens of millions of people in a single day.
Herald: What is your favorite letter among the ones found in the word "Google?"