Some of the most lovable Google Doodles — the search engine’s custom logos celebrating a particular subject — don’t emerge from Google itself. They’re the winners of the company’s Doodle 4 Google contest, in which the company invites students from kindergarten through 12th grade to submit Doodles on a theme that’s been designed to inspire maximum creativity.
Today, Google is launching the 2013 edition of the competition. This year’s theme is “My Best Day Ever…,” and there will be 50 state finalists in each of five different age groups, all of whom will be in the running for the overall grand prize. That’s 250 students in total whose Doodles will be honored. (This competition is for students in the U.S., but Google also runs similar Doodle 4 Google contests in other parts of the world.)
The grand winner will get a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 tech grant for his or her school, a Chromebook, a Wacom tablet and other prizes, plus a trip to New York for the awards ceremony — and the glory of seeing his or her Doodle appear on Google’s U.S. homepage for 24 hours. Other finalists also receive prizes.
That pirate scene at the top of this post is the work of Dylan Hoffman, the 2012 Doodle 4 Google winner; the theme for that year’s contest was “If I Could Travel in Time, I’d Visit…,” and he was seven when he won. As someone who entered a lot of art contests when I was a kid — I won 31 Baskin-Robbins ice cream cones, among other things — I’m jealous of both his proficiency and his cleverness.
Doodle 4 Google entries are judged on artistic merit, creativity, communication and apprpropriateness, but those straightforward categories don’t fully explain why Dylan took top honors among 114,000 competitors. “He tickled our funnybone,” says Ryan Germick, the head of Google’s Doodle team. “He wanted to see pirates. It’s hard not to be charmed.”
The Doodle 4 Google awards ceremony, Germick says, is the Doodle team’s “most fun day of the year.” Google holds the contest, he explains, to celebrate “childlike wonder, whimsy, unbridled creativity, that spirit we love to be around.” But that’s not just the spirit of Doodle 4 Google: When Google chooses honorees for its own Doodles, such as cartoonist Winsor McCay and computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, Germick says that the company is looking for “adults who haven’t lost their imagination.”
This year’s competition runs through March 22. In May, the 250 state finalists will be displayed in an online gallery. A panel of celebrity judges (including Katie Couric, Jim Henson Co. Chairman Brian Henson and Chris Sanders, director of How to Train Your Dragon) and Google staffers will winnow the field to fifty state winners; the U.S. public will get to vote on those. On May 22 at the New York event, five national finalists will be named — and then one grand winner, whose Doodle will be on the Google homepage the next day.
Here are the other grand winners since 2008, the contest’s first year.
2011: Matteo Lopez of South San Francisco, California
2010: Makenzie Melton of El Dorado Springs, Missouri
2009: Christin Engelberth of San Antonio
2008: Grace Moon of Castro Valley, California
Budding artists can enter the contest here; Google also encourages schools to enter en masse, although only one entry per student is allowed. This is the first year that Google will allow online submissions, but good old snail mail is also still accepted.