Google’s Top Doodler

The tech giant crowns 7-year-old Dylan Hoffman its new doodle king

May 18, 2012 | By Vickie An

If you could hop in a time machine and visit the past, present or future, what period would you choose? The answer is obvious for Dylan Hoffman, 7, of Caledonia, Wisconsin. He’d go back in time to when pirates sailed the seven seas in search of gold and glory, of course. The second grader’s love of adventure inspired the pirate-themed doodle he drew for the 2012 U.S. Doodle 4 Google contest. The entry took top prize in the tech giant's annual competition. (Click here to watch our video coverage of the event.)

Each year, Google challenges kids in grades K-12 to come up with a fresh design for its famous logo. Entries poured in from all corners of the country. The winning doodle was unveiled at a special ceremony at Google’s New York City office on May 17. Dylan’s creation beat out 114,000 submissions.

Dylan named his winning entry "Pirate Times." The doodle represents his desire to go back in time to when pirates ruled the oceans.
Dylan named his entry "Pirate Times." The doodle represents his desire to go back in time to when pirates ruled the oceans.

For the next 24 hours, Dylan’s masterpiece will be splashed across for millions to see. He will also take home a $30,000 college scholarship, a Chromebook computer and a $50,000 technology grant for his school. Plus, Dylan’s doodle will appear on a special edition of the Crayola 64-color crayon box, in stores this fall.

Ahoy, Mateys!

This year’s contest asked kids to design a doodle around the theme, "If I could travel in time, I’d visit..." Students dreamed of visiting times that spanned from the age of the dinosaurs to periods far, far into the future. Dylan calls his doodle "Pirate Times." He writes: "I’d sail a pirate ship looking for treasure, have a colorful pet parrot and enjoy beautiful sunsets from deserted islands."

When Dylan was announced as the 2012 national winner, he leapt from his chair, only to lie down on the ground immediately. Too stunned to move, he stayed there for a few moments before standing up to accept his award. When he finally realized what was happening, he told TFK, “I felt really happy.”

Ryan Germick is Google’s chief doodler and a contest judge. “At first glance it seems so simple,” Germick says of Dylan’s winning entry. “But if you look closely, you’ll see that the pirate has a neck beard, and there’s fuzz on the coconut tree. There are a million thoughtful details.” Dylan’s attention to the little things impressed the judges. “It was clear that this was a labor of love,” says Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Product Management.

Picture Perfect

A panel of Google employees pared down the entries to 250 state finalists. Then, Google’s doodlers and a group of celebrity guest judges, including pop superstars Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks, chose 50 state winners. From there, the public was invited to vote online for four national finalists. An overall national winner was chosen based on artistic skill, creativity and expression of the theme. All 50 of the state winners’ doodles will be on display at the New York Public Library, in New York City, and at local museums across the nation.

Dylan is all smiles as he stands onstage with his parents, left, and with contest judges Jordin Sparks and Google's chief doodler Ryan Germick.
Dylan is all smiles as he stands onstage with his parents (left), guest judge Jordin Sparks and Google's chief doodler Ryan Germick.

Several of the guest judges attended Thursday's ceremony. They included Sparks, Phineas and Ferb co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, children’s author Mo Willems, and Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, who co-created the Spiderwick Chronicles series. The judges shared some of their tips for success in a creative field.

Willems had some unique advice for young fiction writers: lie. “Writing class is the only time you get credit for lying. It’s lying class,” Willems told the audience. “You usually start with something that’s real, and then you lie your pants off. You shouldn’t lie any other time. But when it comes to writing, it’s a great thing.” Meanwhile, the key to becoming a good artist is simple, says Marsh. Just draw! “Throw your erasers away,” he advises. “Don’t try to make each drawing perfect. Just draw more.”

What’s the secret to American Idol champ Sparks’s musical success? “I absolutely love my music, and it’s not about being conceited. If I don’t love my music, how can I expect anyone else to?” she says. “So make sure whatever it is you do, believe in yourself and love what you’re putting out there.”