Pixel wallpaper takes flight

An interview with art director Eunyoung Park

Futuristic, metallic, glossy imagery perceived as "modern" or "premium" has long dominated aesthetics in the tech industry. But the Google design team sought a new perspective: one that viewed technology through a living lens. That informed the decision to create wallpaper motifs drawn from the natural world. The result is a new set of Pixel wallpaper designs inspired by birds, feathers, and flight.

Blue Azure Jay in air with wings spread on black background
Close up of Green Winged Makaw's feathers

How are these wallpapers different from others based on the natural world? We often see landscape photography as good fodder for wallpaper, but it’s rare to see animal life depicted in such a graphical way.

We aim for authenticity in our wallpaper designs, choosing subjects that are relatable but inspiring. The detailed and nuanced colors, shapes, and luster of bird plumage felt both familiar yet astonishing – particularly when viewed extremely close up or cropped in unusual ways. Taking a fresh, new look at something otherwise so commonplace was the perfect representation of how we wanted to redefine a premium device experience. You recognize it, you’re comfortable with it, yet it feels somehow extraordinary in both composition and context.

Why did the team choose birds in particular? What about them made you think they’d work as wallpaper?

We were attracted to the birds’ liveliness, positivity, and daring, because those are all qualities we associate with the Pixel brand itself. Birds also felt like a natural progression from the flower wallpapers we introduced in the previous generation.

How were the birds photographed? You get the sense that there was a lot going on behind the scenes to capture that sense of flight using only still images.

It was such a remarkable experience. We photographed 30 bird species, and every bird had its own distinctive characteristics, which we tried to capture honestly and respectfully. Experts in various domains joined us to help, and we strictly followed the protocols of the American Humane Society.

Our incredibly talented photographer Andrew Zuckerman and his crew were amazing. As you might expect, anything can happen in the studio – especially when you and your "models" don't share the same language. A specialist who had developed trust with the birds was our go-between, feeding, singing, and communicating with the birds to put them at ease. Meanwhile, Andrew and his crew captured these beautiful creatures using every possible technique, contorting their own bodies in order to help the birds reveal their true selves.

It was a huge production, but the studio photoshoot was only the beginning. We went through countless iterations, including device testing, color enhancement, and tight collaborations with the hardware, marketing, and retail marketing teams to choose final imagery and ensure what we had captured looked its best in every medium: device, billboard, print, and video.

Behind the scenes footage of photoshoot. Bird in front of camera.

close up of black pied crow's body

Do you think this new wallpaper will encourage more people to experiment with the look and feel of their Pixel devices?

These wallpapers were created in conjunction with new color variants designed to inspire more joy around customization and self-expression. This variety satisfies more users: minimalist to maximalist, and everyone in between. It’s a wallpaper set that truly reflects Pixel’s customizability.

We paid particular attention to creating a complete customization experience encompassing dynamic color themes. We collaborated deeply with the color team to ensure each wallpaper works beautifully with each color variant we offer. So no matter what wallpaper or color palette you choose, you get a harmonious result across every system surface.

What are you planning for the future of wallpapers on Pixel?

We just want to continue to help users create a unique experience with their Pixel devices – regardless of the subject matter we choose. Because wallpaper is such a heroic representation of both the device and the user, we want it to evoke positive emotion and even foster a sense of ownership and community. We have many new and exciting things planned to make your Pixel better – and more “you” – with every release.