Where in the world? The History of the Google Maps Pin

June 14, 2020


Sarah Corner
Designer & Animator


When we interact with essential iconography on a daily basis, we effectively distance ourselves from its origin and forget that it, at some point, never existed. Of these quintessential pieces of society, the Google Maps pin has established itself as an ever-evolving cultural phenomenon that has pushed beyond the boundaries of Google.

Designed by Jens Eilstrup Rasmussen, the Google Maps pin came to fruition in 2005 as a way to mark a point on the map without obscuring the location. This iconic circular pin with a pointed base and dark center stemmed from the shape of thumbtacks on a physical map. However, this same function has the tendency to wear on the map and obscure locations as pins leave holes in their wake, and a simple dot on the global map can clutter more consolidated results. Rasmussen’s pin allows for simple layering with easily graspable, balloon-shaped tops.

Meme of a map pin forming into a balloon and then into a Google map pin icon.

In an article detailing the history of physical map pins, we have seen an incredible shift away from physical maps with the classic thumb-tack approach. Though physical maps are wanning, they have evolved for mobile use the same way pins have adapted to cater to its users. Google Maps “has saved the map pin from obscurity” and, in fact, made it far more prevalent in society than ever before. The map pin has become a ubiquitous icon on par with other iconography we see in our day-to-day lives.

Google Maps “has saved the map pin from obscurity” and, in fact, make it far more prevalent in society than ever before.

This pop-culture icon has been adapted off the screen as well, so perhaps the physical map pin hasn’t been retired quite yet thanks to artist Aram Bartholl. In 2006, Bartholl endeavored to create a public art installation called Map. In a quest to mark the center of every city as deemed by the Google Maps algorithm, Bartholl created 30 foot steel sculptures of the Google Maps pin in several cities including Taipei, Berlin, Arles, Tallinn, and Kassel.

Google Map pin placed into real life.
Image Credit

As society and culture evolves with the ever-changing digital landscape, so to does the map pin as a landmark among modern-day iconography. Among the many physical-to-digital transitions we have become accustomed to, map pins sit alongside physical switches becoming toggles, folders now desktop icons storing digital documents, and countless others. The digital world will always, in a way, mimic and enhance the structure of everyday life for ease of use.

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