Google makes over USD $20 billion per quarter from selling ad space with programs like AdWords and YouTube – the majority of which comes from Google’s ad sales teams, who sell millions of dollars worth of ad space to agencies and brands every day.
In 2016, Google NYC developed Brand Black Belt: an elite training program for their most senior advertising executives and the people responsible for Google’s financial success. Google tasked me with the design and launch of the Brand Black Belt identity. The instructions were simple:
“For the first time ever, don’t make it ‘Googley’. Black Belt should stand out from it’s colorful, playful Google surroundings. It must be simple, bold, disruptive (in a positive way) and most importantly – empowering.
The deadline for completion: 2 weeks.
The name Black Belt – while perhaps a little corny in this context – is really just a metaphor for a skill that comes from years of practice. Whether in business or in martial arts, skills don’t mean anything if you don’t have a stage on which to practice them.
So what matters isn’t the belt itself, but what it enables you to do – what truly matters is the ring. In many martial arts, this comes in the form of the Tatami Mat; the arena where fighters compete. This would become the foundation of the identity.
For Google employees, the Black Belt should be a literal badge of honor to wear with pride – so an abstract, instantly recognizable icon was created from the core brand metaphors: the Belt, the Ring and the color: Black.
The result is a logo that effortlessly localizes and translates across borders.
When developing a disruptive new brand, I always try to ask: what would this look like in the future, if it were 10x bigger and more successful than anybody expected? What if we made it that way now? The result of this thinking is a brand identity built to represent the elite in every Google team, representing every product.
The Belt System also cascades down to existing Green and Blue Belt (Beginner and Intermediate) levels.
Stark black and white brand colors were chosen to drastically distinguish Black Belt from it’s playful Google surroundings, while making use of a single typeface: the beautifully legible, versatile Roboto V2.
Custom iconography was created by applying Brand Black Belt’s bold, hard edges to Google’s Material System Icons.
The Brand Black Belt Identity Guidelines were designed to be concise and easy to update over time, and most importantly – designed to be actually be read and remembered.
Launch events were arranged at Google offices in major cities around the world, with senior advertising executives from each office receiving invites. Each Google location differs significantly, leading to restrictions in what can be customized for the event in each locale, while turnaround for the events needed to be fast.
The Belt System extends to city identities, using abbreviated city codes paired with the Tatami icon to ensure the brand remains recognizable and consistent around the world.
Launch event materials were designed to need little to no localization. The Black Belt’s Tatami stands out within Google as a literal badge of honor to be carried with pride – when other Googlers see it, they want to become Black Belts.
Google offices can be quite large (the NYC office clocks in at 2.9 million square feet, taking up two entire city blocks), so the custom iconography was extended to event way-finding, with vinyls designed to be easily and quickly applied in Google offices around the world – no hard to translate words or signage necessary.
Date: 2016 Client: Google Project: Google Brand Black Belt Role: Brand Identity Design