Interview: Motion design and the Google identity

Google’s recent rebrand involved rebooting the company’s identity system across thousands of implementations and dozens of products and services. At the core of that Herculean effort was motion design.

In our interview with Jonathan Jarvis, he explains when, how and why animation was used to create a delightful, scalable identity system. As a creative director at Google, Jonathan works in the Creative Lab, where an enviable collection of designers, programmers, producers and writers work on special projects.

(He’s also no stranger to Motionographer. We interviewed him about his informative short, “The Crisis of Credit Visualized,” in 2009, back before he joined Google.)

Q&A with Jonathan Jarvis, creative director for Google’s Creative Lab

In the article you co-wrote on the Google Design blog, it sounds like animation was part of the design process pretty early on. “Stickies were stuck, pins were pushed, and beziers were animated.” How early was animation introduced? And did you need to fight for its inclusion?

Animation was almost the first part of the design process. We started this project to make Google more accessible to more people on more platforms — and motion is one of the main tools we’re using to do that.

We discovered the need for a dynamic, responsive mark that worked in all the new places and products Google was building when we worked on a similar project over a year ago. We’d developed some of the basic concepts of the Google dots then, so when we started work on the logo and identity system this year we knew that motion was going to be a key component.

Once we’d developed the initial designs and began bringing more teams into the process, we were a little surprised that we didn’t need to fight for the logo’s dynamic states — everyone got excited about them and began contributing.

There are three main components to the new brand system, if I understand things correctly: the new logotype, the “G” logo and — this is my favorite — the Google dots, “for interactive, assistive, and transitional moments.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a brand include a set of animated elements as integral to its design system. Were you guys breaking new ground?

It was definitely new ground for us! We’d never had to figure out how a logo listens to you before, or how it let’s you know it understood what you’re asking for. We focused a lot of our time on making sure every movement felt like Google. We wanted it to be feel fast, simple, clear what was happening and have a charming moment or two.

A challenge for us was making the logo do double duty: first, the logo should make it clear that you’re using Google. Second, the logo actually serves as a key part of the user interface when you do a voice command. This double duty really helps us create a great experience that feels consistent on something as small as a watch, or a big as a TV.

It’s my understanding that a lot of people worked on the animated aspects of the brand system. Can you tell us how many? Were there leads? (I’ve heard Adam Grabowski was heavily involved.)

He definitely was! As well as many other very talented designers, engineers, producers and more across Google.

We started earlier this year by gathering a small group of people from the Material Design team and the Creative Lab together in New York for a week-long design sprint. From there we began collaborating with the Search team. By the time we were close to launch, nearly every team at Google was involved in some way.

The producers and operations team deserve all the credit for making the change happen as seamlessly as it did — there were thousands of places where the brand needed to be updated, and they made it all happen at the same time. They’re the unsung heros you don’t usually hear about.

For you personally, what was the most challenging aspect of this project?

I’ll give you two: first, and most challenging, was finding a logo and identity system that worked across such a large spectrum of products, platforms and devices. We needed to find designs and animations that work everywhere that exists today. At the same time, we tried to make the system flexible enough to — we hope — work on platforms that don’t even exist yet.

The second most challenging aspect was restraint. Google has always been strikingly simple. Just think of the homepage. Keeping the motion simple and using it only for moments that help our users understand and use our products better definitely took discipline. We have a pretty messy cutting room floor.

What qualities do you look for when working with motion designers?

I look for motion designers who infuse their motion with meaning and can tell stories — even in products. Sometimes that means rational and useful motion: If something is moving onto the screen from left to right, does that make sense in the user’s head? Does that indicate where it came from? Does it work as a system and make the user’s life a teeny-tiny bit easier?

Sometimes that means making motion emotional. At Google, we sometimes hope our products make you feel like you have superpowers — so, can the way we show an answer to your question make you feel more powerful? Can we be super-responsive when you touch something so you feel nimble?

We have our motion designers involved in all aspects of a project, from concept to launch. We do a lot of “prototyping through motion”, so I look for speed and the ability to explore design in animation. It might seems surprising, but a ton of decisions are made by keyframes.

Animation is an amazing tool to “jump to the end” and turn your idea into a vision that everyone can get behind. A great motion designer can convince everyone of exactly how a product should work, even if they can’t write a single line of code. So, I always look for designers who can lead through motion.

We’re always looking for amazing motion designers! Head over to design.google.com/jobs.

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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