With over one billion users, YouTube accounts for nearly one third of all internet traffic. A platform where anyone can make, find and share common interests through video, the company has grown to be one of the most recognised brands in the world.
With new paywall services, new products, new creator content and an expanding user base in developing regions, YouTube needed to reconsider its brand strategy and design again. Saffron was invited to partner with the in-house UX team to create a consistent brand experience for all audiences and support their expansion.
Launched in 2005, YouTube had grown from a single desktop website to existing on a myriad of devices, from phones to games consoles. The company’s design language had not evolved much since then, and as the company prepared to launch YouTube TV, they needed a clear and consistent voice to unite their family of services.
Their role as a social media platform meant their identity appeared in countless places, with users taking ownership of the brand. The iconic red logo was even used inconsistently internally, with varying interpretations across different webpages and brand touchpoints.
Interviews and research revealed that YouTube enjoyed an equally strong relationship with the platform's creators as it did with viewers. This presented a challenge for the company; there was a sense that YouTube was a shared resource for many different uses and motivations, roughly divided by those that create and those that consume. All parties felt the platform belonged to them and their culture.
We realised that YouTube was not just a website but a place – like a virtual city or other destination where cultures could exist, interact and grow.
We used the analogy of a destination to build YouTube’s identity. The elements of a city became the elements of a new strategy and visual language for YouTube. They served as navigation through the communities and neighbourhoods of the city; to create a shared destination, a sense of identity, governed by clear rules.
YouTube has a foundation like any other civilisation.
The Flag: The Logo
Research proved the iconic red lozenge of YouTube’s logo enjoyed wide recognition but not quite as much as the red play button. If this destination had a flag, then it had to be the red lozenge play button! We redrew the ‘YouTube icon’ to make sure its curves and angles were perfect. The play button became the cornerstone of the identity, a symbol asking you to interact, the promise of discovery and a natural call to action.
The Neighborhoods: The Identities
The platform allows people to connect with their passions and communities through differentiated experiences and specific services. The services need to reflect the brand and let the visitor know they are in the right place. The team created a system that maintains a simple connection to the ‘flag’ of the destination but allows for a variety of descriptors to be consistently applied through the simple logo and wordmark lock-up.
The Streets: The Grid
The identity needed a design system that could travel and allow it to adapt to the many applications it would face. The design structure that emerged was built around the idea of convergence, inspired by the play button arrow. A grid system that signifies that YouTube is the place where communities and culture come together. The grid system formed the basis of the visual expression and the patterns that represent the cultures that live there.
The Attractions: The Focal Points
Attractions draw audiences and communities to a destination. In our case, they are based on the principle of convergence, of bringing people and interests together. Based on the grid system, the iconography used for YouTube’s communities give a symbol to each attraction, offering a recognisable waypoint for access to the content.
Navigation: The Typography
Saffron turned to the typeface as a key element through which to communicate and add identity to the navigation. The former font used was designed in 1903 for newspaper use. In collaboration with YouTube, Saffron developed the first font family that the brand can call its own. It made its official debut as part of their newest product, YouTube TV.
The typeface is designed to express a uniquely YouTube aesthetic. YouTube Sans brings brand recognition to a wide variety of digital and non-digital environments. It is quirky, expressive, simple and bold, just like the platform it calls home.
The font family includes light, medium, and bold weights to offer a broad range of uses in and out of product. It was optimised for reading on small screens through to cinematic scales. The type concept was conceived and designed working in partnership with Letterjuice in Barcelona and URW++ in Hamburg.
We helped YouTube identify a colour system to support the identity. The only colours defined are a red and black wordmark set against a clean white background, letting the content speak. The patterns were built to react to the colour of content, drawing inspiration from video to complement the personalities of the creators.
YouTube now has a brand identity that provides the minimum needed structure, allowing for the content to live freely. The communities can express themselves without limits whilst maintaining an essentially YouTube look. The simplicity of the elements: type, convergence, the lozenge and the colour ensure the minimum level of identity to connect everything to YouTube in a harmonious way.
YouTube Sans made its first appearance during YouTube TV’s launch event in Los Angeles and has been implemented across many products. The logic of the brand architecture has been rolled out, step by step. The new identity can be seen on billboards, mobile screens and TVs across the world, reinforcing their presence as one of the world’s best-known brands.
With the next billion users likely to come from developing markets across the globe, the company has the assets to grow with consistency and structure to maintain the experience for creators and users wherever they are.
Throughout the project Saffron worked in close partnership with YouTube’s team. We’re proud of the atmosphere of creativity and connection we were able to build and are sure that it helped us get to the essence of this iconic brand. Thanks go to Chris Bettig and his team for their collaborative spirit.
Read more about Saffron’s work for YouTube: