Reviewing the design and branding strategy of the ‘Made by Google’ product line: the Pixel, Daydream View, Home, Chromecast, and Wifi.
Google recently announced an entire line of products. I hope Google understands the opportunity they are given; the opportunity of having an established brand and designing and marketing a complete product line from scratch. Most brands have to make decisions on top of previous decisions that may not make sense anymore. Google is starting from scratch and has the resources to get it right.
We are not going to talk about their technical specifications or features. This article will be a deep dive into the brand design (graphic design and industrial design) and apparent strategy.
Made by Google
“Made By Google” is the umbrella brand that links all the products. The brand had a microsite, a Twitter handle, and a YouTube channel. They are employing a master brand strategy, as Made By Google only works and will only ever work because of Google. (You can read more about master brand strategies and sub-brand strategies in our article on brand relationship strategies.) All of the product are “by Google,” as in “Pixel: Phone by Google.”
Made by Google is as much a statement as a brand. Google is putting it’s full weight and reputation behind these products; Google makes these products. They own it.
But it is a bit of a misnomer as well. Google does not make these products; third party manufacturers make them. But this is neither here nor there for the consumer. Apple does not make Apple phones; many manufacturers make the parts and Foxconn assemble them. But no one would say that it isn’t an Apple phone. To the consumer, these products are made by Google, and they will write on Google’s brand with positive and negative experiences. Google is front and center this time.
The graphic design of the brand is clean and straightforward, white backgrounds with gray text and big, punchy product photos and animations. It is not differentiated from the rest of the tech industry. Other manufacturers like Samsung and HTC have graphic elements that make their brands different. I would say they are trying to be Apple-like, but Apple graphic design takes more risks and is more memorable. I would say Google is playing it safe, but everything needs to be perfect with such a clean brand, and everything damn-near is.
The branding of the industrial design between the products is not very strong; the designs are quite different, and the products do not look like a product line. I would like to see more shared materials, design elements and design language in the futures.
Overall the industrial design of the products looks quite good and different than the standard plastic and polished metal I would expect out of the tech industry. These products look inviting.
Google took the launch of the Pixel to rebrand their virtual assistant from Google Now to Google Assistant. The new name is much more reflective of what the program can do, and what people use it. Google Now was about talking to Google search and getting simple facts quickly. It was external. Google Assistant does those external queries as well but is now much more internal. It can look into your phone and Google account to answer questions like “When is my next meeting with Elon?” It is also more conversational and references previous questions, so you could follow up the last question with “schedule a meeting with him at 6:00 on Friday at Sardo’s,” and it would make a group meeting in Google calendar with Elon.
The name change makes sense, and I don’t think there is any love lost for Google Now; that brand didn’t have much equity.
There is a design change with the rebranding as well. The working symbol for Google now was four equal sized colored dots, and the behavior of the dots was quite defined to communicate what it was doing: ready, listening, thinking and talking. Google Assistant keeps all of that, but the logo and avatar of the assistant is a set of four unequal sized colored dots, and they hover and bounce depending on what you are asking it. This set of dots is essentially the assistant’s logo.
The Pixel is the first phone to have this feature, but presumably, most phones will with the next version of Android will. But Samsung purchased Viv (Business Insider), a company that programmed the original Siri; Samsung phones will most likely have their version of a virtual assistant.
Google is now selling two phones: the Pixel and the Pixel XL.
The design of the phones has a seamless glass and aluminum construction. The Pixel phones come in two colors with the aluminum finished either raw or in black. They call the colors “Very Silver” and “Quite Black.” There was also a “Really Blue” version, but it was a limited edition for launch.
The design is a pretty typical of a smartphone but differentiates itself through a shiny pad with a circular indent on the back of the phone. The indent is the fingerprint sensor which Google has branded the “Pixel Imprint.” The sensor can also be used for navigation.
The marketing materials tout an easy switch from the iPhone, and the tight integration of the Google Assistant.
The Pixel brand isn’t new but is new to phones. Google had a high-end laptop called the “Chromebook Pixel” and then a tablet that was called the “Pixel C.” Google is now associating the Pixel line up with phones so closely that it is unlikely that we will ever see laptops or tablets branded Pixel again.
The Pixel sub-brand presumably replaces the Nexus sub-brand (again, more on sub-brands and other strategies on our article.) Even though both brands use a sub-brand strategy, they have quite different brand strategies. The Nexus phones were meant to be a hardware spec that Google imagined when they were developing Android over the years, and they were encouraging their manufacturer partners to copy each model. The Nexus phones were made by a different manufacturing partner each time as Google did not want to play favorites, and the partner’s branding was always prominent on the phone, packaging, and what limited marketing they did.
HTC is making the Pixel and Pixel XL, but their brand is out the mix. HTC is just a supplier to Google for this phone. The Pixel is a fully Google branded phone. The only branding on the phone is the light gray Google G.
This strategy is simpler for the consumer. It was not clear with the Nexus phones which brand to be loyal to: Google, the manufacturing partner, or Nexus? No brand took ownership. The Nexus phones were also never actively marketed. Because of both of these factors, the Nexus phone were the darling of the tech savvy early adopter, but no one else. The brand has been on a slow decline over the years.
The simpler brand strategy is a feather in Google’s cap, but they are risking offending their manufacturing partners.
Virtual Reality Headset
Virtual reality is a hot space. Startups like Occulus and Magic Leap received a lot of funding and established companies like Microsoft, Samsung, HTC and Sony have pumped a lot of money into their headsets and just now are starting to ship viable products.
Google had taken a different tact. They believe everything you need for VR is on your phone, so they made an open source spec for an inexpensive phone holder to make it a VR headset. Unfortunately, they made the previous design out of cardboard. That product was Google Cardboard.
Now they are going a higher quality direction with the Daydream View. The Daydream View is still an Android smartphone holder but made with superior materials. The design looks soft and inviting, a contrast from the techy and unapproachable Samsung Gear VR.
The Daydream View also comes with a simple controller.
I love the name Daydream View; it is inspired. It is evocative of a lovely experience I would hope for from VR. It is also unique, and potentially could be trademarked.
My background is in industrial design, and I was most impressed with the design of the Daydream View at the launch of all these products. The use of soft materials was novel and just fit. The detailing is great; it looks easy to use, and the three optional color palettes are lovely.
I like it so much that I wish some of the other Made by Google product picked up some material and design cues from it to create a branded line.
I would also like to see one or two design elements that make it uniquely Google. If I covered up the logo and showed this to people, they would never recognize this as a Google product.
Streaming Media Player
The most interesting things happening from a brand strategy point of view are in the Chrome brand.
Google typically uses master brand strategies with their products: Google Calander, Google Trends, etc. But Chrome is somewhere between an endorsed brand strategy and an independent brand (see our article for brand strategy definitions). The Chrome logo shares the iconic Google colors, but you don’t see many references to Google beyond that previously.
They are taking the opportunity to clean up the Chrome brand with the Made by Google line, and moving back to a master brand strategy. Maybe Chrome becomes associated with web browsing and web apps again.
Chrome started as a web browser and branched out to the Chromebook operating system because it ran nothing but the Chrome browser and the associated web apps. Made sense. But the Chromecast had nothing to do with web browsing at all. The first app to support it on the desktop was Chrome, but that is where the connection ended.
Chromecast Ultra is branded with the “G,” but the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio are both branded with the Chrome logo. Presumably, they will be branded with the Google G when they redesign them. The streaming is now rebranded “Google Cast.”
I wouldn’t be surprised for Google to call these products Google Cast in the future. Chrome = web browsing + web apps, and streaming media is just not that.
Tip: Do not be tempted to sub-brand a product that does not fit just because it had equity. You will end up having to rebrand and flush a lot of equity down the toilet like Google has had to here.
The industrial design of the Chromecast Ultra is as simple as the product. It just needs to fit in with the look of the product line a little more by taking some material choices and design language from the other products. (I feel like a broken record touting the branded industrial design concept.)
Virtual Assistant Appliance
Categories don’t come any newer that Virtual Assistant Appliances. This product category started with the Amazon Alexa, which was universally liked and received much press and an early lead in the sector. Apple built Siri into Apple TV, and Microsoft tried to increase the functionality of Cortana on people’s Xbox One’s with Kinect sensors. But virtual assistants are only as useful as the ecosystems they are plugged into, and many people are very invested in the Google ecosystem by using Gmail, Google Calander, and Android phones.
Google Home allows you to access Google Assistant from your home without your phone. It is always listening for its trigger command: “Okay Google.” After that, you can ask it to do many things, and it is a powerful speaker for music.
Four colored dots project on the top of the unit, and animate depending on what it is doing. Sound familiar? Yeah, they must be the Google Now dots. Nope. Then they are the four differently sized dots of the Google Assistant avatar…? Nope.
They are four dots arranged in a circle and spin around. This is a misstep in branding. The dots were previously so well defined and consistently used before. The Google home introduces whole other paradigm. It’s not a big mistake, but I would like to have seen this more consistent and would like the circle of dots replaced with the Google Now dots in version two.
The industrial design of the devices is quite beautiful. The appliance looks like a lovely art vase and has a replaceable base / speaker grill to customize to people’s decor.
I would have liked to see the there to be more consistency with the rest of the Made by Google line, maybe pulling in the aluminum of the Pixel and the fabric of the Daydream View.
Wifi Mesh Router
Google Wifi is a router, but a little bit more. Home routers have been a singular point if WiFi, which may or may not reach all points in your house. Mesh routers, like Google Wifi, are multiple routers which work together to cover your entire house with Wifi signal better. Mesh Wifi has been around for years in enterprise tech but new in the home, and other companies are already in the market such as eero and Netgear with the orbi.
Calling it Google Wifi is a branding mistake. All of the other Made By Google products have a novel, non-category name: Pixel, Daydream View, and Home. These will become shorthand for their categories in Google’s product portfolio, but Wifi does not have the same potential. Imagine this conversation:
“What type of phone do you use?” Jim asks.
“A Pixel,” replies Susan.
Now imagine the same conversation with the Wifi.
“What type of WiFi router do you use?” Jim asks.
“A Wifi,” replies Susan.
Is just doesn’t work. (And, by the way, Google Home barely passes the same test.)
Our recommendation would be to keep the OnHub branding of the previous router. “OnHub: Wifi by Google.”
The industrial design of this router is very well done, and the good looks play into the function of the product because people would happily display it in multiple points in their house as they should for best functionality. But, again, the design of this product should be a shorter version of the Google Home to create a branded family of products. You want an owner and lover of the Google Home to look at the Google Wifi and know it is a Google product, and vice versa.
They clearly are considering their strategy and designing and communicating to that strategy.
The Google G as the logo for the Made by Google is a strong statement that Google is fully behind these products and they are proud of them. It also speaks to how physical devices will be core to their business strategy moving forward; this is a big change from the digital roots of the company.
And if physical product are a priority for Google, they are off to a great start. The industrial design is consistently beautiful, approachable and simple.
The dispirit industrial design of the products makes the line not look like a family. Tighter sharing of the design language and materials between the lines would connect the positive experiences users have with one to the other, and make them more likely to purchase other products.
What we are trying to achieve with branded industrial design is the ability to cover up the logo, and have the product still be recognizable as a product from that company. The reason being regular consumers go blind to the logo, but they will always remember the product design because they interact with it. Think of a BMW car. If I removed the badges from the car, most people would still recognize it as a BMW.
The industrial design of the Pixel is not differentiated enough from Apple. The Pixel came out in a blue color for launch, and that was dramatically different than anything you see in the smartphone market. But the colors available now are back to the standard aluminum and black. There must be a desire for more interesting phone designs by the market because people cover up that beautifully finished aluminum with colorful, interesting and personalized phone cases. Google even offers these cases directly!
And, why not print the full-color Google G onto the products? It may be less stylish, but it would be more effective because that logo would be pronounced, and it would connect with the logo the customers will see on the marketing materials.
Will the Made by Google products be a success?
There are good bones here; they are thinking strategically, and they are well prepared for success.
I would define success ad dethroning Samsung as the “default” Android phone manufacturer (in the west) and competing on device quality and experience with Apple. To do that, they need to invest and execute a strong channel marketing strategy and do what’s necessary to have the sales people at the carrier stores and Best Buy to direct people to these phones first, and away from Apple or Samsung. That is where the battle of the Pixel will be won or lost.
If the Pixel is a success, the other products will have the best chance of success. The Daydream View, Home, and Wifi could also benefit from a strong channel marketing strategy. These products need to be properly displayed and explained. Google should consider a store within a store in Best Buy and other retailers. This would allow them to show their products and have their contracted sales people there to explain them.
When I think of classic Google, I think of Biz Stone’s quote about his time at Google (video): “It’s a simple ordered list: number 1 people, number 2 technology. And I often got the impression at some of the big silicon valley technology companies it’s the other way around.”
With these products and some of their newer digital products, it finally seems as if they flipped their priorities and are considering people first.
Colin Finkle is a brand marketer and designer with ten years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies tell their story at retail. You can see his work at Colin Finkle’s portfolio site. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter. He is also the author of the book series, the Neverborn Saga.
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