Creating a ‘Share-Worthy’ First Impression at YouTube
Artfully branding an experience for YouTube visitors and employees
Our very first impression of YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno was that aesthetically, their entryway reflected the previous tenant, Gap. Functionally, the existing space was congested and poor acoustics made it feel loud and chaotic. But equally important, the entrance to such an important multimedia company felt plain and didn’t reflect the creativity behind the platform, nor its nearly 2 billion user base. For visitors, the lobby would likely be the only part of the company that they would be granted access to, and the experience felt anticlimactic.
So we began with a series of visioning sessions with YouTube’s stakeholders where we explored the company’s culture and values, and how these could be conveyed to staff and visitors. The outcome led to guiding principles that would ground the design of the new lobby. The first, was to create a striking experience, something memorable, that would inspire visitors and mark their arrival at the company headquarters. Second, to integrate iconic and share-worthy branding that encourages user interaction with social media. Third, incorporate multipurpose functionality and optimize flow, so that the space could be used for events as well as for day-to-day work activities. And finally, to provide a canvas for creators, where visiting YouTubers could display their work at a grand scale.
The existing building had some very appealing qualities, so our first move was to strip down the double-height atrium to its structure, in order to celebrate the long skylight that floods the length of the space with natural light. Upon entry, visitors are greeted with a floor-to-ceiling digital installation on the southern wall, neatly tucked between the building’s steel structure. Rather than add a cutting-edge high-resolution screen to display content, we treated the installation as an art piece, an abstraction of a screen that celebrates individual pixels. The LEDs that light the panels are broadly spaced and set a few inches behind a layer of soft acoustic fabric, so that the material catches and obscures the light as large circles. As a result, the videos that play on the screen take on an abstract, ephemeral quality. Unlike the cold plastic materials typically used in technological products, the soft fabric feels inviting and warm to the touch. When the LEDs are off, they’re invisible behind the fabric making it blend in perfectly with the architecture.
"The lobby fuses warm, natural materials with a cutting edge digital art installation to create a dynamic and inviting atmosphere in the headquarters of the world's leading online video platform."
– Miles Stemper, Architectural Designer, Valerio Dewalt Train
YouTube’s famous “play” icon is outlined in modern neon at the center of the LED wall. The icon is reflected in the black glossy logo mark behind the reception desk directly across the lobby. To liven this area, we added branded-red spun chairs that allow guests to playfully spin by the reception area.
A series of floor “medallions” are spread throughout the lobby, encouraging visitors to interact with the digital installation. Each medallion has a graphic with one of YouTube’s core values: freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of opportunity and freedom to belong. Stepping on a medallion triggers a reaction on the digital wall. Activating multiple medallions in different combinations gets different responses, inviting visitors to work together to learn how the medallions function. Moments like these are created with the idea of shareability and intrigue.
“The floor medallions are interactive components that embody YouTube's core principals while fostering a sense of discovery. Visitors are encouraged to seek them out individually or in groups to activate the digital wall."
– Crystal Adams, Studio Director, Media-Objectives
The northern side of the lobby is lined with an extensive living plant wall, stadium-style millwork seating, and high table seating. Adding elements of biophilia not only supports employee wellness but also complements the natural wooden textures that contribute to an inviting atmosphere. This is also where we placed YouTube’s “Artifact Museum,” to display memorabilia donated by famous YouTubers.
Much like YouTube’s online platform, the lobby is designed to foster creativity, exploration, and discovery, all while celebrating the company’s content creators and employees alike. Our hope is that the lobby makes a compelling first impression to visitors and encourages them to share their experience with the world.