This project in one minute
What it is
A new brand for a tech team within the world's largest commercial real estate company. This included the name, visual identity, website, interior design and signage, event booths, and tons of swag.
What I did
I initiated this project and led it from the first research interviews to public launch and beyond. I did all the visual design and illustration, but most of the project was communication and pitching.
Who helped me
Getting written up (positively!) on Brand New.
Winning enthusiastic approval from CEO Bob Sulentic in a one-on-one pitch.
CBRE CEO Bob Sulentic poses for a smile at the NYC CBRE Build office, in front of a glass wall covered in our circuitmap brand graphics.
The world's largest commercial real estate company, CBRE, acquired Floored, the startup where I'd worked for years. Losing our name was part of the deal, and we became one team among many in CBRE's Digital & Technology group. This department was mostly corporate IT, plus a handful of product teams like ours.
Our team and our work culture were intact, and we had more resources than ever. We even had a sweet new office. But the team felt unmoored. We weren't quite sure where we worked. And for the first time in our history, we couldn't find anyone to hire.
To me, this was a brand problem. Tech people didn't want to work for a corporate real estate behemoth. We had to explain why they should, and do it in a voice they could understand.
I started this project to create that voice and solve the problem.
Tech people didn't want to work for a corporate real estate behemoth. To me, this was a brand problem.
We started with research interviews. We spoke to twelve people on four continents: brokers, employees, and executives from CBRE's technology, marketing, and real estate teams.
These were open-ended conversations about the CBRE brand. Before we considered how it might extend to tech, we wanted to understand what the brand was supposed to communicate in its current state.
Here's what we learned:
- It was the brand, but only in real estate.
CBRE leads its industry, but isn't recognized by the public like its Fortune 150 peers. And the brand was built for paper and signage, not for screens and software.
- Everyone recognized the problem.
They too had struggled with extending the CBRE brand for anything beyond brokerage.
- Product teams felt it the most.
CBRE's Digital & Technology group included both IT and product teams, which made recruiting for the latter a challenge.
- Everyone felt ready for change.
One executive said they wanted CBRE's tech teams to “change the company's DNA."
- There were good reasons for tech people to work at CBRE.
A small innovation team within an industry leader meant big opportunity.
- Tech at CBRE needed to be carefully positioned, inside and out.
We had to explain to the world that CBRE was "tech-enabled, but not a tech company." We had to explain to CBRE that Digital & Technology's role was no longer just to fix things, but to create them, too.
We had two main problems to solve: recruiting tech people to work at CBRE, and educating CBRE about tech's new role.
Themes emerged as we sifted the research. One was the energy and optimism within the company about becoming a business innovator through in-house tech.
Another was a particular word that kept popping up: _build_. Real estate professionals build relationships, deals, parcels, and buildings. Technologists build software. To both, the word means the same thing, and carries a positive, active connotation.
So build became the kernel of the brand.
With stakeholders bought in, problems crisply defined, and a reasonably clear brand concept, I was ready to play with visuals.
I started by designing posters for an imaginary recruiting event.
A few visual decisions essentially made themselves.
- Electric green seemed an obvious choice for a brand color: CBRE was a deep emerald, and this brand was about infusing CBRE with energy.
- Architectural software and drawings were natural references. They look interesting, and they are places where computers and the built environment have already collided.
Iteration & pitching
I kept developing the visuals with feedback from the Marketing team and CMO. And I started pitching the idea up a ladder of CBRE executives. This culminated in a one-on-one pitch with CEO Bob Sulentic, who gave enthusiastic approval.
"I'm totally supportive.... I think it's outstanding."
Bob Sulentic, CEO of CBRE
Final brand kit
Electric green, CBRE green, and neutrals inspired by building materials.
A typeface inspired by AutoCAD and drawn by a plotting machine. It paired nicely with CBRE's brand fonts, and it has a friendly, nerdy, quirky vibe that matched our team.
The "circuitmap" melds technology and real estate, explaining what we do. I spent too many hours making this texture.
The Builders, a cast of playful mascots for our team. They reinforce the idea that tech makes things, without looking like the
tiredswoopy style popular in tech.
The brand launched with the opening of our new NYC office, featuring 100 feet of wall graphics, custom room signage, brand graphics on the conference room TVs, and tons of swag.
Soon after, Dallas, Seattle, and Gurgaon, India all got the CBRE Build treatment as the brand rolled out across the Digital and Technology group.
The project was reviewed on _Brand New_, the graphic design world's favorite branding blog. The writer is known for his snark, and excited as I was to cross off this career goal, I was afraid to click. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a positive writeup. I even survived the comments.
Overall, I think this is amazingly effective even if it isn’t “great” by traditional standards. I even like the crummy application photography — there is a refreshing lack of pretense to this project. This is something that gives a voice to a group inside a huge corporation and highlights that what they do is different from any preconceptions people on the outside (or even on the inside) may have about a group of tech people inside a real estate behemoth.
I used the tailwind to share the project with Stefan Sagmeister, graphic design's Mick Jagger, and was again surprised to get a kind, positive email in reply.
Builders make it their own
The best part of this project was seeing brand come to life in the hands of the global Digital & Technology team. People were excited enough about the brand to make it their own.
What I learned
- Delegate the drawing next time.
Most of these projects is communication. If the communicator is also burning energy on visual minutia, it's just poor resource allocation.
- Research creates a cheat sheet for the pitch.
When you know how each stakeholder thinks about the problem, it’s easy to communicate the design as a thoughtful solution built from their input, rather than a blob of creative voodoo.
- Education helps the process. Explaining that design is about managing communication helps stakeholders understand its value and feel ownership. It elevates the conversation and the quality of the feedback.
- Lightness of spirit is an ingredient of success.
I made the visuals as crazy as possible, figuring that the project would inevitably be canned, so I might as well have fun with it. But my enthusiasm came through in the work, which I think helped buoy it to success.
What I'd do differently next time
- I’d learn more about organizational structure our team fit into, and design the brand to reflect that, instead of myopically crafting a solution to our little group’s problems.
- I’d work with CBRE leadership to determine Build's relationship to the rest of CBRE’s tech teams, creating a change management plan that would help the brand spread in an organized, sustainable way.
- I’d take a less auteurish approach, building a bigger team to tackle the huge volume of execution work on illustrations, guidelines, and documents.
Pages from the Build brand style guide.
Build swag, including duffel bags and enamel pins.
Slide templates with various Build graphics.
Graphics in the Build office.
Signs in the Build office, one of my favorite parts of the project.
Graphics in the Build office.
CBRE's booths at college recruiting fairs, before and after the Build brand was introduced.
CBRE Build featured on Brand New's website.
Builders bringing the brand alive in varied media.