Telling X's history and "moonshot" process in a permanent physical space.
X, the Moonshot Factory
X Plex was the first large project I worked on at X. Back in 2017, X was still extremely secretive, but with Waymo’s new graduation to independent company and with Wing and Loon slated to do the same, there was an effort to start talking about X. X Plex became a means for the marketing and design teams to figure out what X’s brand would be and how to tell its story, before committing to a big rebrand.
X hosts many visitors to the office; groups of potential hires, visiting scientists, dignitaries, and celebrities were a common sight. Between the front desk and the badge limited doors was a 200ft long corridor that was used as casual bicycle parking. Since the space was semi-public and could not be used as “working” space, and because of how highly trafficked it was, our team wanted to make better use of the space and transform it into a mini museum that could help people better explain what X was to their visitors.
I did research on exhibition design- BMW’s design museum and Kenya Hara’s spaces were particularly inspiring. Since most of the artifacts we’d be showing were visually complex/messy, we knew we wanted to have a minimal and clean way of displaying them. The team also took a field trip to the Exploratorium and Autodesk’s corporate showroom in San Francisco, to gather reference and see what aspects we wanted to incorporate into X Plex’s design.
Working with the rest of the marketing team at X, we figured out how to frame X’s story into 4 steps- Who X is, What/Why does X do it, How X does it, and What X has done. Once we had this framework, we decided which artifacts fit best, and asked teams to help supply us with the items.
To get approval from our stakeholders, and to have a way to design the interior space and displays more easily, I helped create 3d assets in the modelling program sketchup. Once we had the base objects, I designed the exhibition layouts inside. We needed to also consider how the exhibit would physically work together and what mounting components we'd require.
We had an idea of what we wanted for each vitrine, there was the task of actually finding the artifacts. A move to the new building and shifting teams and long-gone projects made finding what we wanted a challenge. We spent time tracking down leads, digging through storage units and forgotten corners in labs.
Part of the X Plex process had been gathering old photos of projects. While X's projects had been around as early as 2010, the project didn't start until 2017, and up until then, there had been no organized database of photography to draw on. A lot of time was spent doing detective work to figure out who might have usable images, where we could find large scale print-ready images, and finally, finding an image that showed the concepts we were trying to communicate. As I started shooting more photography for X, I made sure to create an organized photography system that could be used by future photographers and videographers at X and their projects. More information on my photography at X can be seen in my X Photography case study.
Given the nature of X project’s transcience, we wanted the boards to be easy to swap out and easy to maintain over the years. We designed the text blocks to be physically floating off of the images (so copy changes could just be a reprint of a small board, vs. reprinting a giant image), with a layout simple enough for a non-designer to make changes. Diagrams and signage followed the same branding guidelines within the vitrines as well.
We worked with both the Design Kitchen (X’s fabrication workshop) and with facilities to install all the wall panels and vitrines. Besides printing and vitrine fabrication, all production and assembly was done in house by our team.
In the main visitor's lobby, an introductory panel of images from the most iconic X projects, along with a 2 minute long sizzle reel. Panel explains X's process in generating ideas and creating companies.
Back in 2017, Loon, Makani, and Wing were X's main active projects that were on the cusp of graduating and becoming their own projects. Potential hires were taken through X Plex first, so it was important to open with the relevant projects.
Daydream (VR headset) prototypes exhibit (Glass prototypes on opposite side).
Many projects had come and gone through X, sometimes merging back to Google, or graduating as companies. I designed a modular board that listed all the public projects. The corresponding vitrine had consumer-ready objects that were influenced by X, such as Liftware, Google Glass, Wear OS, and Daydream.
The three biggest projects at X were Waymo, Loon, and Wing, it was important to show the actual technology. We hung Wing drones, installed a sliver of a to-scale Loon balloon, and had a Waymo firefly prototype that had a functioning lidar (real time laser visioning so the car can perceive the world around it).
X Plex was a big success- it strengthened company solidarity across projects and became the entry point for many visitor and employee’s first impressions of X. We set aside a section near the end for special events.
In February 2019, for Black History Month, we designed a collage wall with informational displays of black scientific trailblazers.
A full brand update for (Google) X; including logo, typography, photography, and illustration art direction.
X, the Moonshot Factory
Art Direction, Photographer
While the main focus had been on the site, our team had also been doing explorations of new branding for X- an updated logo and new typography. The new website became the perfect testing grounds to see how our new brand system would look and act, and also helped reinforce our need for updated branding.
For our internal design team, it was important to be heavily involved with the process, especially since we were the ones who had to work with the site and the brand direction long after the relationship with Instrument had ended.
The new brand rolled out at nearly the same time as the new X website launch (which used the new branding). To commerate the new brand, the team created a swag store for X employees to buy branded merchandise.
As another extension of the X brand, the marketing team at X created a book version of X’s principles (following the groundwork done in X Plex) to give to new employees. I worked with Wendie Ing (who was the primary designer) to select photographs. Many of the photographs I took at X are used in the book (pictured).
© Julia Wang 2021