How We Made CBRE Build, Part 2

As tech people at CBRE, the world's largest commercial real estate company, we had an identity problem. In Part 1 of this post, I explained how we found a solution in the idea of building. Now I'll explain how we grew that idea into a visual identity.

Our new identity's job was to express our team's purpose and personality, and to do it through ideas connected to our work and our world. We started with a list of things most important to us, associations we wanted to bring to the new brand.

Real estate, technology, code, creativity, drafting, tools, precision, futurism, diversity, collaboration, openness, individuality

Minds primed, we assembled a moodboard from the visual worlds of real estate, architecture, and graphic design. We picked references that felt optimistic, angular, and futuristic, tones that would help our identity signal that something new was happening at CBRE. And we gave that message an exclamation point by choosing neon green as our brand color, an electric counterpart to CBRE's mossy green.

Our neon-green-heavy moodboard for the CBRE Build project

Early ideas

Then we started sketching. Blueprints inspired our first experiments.

Vector sketches of construction vehicles and hard hats

Maybe a construction site could be a metaphor for building technology.

A vector illustration of construction vehicles erecting a building that looks like a web browser

It was a fun idea, but our team's feedback exposed its problems. The metaphor was murky: software, which is never finished, is quite unlike a building. And we didn't want anyone to think we were CBRE's construction division. Could we keep exploring the overlaps between real estate and technology until we found another idea to play with? And everyone liked the little people — could we keep those?

A vector illustration of a robotlike construction worker character

The Circuitmap

We returned to our list of ideas with fresh interest in the first two, real estate and technology. Their intersection was our address. But they felt like very different worlds — one established, one disruptive; one besuited, one in a hoodie. How could we bring them together?

Real estate…

The crisscrossing web of lines that describe a streetmap

…and technology.

The dense, orderly network of lines that describe a circuitboard

When we looked at them side by side, bringing them together felt easy.

A side-by-side comparison of the previous two images

That discovery — and hours of vector drawing — gave us the image that would anchor our brand. The circuitmap is a single graphic that fuses our two worlds, concisely explaining what Builders do.

The circuitmap, an image we created that comprises lines whose rhythms and layout recall both maps and circuitboards

Typecasting

Color and imagery locked, it was time to choose a font. One auditioner was a standout. MAD Sans looked the part: it's technical, friendly, and a little odd. But because its faceted letterforms are drawn from architects' CAD software, another place where of tech and real estate overlap, it was also a perfect conceptual fit for this role.

A side-by-side comparison of the lettering in a CAD drawing and the letters of MAD Sans

MAD Sans' angular oddness draws upon the fonts from architects' CAD software.

If it looks a little weird, that's on purpose. This technical-but-unfinished quality reflects the maker spirit that animates every Builder. It shows our understanding that software is never done (and is always somewhat broken). And most importantly, the willingness to adopt an unusual voice signals to recruits that CBRE might not be what they thought.

The Builders

With our choices of color, imagery, and type, we had expressed what we do. But now we needed an element to represent for us, the Builders.

The robot from before was promising, but Builders are not identical automatons. We make technology, but we've always done it with humanity and humor, diversity and individuality. So to represent us, and our collaborative spirit, we created a family.

The family of twelve Builder characters, who look angular, friendly, and diverse

As soon as we met, these Builders felt much more familiar. They've become our unofficial mascots, and their hard hats have become our somewhat-official logo.

To show how all this came together, we created some sample materials we could use to explain the idea to our decisionmakers.

Example posters and social media posts, all featuring the colors, typography, and illustrations that make up our proposed brand

The final boss

This was the hard part. We did not expect CBRE to swallow this neon green pill at all. That's why we made it so zany: rejection was likely, so we might as well have fun with the idea. But each time we made our case to a stakeholder, we found ourselves met with understanding, enthusiasm and permission to move ahead. Up and up the chain we went. Before long, it was time to present to Bob Sulentic, CEO of CBRE. He turned out to be the most enthusiastic of all, happily endorsing the project. The conversation even led to his visiting our office to inaugurate the brand:

Bob Sulentic smiles and holds a neon green 3D-printed Builder against a circuitmap backdrop in our NYC office

CBRE Build in action

Approval in hand, it was time to launch the brand. First came the inevitable swag:

CBRE Build t-shirts, stickers and notebooks

Shirts, notebooks, and stickers in Build Green, or Pantone 802.

Next, we updated our presence at campus recruiting events:

A side-by-side comparison of our old CBRE-branded conference booth and our new, CBRE Build-branded one

This was an instant success. Before, as CBRE, students walked right by. But they were curious about CBRE Build, stopping to say they'd been pulled in by all the radioactive green.

Around this time we moved into a new office, which got the full CBRE Build treatment.

Room signs for our new office, featuring MAD Sans and large Builder illustrations

A dozen members of the Build NYC team gather in a conference room whose glass walls are decorated with large Builder graphics

And of course, we had to throw a party.

CBRE Build-branded notebooks with neon green pages stacked to form the word BUILD across a large conference table

Neon green balloons printed with Build hard hats and Builder characters decorate a lively party in our NYC office

The Builders helped us set the mood…

An animation of our Builder characters dancing across a neon green background

…And it worked. (Don't believe the empty room; it was late!)

An animation of three of our team members dancing at the party, imitating the dances of the Builder characters from the previous animation

Builders Building Build

The best part has been seeing all the ways our team has made the brand their own. We've had neon green cocktails, Builders 3D printed and handmade from felt, a Build-a-Builder papercraft workshop, an enormous Builder hard hat, and all kinds of charms and ornaments laser-cut in-house.

A grid of four images: a team member smiles in a papercraft Build hard hat; a handmade felt Builder character; a set of papercraft Builders on a table; and a pumpkin carved with a Build hard hat

Wrapup

That's how we made CBRE Build. We discovered a scattered set of identity problems, defined the qualities our solution needed, expressed those qualities visually, and iterated until we and the company approved.

It hasn't been long, but early signs point to success. Our recruiters are reporting an uptick in interest, especially with college students. CBRE is spreading the brand to its tech offices around the world — there are now Build offices in Dallas, Seattle, and soon, London. And for us, the Builders, there is a sense of having found our place as tech people within CBRE. It took over a year, but when someone asks us where we work, we Builders can now answer with easy confidence.