Responses by Michael Tabtabai, executive creative director, Google Brand Studio
Background: “Year in Search” is Google’s annual love letter to the world, telling the story of 2020 through the lens of Google Trends’ search data. In 2020, the world asked “why” more than any other time in history. Now in its tenth year, with the help of Cabin Editing Company, our three-minute film shows how our touching, surprising, and often unexpected search results reveal culture and shared humanity.
Reasoning: This project is an awesome responsibility to work on each year. We’re proud to create a moment that people look forward to each year, and though we felt even more of a responsibility to meet people’s expectations, we approached it the same way as we have in the past: be true to the year, be true to the data and be truly optimistic. This year, representation, care, empathy, understanding and optimism mattered more than ever. We saw that in the questions the world asked in 2020, and it shows in the film.
Challenges: This has been a hell of a year. We all experienced some type of difficulty. Our challenge was to find ways to illustrate these moments with great reverence. But our biggest hurdle was crafting the final act. How could we make this ending feel like a hug we didn’t know we needed? Kofi Lost, the poet and narrator, had many powerful lines for us to draw from, but distilling his words a little further, one line stood out above the rest: “Why is it that this year showed us its worst, and we still found ways to triumph?” Once we focused on how to bring meaning to the line, things started to fall into place.
Favorite details: We worked with Grammy-winning producer Peter CottonTale to create a track for the film. We presented a mood board for our concept and he came back with rough sketches that informed us what this film was going to be and how it should feel. As the cut evolved, so did the music. Watching these two elements challenge and inspire each other helped us elevate the creative to exciting and unexpected places. Ultimately, Peter’s song delivers a message of hope, and pairs with the “Year in Search” visuals and Kofi’s poetic narration to deliver a compelling film we’re proud to share with the world.
Specific demands: Editing films and producing music and interactive experiences at this level requires close collaboration between teams and partners, and viewing, selecting, editing, licensing and clean-up of thousands of pieces of content. As a result, things move at lightning pace, and keeping a more distributed team in lock step took extra effort this year. Though we were able to create a COVID-safe protocol that allowed a few team members to work together in person, it was nothing like the team production spaces we’ve created in the past. However, I’m proud of our producers, who helped us navigate the realities of production in 2020. I’m also excited to sit in the edit bay with everyone again in the future—hopefully for the 2021 edition.
Anything new: This was the first year we saw much similarity across the globe around key issues. In other years, searches tend to be unique to a specific location. But this year, search data reflected a world seeking to understand and cope with what was happening on a global level. For example, global searches for “how to thank” hit an all-time high, with teachers, bus drivers, nurses and doctors topping the lists. What we learned in the end is that we really are all connected, more than we ever knew before.