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Work / Graphic Design

Pentagram provides a flexible new visual identity for tech start-up Graphcore

A team at Pentagram led by Jody Hudson-Powell and Luke Powell has produced a brand strategy, tone of voice and visual identity for tech start-up Graphcore. The new identity, in the words of the designers, “presents Graphcore as both an innovative technology company and an ambitious thought leader, creating a brand that strikes a balance between product and editorial, putting people at the centre of technology.”

Graphcore is a Bristol and Palo Alto-based company with a mission of creating a future where machine learning improves all aspects of our everyday lives. “They’ve developed a one of a kind Intelligent Processing Unit (IPU) that accelerates machine learning and gives experts in the field a platform that’s efficient, flexible and dynamic,” says Pentagram. “This piece of hardware will not only empower existing start-ups, universities and research labs but will effectively shift and shape future sectors and industries.”

The visual identity was developed in collaboration between Graphcore and Pentagram. The designers wanted to challenge some of the “negative connotations of artificial intelligence, including the implicit gender bias that machine learning can inherit from its creators and the data they use.” The project seeks to address the masculine visual tropes and ever-present jargon that is prevalent in tech branding. “To challenge this cliche, the Graphcore brand combines hard type and patterns with a soft colour palette and delicate illustrations,” says Pentagram. “In addition, the brand utilises an optimistic and conversational tone of voice that embodies the complexity of advanced technology without becoming too opaque to understand.”

The new brand has been introduced across printed and digital collateral and comes with a toolkit that allows glyphs and images to be created as Graphcore needs them. “Graphcore’s identity is built around the concept of resolution, with each of its components finding its form by sensing and responding to its environment,” explain the designers. “To accompany the logo, a visual toolkit of patterns, glyphs, shapes and letterforms was developed that all move and respond to changing resolutions and densities. Aware that the capabilities of machine learning is developing incredibly quickly, the toolkit references design created by neural networks rather than relying on it.

“Pentagram developed a shape generator which allows Graphcore’s internal team to create infinite patterns that illustrate their website content, presentations and more. The generator is part-random and part-weighted and is similar to the system developed for Graphcore’s animations, which are used across digital touchpoints.”

The wordmark for the brand is drawn from the headline typeface, Graphcore Quantized, that was designed by Pentagram. “Based on Caslon’s Egyptian, it contains more than 65 alternate characters of varying resolutions. Using opentype features, the typeface seamlessly switches between characters as it’s typed, giving a different yet consistent outcome every time it’s used.”

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