Pentagram’s Jody Hudson-Powell and Luke Powell use “the building blocks of life” to rebrand Oxford Ionics
The brothers came together to deliver a simple and unfussy identity for a mind-boggling scientific tech company that creates high-performance quantum computers. (Disclaimer: Don’t worry, this is a branding story. You won’t need a degree in quantum physics.)
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 15 October 2021
“Much like how atoms are the building blocks of life, they are also the base element in our identity for Oxford Ionics.” This is how Jody Hudson-Powell explains his recent branding project for Oxford Ionics, co-created with his brother Luke Powell. The Pentagram partners were asked by Oxford Ionics to develop an identity and strategy to symbolise the company’s precision-based approach to quantum computing.
Hudson-Powell tells us that Oxford Ionics’ quantum computer uses a technique called ion trapping. “We were lucky enough to visit them and see their hardware, and when we saw it, we were struck by its small size,” he says. He notes that lots of the work the fraternal duo create is about telling compelling visual stories about deeply technical systems. So, how would this translate into a brand for quantum computing?
Hudson-Powell explains that, “while the founders and the technology are young and incredibly smart, quantum computing has been stuck in academia for a long time.” So the Pentagram duo wanted to make a brand that felt like a tech brand whilst shifting people’s perceptions of them beyond just research. “There was a big leap from my basic popular science understanding of quantum computing to getting to know Oxford Ionics and their technology well enough to begin our work on the identity,” says Hudson-Powell. Luckily for the duo, the two founders Dr Chris Ballance and Dr Tom Harty “are both incredibly articulate and patient,” and allowed the Pentagram designers to spend a day with them in Oxford, where “things became (mostly) clear,” Hudson-Powell adds.
“Our research was purely based on scientific references to the technology,” he says, adding that he and his brother saw “an incredible photo by an Oxford student of a single atom in an ion trap,” which got them “really excited” about the branding project.
Therefore, the new Oxford Ionics logo is based on the company’s extensive research into trapped-ion technology. The logo zooms into the ion itself which is the focus of the company’s technology. The wordmark at the centre of the new identity is constructed using a simple dot grid system, as is the brand’s new symbol. This was created to represent the movement of ions and intended as a reference to zeroes and ones – the binary code at the foundation of computing.
“The way the founders talk about ions is scientific yet very poetic, and by respecting as near as possible an ion’s natural state, they are able to get very high success rates. Less manipulation of the ions means less need for excessive hardware,” Hudson-Powell tells It’s Nice That. Continuing on the same thread of ion-focused design, the little dots used in the logo also form the letters ‘O’ and ‘I’ – and the same fused-dot graphic device is maintained in the letters of the lowercase wordmark, which uses the Dot Matrix Two typeface. This type, alongside its uppercase version, is used with the sans serif Monument Grotesk, which appears in headlines and body copy.
The colour palette, meanwhile, takes its cue from a desire to strike a balance between technology and business, whilst emphasising the geometric shapes. Sharp black, green and white tones are used alongside softer pastels intended to complement the bolder palette, creating an approachable brand. Branding from the Pentagram brothers Hudson-Powell and Powell has been implemented across Oxford Ionics’ digital assets, such as the website and social media accounts, and across merchandising and print.
GalleryPentagram: Oxford Ionics Rebrand (Copyright © Oxford Ionics, 2021)
Pentagram: Oxford Ionics Rebrand (Copyright © Oxford Ionics, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.