Brand Identity, Digital Design

Visual identity, dynamic typeface and pattern generator for a machine learning hardware start-up.

Based in Bristol (UK) and Palo Alto (US), Graphcore is a technology start-up with the ambitious 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. 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.

Pentagram worked closely with the company to develop a brand strategy, tone of voice and visual identity that 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.

A driver of our approach was to strike out against 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. This bias spills into tech branding, which often leans into a world of well-worn masculine tropes and overly complicated language. To challenge this cliché, the Graphcore brand combines hard type and patterns with a soft colour palette and delicate illustrations. 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.

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. 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.

Graphcore’s wordmark is drawn from the geometry of the brand’s headline typeface Graphcore Quantized 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.

The shapes and glyphs serve as illustrative tools within the system that animate and elevate Graphcore’s content. Finding the right imagery, especially in such a speculative industry, can be difficult, resulting in the use of stock photographs that dilute content or fail to illustrate an idea properly. To combat this, 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. These specially developed tools allow Graphcore to own their brand, an attitude that has been applied to all aspects of the identity, including the introduction of editable digital guidelines and the composition of a Graphcore music library.

The final part of the brand toolkit is a commissioned illustration by Carla McRae, that contains several scenes exploring how future industries will be impacted by machine learning. This illustration can be split and cut to reflect the content it accompanies to create a vision of the future that’s positive and something to look forward to it.In addition to the brand development, Graphcore invited Pentagram to collaborate with MAP on the the industrial design of the hardware, ensuring that the brand is implemented on every part of their offer.

The Graphcore brand has been implemented across a range of collateral, all with the focus of creating a holistic experience both internally and externally. It positions the company in a unique space amongst competitors, with a focus of empowering creatives and innovators in the industry and demystifying the world of machine learning.

“Design is integral to us,” says Sally Doherty, the Chief Marketing Officer of Graphcore. “Our IPU is a real game changer for machine intelligence researchers; in the way they work; in the new approaches they are able to try and in the results they will see. It has been meticulously designed from scratch by our engineering team specifically for machine learning workloads; to handle massively complex machine intelligence graphs with an easy to use software framework that simplifies and speeds everything up. We wanted our branding to reflect this and Graphcore’s position at the forefront of this new era of computing for machine intelligence. Pentagram interpreted this for us brilliantly with the new brand identity.”

Jody Hudson-Powell
Luke Powell
Project team
Hamlet Auyeung
Ben Leonard
Mat Hill
Sabrina Maerky
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