Pentagram and Map have set out to prove that computer hardware doesn’t have to be “cold, dark boxes”, by designing colourful products for machine-learning technology startup Graphcore.
The two design agencies have collaborated on the industrial design of Graphcore‘s artificial-intelligence chip system, which helps speed up the process and resource-intensive deployment of AI.
This includes an intelligent processing unit (IPU) – the company’s own version of a central processing unit – and the rackmount chassis that contains it.
London-based Pentagram partners Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell had already developed a visual identity for the brand, which includes a pixelated typeface and a bespoke software tool called Quadtree that is used to generate unique geometric patterns.
They enlisted London studio Map to help transform this into a physical design, able to represent individuality and “the potential for change”.
Their aim was to create an alternative to “anonymous” computer systems, which typically “live in cold, dark boxes in even colder, darkened rooms”.
Pentagram’s design consisted of a series of colourful modular tiles that can be assembled in various ways.
Map translated these elements into a customisable panel system made up of over 50 distinctive injection-moulded plastic tiles, using the Quadtree system to generate patterns, layouts and colours for new tiles.
The design agency applied nine of these tiles to each Graphcore IPU, allowing for more than 1,000 unique combinations, in turn granting each unit with its own distinct identity.
Each tile is coloured in Graphcore’s characteristic palette of navy, light blue, pink and pale yellow.
“Affording this much time and care on the aesthetic of a product that largely goes unnoticed inside larger computer systems is unusual,” said the design team.
“However, Graphcore’s IPU is a unique breakthrough technology, and it is important that the launch products reflects this.”
The front face design of the rackmount chassis, which is designed to connect eight IPUs together in a system, uses patterns from Graphcore’s visual identity as openings for ventilation, and clip-on branded details can also be attached onto the airflow grid to add extra personalisation.
This is not the first time Pentagram has created a new branding for a tech company – the firm gave insurance tech company Cytora an animated visual identity that aims to demystify how the business works.
To reflect the ever-changing quality of Cytora’s artificial-intelligence-powered risk engine, Pentagram used visualisations based on these algorithms to make the company a brand identity, which feature constantly shifting blocks layered with pastel and bright colours.