Pentagram partners Jody Hudson-Powell and Luke Powell have thrown away the rule book and defied tradition with their new identity for Cohere that looks to nature for its visual cues.
The world is currently simmering away with hot new tools and technologies that fall under the AI umbrella. You've likely heard of ChatGPT, Google's Bard and Facebook's LLaMA, all of which make use of natural language processing, otherwise known as NLP. And while the results of these NLP tools range from the useful to the trivial, they still feel like something of a dark art with little useful connection to people's daily needs.
That's where Cohere comes in. Described as a language AI platform, Cohere is designed to be used today by any software engineer at any company. Founded by Ivan Zhang, Nick Frosst and Aidan Gomez, Cohere uses output-based models to generate copy, classify information and summarise text. In practical terms, this means Cohere could be used to target hate speech and source-specific information and process vast amounts of data quickly.
This all sounds well and good, but if there's one hurdle that trips up AI's ability to connect with the masses, it's branding. Even advanced, accessible tools like Cohere need an approachable appearance to appeal to the public. And that's just what Pentagram has been working on since being approached by Cohere in 2021.
Using the idea of 'NLP Now' as its starting point, Pentagram decided to veer away from the well-trodden path of overly austere branding laden with sci-fi tropes often used by other tech companies. "We needed to create a brand that could match Cohere's offer of game-changing, useful language AI," the creative team explained.
"Our solution was to root our approach in a linguistic truth - language isn't static; it's an ever-changing ecosystem. The quill, the printing press, the Word Processor, and the evolution of language is a story that has been retold many times.
"In the history of language being remade and reimagined, NLP brings with it one key difference. It fuses natural human intelligence with synthetic machine learning. Introducing the fluidity and imperfections of nature to the rationality and efficiency of computing."
Having settled on this fusion of the natural and the artificial as their basis, the Pentagram team turned to biology and anchored the Cohere identity in the visual language of cells. This resulted in blob-like forms augmented by the mathematical concept of Voronoi diagrams, where cells partition off into an infinite number of cells on an infinite number of plains.
"We saw these shapes and plains as a bubbling neural network that could be morphed and spun out in multiple ways, in the same way, that NLP can. We then explored the possibilities of this network. Our cells became detailed, sculptural balloons. Our Voronoi plains became textured pebble structures. Our custom-designed typeface became vastly customisable with each letterform being able to be split at any point."
This visual language of cells extends to the Cohere logo, comprising a symbol and a wordmark crafted with cell-like components representing the language itself. "The symbol comprises three cells, each in a different stage of expansion which come together to build something new.
"These cells dynamically connect to create an abstract letter 'C'. The imperfect geometry of each of the three shapes celebrates the organic and captures ideas of natural meeting synthetic. These subtle touches help the visual concept of a 'new nature' emerge."
As for Cohere's colour scheme, its new palette features natural tones that convey a sense of nature, namely coniferous green, mushroom grey and volcanic black. When combined with synthetic hues such as simulated coral, synthetic quartz and acrylic blue, the concept of nature mixing with technology once again expresses itself. "Gradient atmospheres are an extension of the colour palette, providing more texture within the layouts without being as visually dominating as 3D cells or patterns."
Accompanying this colour scheme is a set of icons that act as hardworking functional assets built to perform at a small scale. Each consists of a line drawing inspired by the Voronoi language designed within a 24-pixel square. Alongside these, the Pentagram team also designed a set of functional UI icons and a set of Endpoint pictograms. "These act as shortened visual identifiers that quickly communicate endpoints. A conversation between two blocks, they are built into the cell-based language."
Rounding off the identity is a new custom typeface which includes headline, outline, text and mono versions. As with other design elements in the brand, the headline version features Voronoi elements, specifically cell cuts that are automatically dispersed through the characters as you type. And thanks to a variable version of the font, the user has control over the weight, number and placement of cuts in the lettering.
A revolutionary rebrand requires a revolutionary approach, which is what Cohere got. A suite of tools was specially created so that Cohere's internal marketing and design teams could craft bespoke and compelling ways to sell the Cohere brand. "Using these versatile tools, beautiful marketing materials can easily be created for any on and offline applications."
These tools include a plug-in for Figma, which enables the Cohere team to easily create their own Voronoi patterns, plus two layout component libraries and a custom Cinema 4D tool that allows the design team to create 3D pebble visuals based on cellular modelling.
Once these elements were set, Pentagram's design team brought it to life across the entirety of the Cohere experience. It included the Cohere website, a seamless platform to introduce potential users to its services.
"Everything is explained visually, helping potential users to quickly understand what Cohere can offer a business and how easy and intuitive it is to use," adds the Pentagram team. "Features include a dashboard designed to give a personalised experience, a playground area and extensive user information.
"The playground encourages users to easily explore Cohere's different features within a test environment; it lets them save and share code and provides access to help and support when necessary. The website also contains a wealth of useful information and documentation in the form of blog posts, tutorials, guides and guidelines for responsible usage, all of which can be accessed by anyone visiting the site."
By bringing all of these elements together in one set of visuals, Cohere and Pentagram have helped bring breakthrough technology to life in a way that is sensitive to its remarkable potential and exhibits its utility to users. "Because NLP isn't a faraway dream or an exclusive club for ML devotees, it's here and can benefit businesses everywhere, now," the team concludes.