Developed between 2005 and 2011 — originally with the main purpose of building a computer that could compete against humans in Jeopardy! — IBM Watson is an artificial intelligence system that, after successfully defeating the show’s 74-time-winner Ken Jennings, represents “a pioneering collection of ‘cognitive’ computing capabilities that can understand, reason, learn and interact.” Watson “asks questions, discerns patterns, draws connections, discovers and delivers insights” and is now applied to everything from accelerating cancer research and treatment to personalizing teaching based on individual student needs, and is available as an API, allowing others to build on it. Recently, IBM has redesigned Watson’s identity in-house led by ex-Wolff Olins Todd Simmons, now VP, IBM Brand Experience & Design, in collaboration with Athletics, Atlason, Universal Everything, ManvsMachine, and Ogilvy.
The old logo came from the visual language of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” icons, designed by Office around 2009 - 10, that had the recurring visual structure of exclamation marks around circular compositions. As an abstract representation of AI — neural-looking, connected things — it was fine and I’m sure no one would have complained if they had kept using it for many more years. The new logo maintains the same structure and similar concept but is executed beautifully, capturing its three-dimensionality in great way through the use of gradients that fade into the back of the sphere. It now feels like the, metaphorically speaking, living system that is Watson. The color palette is quite great, avoiding the typical bright, in-your-face palettes we’ve been seeing these past few years. The animations seal the deal in terms of establishing the structure and presence of the icon.
Some of the applications are still somewhat loose, in development, or in some form of rendering — the website is solid and a crisp representation of the identity — but even from looking at the sample guideline pages you can tell this is very well thought-out and has an attractive, contemporary, techie-but-not-too-techie aesthetic that faithfully represents the renewed design sense of IBM. Overall, this is a great identity for a product that’s really difficult to market and present in a way that makes it feel like the technological advancement that it is while not making it feel like the tool that will kill you in your sleep when the digital overlords and Internet of Things things take over us.