Athletics devises grid-system-based visual identity for IBM TechXchange

The identity mixes Paul Rand’s 1981 Eye-Bee-M rebus with archive pictograms and photography to “celebrate human interaction, collaboration and learning”.

New York-based design studio Athletics has collaborated with IBM’s brand and experience team Blue Studio on the IBM TechXchange Conference identity, which is built on a grid system comprising four core components.

IBM TechXchange is a client advocacy program for a technical audience that addresses learning and community. Athletics has previously collaborated with Blue Studio on the design of IBM Be Equal, IBM Consulting and IBM Blockchain.

For this project, Athletics was tasked with introducing technology into the design system which will be used across all aspects of the conference, including the physical environment, wayfinding, and communications as well as on-screen, according to Athletics founding partner Jason Gnewikow. Devising a “flexible and intuitive system” was key, says Gnewikow, as the identity had to reflect “all of the innovation IBM technologies offer to developers”.

A grid was developed with four core components in mind, “each of which carries its own symbolic significance and unique visual style”, Athletics creative director and project lead Daniel Irizarry reveals. The components are shapes, the IBM rebus – originally designed by Paul Rand – pictograms and photography.

Irizarry describes the shapes as “reductive yet illustrative”, adding that they were designed to represent “connection”. Individual elements from Paul Rand’s rebus designed in 1981 have also been applied to the grid. The rebus uses pictures to represent letters and was designed by Rand for his Eye-Bee-M poster in support of the IBM THINK motto.

Athletics took relevant pictograms from IBM’s existing library that represent technology, “both general and specific to a particular technical track being discussed”, says Irizarry. IBM TechXchange’s library of photography was chosen to reflect the attendees and features “technologists interacting with each other or with relevant software or hardware” in a bid to “celebrate human interaction, collaboration and learning”, he adds.

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The grid system will serve as a framework for developing new elements for future events.

Designs have been “purpose-built to function in an interactive and programmatic fashion”, says Irizarry, and motion plays an important role in the identity. He explains how the motion design “evokes the ever-changing nature of technology”, featuring a combination of “immediate cuts, snapping movements, and continuous linear looping” that looks to be “technical yet direct”.

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One of the challenges ensuring that the system was “complete and comprehensive ahead of time”, ready for the creation of the conference material, according to Irizarry.

He says the logotype for the IBM TechXchange program “appears in the context of the IBM master brand and alongside the IBM 8-bar logo”. The IBM TechXchange colour palette is also derived from the master brand.

The “wide spectrum of hues” were chosen to symbolise the “diversity of thought and representation that will be present at future events”, says Irizarry.

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