Take a look at the news agenda and it’s hard to miss the prevalence of AI, especially how it’s being visually depicted in the media.
There's no shortage of images of pristine white robots, dark blue and black colour palettes, graphics of abstract circuit boards with their network of lines and dots, and blended photographs fusing robotic and human features.
A common trope is the stereotypical futuristic replication of Michelangelo's “The Creation of Adam”, with a robot hand touching a human hand, symbolising the unity of AI and humanity, in place of the gentle touch of two human hands. Of course, this sci-fi-esque style of representing AI feels outdated, harkening back to movies like Minority Report (2002), I-Robot (2004), and even the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The intent behind these clichéd visuals is to express a future where AI technology, innovation and humanity all intersect harmoniously.
The reality is that AI isn't some brand new, emerging concept – it's been quietly powering many aspects of our lives for years already. Well before AI became a hot media topic – thanks to new platforms like ChatGPT and AI image generators like Midjourney – it was already operating behind the scenes, personalising our social feeds, recommending shows on Netflix, curating our Spotify playlists, and enabling navigation on Google Maps.
AI capabilities were seamlessly integrated into existing products without most users realising it.
Of all AI applications, smart speakers have perhaps developed the most human-like personas through conversational voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. These AI assistants even exhibit some semblance of lighthearted personality in their ability to respond to questions with a touch of humour and wit. Some parents witnessed their own kids curled up in hysterics after discovering the fun of asking Alexa to make silly "fart noises."
Giving AI a human name, voice and persona makes it more relatable and approachable.
However, anthropomorphising also risks setting unrealistic expectations for AI's capabilities. When crafting visual identities for AI compared to traditional products, striking the right balance of personality and managing end-user expectations is a key consideration.
In the wake of ChatGPT's meteoric rise, newly launched AI products and services often adopt visual branding reminiscent of recent tech start-ups: soft and friendly typography, warm and accessible colour palettes, fun illustration styles, and slick UX/UI for smooth interactions. However, keeping AI branding modern yet inclusive remains an ongoing challenge. As capabilities advance rapidly, brands must maintain cutting-edge perceptions without confusing demographics less familiar with AI.
The solution is balancing mainstream aesthetics that feel accessible, while subtly indicating advanced capabilities.
AI branding should feel familiar yet futuristic, inclusive yet innovative. Blending start-up visual tropes with cues hinting at AI's benefits bridges divides, appealing to broad audiences open to, but not overwhelmed by the technology's potential. Importantly, the AI technology powering these offerings stays behind the scenes, with no need to portray it in an overtly futuristic way. AI is increasingly integrated seamlessly into everyday tools to conveniently enhance our lives, not remake them.
Keeping the focus on lifestyle enhancement rather than technology wonder upholds inclusive and progressive brand identities.
AI will play an integral role in our lives and futures, so rather than conjuring images of a dystopian AI apocalypse like Skynet in the Terminator movies, AI’s identity should be grounded in its purpose as an empowering technology that supports and connects us.
Much as AI is the product of human collaboration, so should its branding invite openness instead of isolation as we shape the future.
Lessons from early AI branding successes like Siri or Alexa highlight the power of leveraging existing brand recognition, while allowing some personality to shine through. The visual identity of AI should ultimately reflect its purpose as an assistive technology improving lives. Just as AI development is a collaborative effort, its branding should invite openness over isolation in shaping the future.
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