One of the most important aspects of design is organization. Just as with writing a long narrative, organizing the problem is one of the first and most difficult steps that a designer must take. This is exactly what StoryTK partner Carl De Torres did for IBM Research for the development of the THINK Lab user experience interface. IBM Research is arguably the world's premier network of research labs, comprising 12 facilities around the world that together represent the beating heart of the company. It's in these labs that countless important inventions like the barcode, Lasik surgery, DRAM and the magnetic strip were created.
Thanks to their tireless dedication and persistent ingenuity, the researchers at these labs have been awarded more patents than any other company every year for the past 20 years. To visualize and celebrate the amazing work happening in the labs, IBM Research executives wanted to create a state-of-the-art client briefing center.
De Torres spent time at the TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights with key stakeholders. The research phase of the project revealed a core challenge: unifying a vast database of projects into a coherent navigation system. There were hundreds of projects needing to be visualized. Some had advanced into production or even reached market. Others were pilots or even still in the whiteboard stage. De Torres wanted to celebrate the diversity of the projects as well as the stages of creation with a system that could capture beauty and impact as well as ambition and potential. The system also needed to be alive so as to adapt to the development or production status of any given project.
How does something grow in complexity? That's the question at the heart of the Platonic Solid design system that De Torres developed. Nothing comes into being in its most complex state. Rather, systems – living or otherwise – generally grow and evolve (or even deteriorate) to include new dimensions and break new ground along the way.
The evolution of forms found in the Platonic Solids offered a perfect graphic organizational device by which to categorize a project's status. The nascent projects at IBM Research are represented as a tetrahedron or a cube, while more complex projects are visualized as Dodecahedrons or Icosahedrons. This design logic came to inform the entire user interface and was subsequently adopted as the labs graphic identity.
This simple yet dynamic design system helped bring order and logic to a wide array of content and data. It has since empowered other designers and developers. Now they have a framework to add on to. That framework itself become more complex over time and allow the THINK Lab to dynamically express the wonderful work happening at IBM Research for years to come.