Alibaba Cloud is the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group. It provides a comprehensive suite of global cloud computing services to power both international customers’ online businesses and Alibaba Group’s own e-commerce ecosystem.

At the heart of this ambition lies ET Brain, best described as an intelligent, adaptive technology platform for practical applications where data processing, machine learning and real-time processing are key.

It has the ability to revolutionise established systems, influencing everything from urban traffic flow and environment management, to healthcare practice. And as a highly technical and radically new proposition, it needed to establish its presence in the world.

Evolutionary technology
Whilst countries like China have embraced automation, the West tends to fear AI and robotics, perhaps because of extreme media portrayals and increasing concern over control.

Alibaba Cloud took a fresh approach to this challenge. It thinks of ET Brain as a partner rather than a tool.

Our task was to create a visual, audio and behavioural language that would feel natural, friendly and human, whilst still feeling future-facing and exciting. We called this ‘Evolutionary Technology’ – a technology that understands us, evolves with us and is for everybody.

Creating connection
From the start, it was clear ET Brain was more than a static visual mark. For people to be able to build affinity with what could otherwise be a ‘cold’ computing technology, it needed to feel like a living system – an intelligent, conscious entity, capable of emotion.

Using motion as the starting point, we focused on a core set of behaviours and built out subtle animations. These would give a sense of what the technology was doing, but also how it might be feeling.

Out of these motion studies came a library that could be used in ET Brain’s more dynamic applications. They also allowed us to refine its digital language, pairing behaviours with signature sounds to form the core brand.

The principle feature of the mark was the central dot, referencing how data might enter and leave the system. We also needed to convey the technology’s reliance on the power of the Alibaba cloud infrastructure. We gave it an amorphous, dynamic background to represent this, and act as a world it can live within. This design language helps create a conceptual understanding of the technology in an accessible and friendly way.

Beyond digital
The identity would be used to represent both the technology and the company on screen at conferences, and, in some applications, it would form a direct interface with users.

Beyond digital, ET Brain needed a representation in the physical world. It’s a common cultural expectation that technology products have a mascot, manifest in lines of merchandise, costumed characters at trade shows and even animated entertainment.

The central dot, as the key tool of expression, could be anthropomorphised into a face. The rest of the figure reflected the multi-faceted personality and application of the technology.

Hello ET Brain
ET Brain was launched to the world in January 2018, first at the Beijing Yunxi Conference and subsequently at CES in Las Vegas.

Alibaba Cloud became a worldwide services partner to the Olympic games at the beginning of 2018, and shortly after this Creative Director Emma Barratt shared her view with the Drum. The work was also given an honorable mention by Fast Company in their Innovation by Design awards.

ET brain is an exemplar of intelligent identity – a future brand for the future of our digital lives.

“ET was launched at a conference, and was successful and powerful.

The character is welcomed, and has fascinated our audience. People love it!”

Xirui Zyl, Brand and Communications Manager