Rethink Robotics makes extraordinary robots for manufacturing and scientific research. At the company’s core is a profound vision of the relationship between humans and robots, and no wonder—co-founder Rodney Brooks is a robotics pioneer. That vision, however, was lost in its website, buried by a complex information architecture and unfocused design.
The site Fresh Tilled Soil crafted better illustrates Rethink’s compelling narrative and serves as a flexible platform for their future growth. I led the design and storytelling efforts, Hamy Pham and Kristy Stetson provided design support (as well as photography and information architecture expertise, respectively), and Sarah Canieso and Dave Romero spearheaded development, from the responsive front-end to the highly customized Wordpress installation. The full story is available in a Fresh Tilled Soil case study.
While the overall design effort was highly collaborative, there is one corner of the work I can call my own: the iconography.
Communicating the immense potential of Rethink’s flagship robot, Baxter, had historically proven challenging. First, Baxter rarely replaces an existing machine in a simple one-two swap. It’s a highly flexible robot that excels at mimicing the repetitive, manual tasks often relegated to low-level line workers. Adding Baxter necessitates creative thinking, shifting the production line around to best capitalize on its unique strengths. Second, Rethink’s sales team found that many prospects saw themselves in narrow terms. When shown examples of Baxter working in factories or situations that didn’t closely match their own, many potential clients said “Baxter isn’t for me,” and the deal was lost.
Custom iconography paired with clean storytelling helped to bridge these communication gaps. We worked with Rethink’s team to identify Baxter’s five primary applications: kitting, packaging, loading & unloading, machine tending, and material handling. The icons I developed over countless rounds of paper sketching and vector tweaking lack any suggestion of a specific product or material. Given that Baxter’s “hands” are interchangeable (grabbing pincers may be swapped out for vacuum suckers), I even removed any suggestion of the robot itself, instead focusing on the action it takes. The resulting icons appear throughout the site, paired with short descriptive text and tightly shot videos that focus on interaction over environment.
Shown below are just a few of the countless variations created during the iterative design process, as well as a handful that are found elsewhere on the website.
Rethink Robotics is pioneering the future of robotics in manufacturing and research, and it was a real joy and honor to work with their team.