When Massimo Portincaso became Boston Consulting Group’s global head of marketing in 2005, the firm’s brand identity was seriously broken. Different colors, different typography, and different logos in ran riot in different regions. “The brand was present in 40 countries and it was complete anarchy,” he says.
After a decade of fine tuning, the prestigious management consulting firm finally looked the same in Japan as it does the U.S. Now it was time, Portincaso determined, to rachet up the brand look to a new level, particularly as competing professional services firms sought to portray themselves as more than just spreadsheet-driven number crunchers.
“I wanted to have a strong visual language shaping the brand, one that engages people and makes them think,” he says.
CarboneSmolan, the company’s long-time design partner, suggested using parametric art as a way of jump-starting a conversation about BCG’s willingness to embrace the right brain in its business as well as leaning on the left brain to provide the services that a professional consulting firm typically delivers.
Parametric art is a marriage of science and art. It typically involves translating a set of variables into a visual output using algorithms and computer code. In the case of BCG, the variables already existed in the descriptions of the 40 practice areas central to the company’s business.
These are things like retail, manufacturing, energy, and consumer products–essentially little businesses within the company–each of which is described in a short statement. CarboneSmolan proposed crunching each of those descriptions into 75 words and then running them through an algorithm that generated a piece of art based on the letters in the text.
In the parametric software, letters are mapped in order across a three dimensional space. The designer manipulates some 400 dials and knobs to find just the right composition of color, composition, and structure. Finally, the designers add lighting effects for extra depth and interest, essentially taking a photo of a key moment of the reaction.
“There are infinite possibilities,” says CarboneSmolan founder Ken Carbone. “The parametric system looks at letters, character count, the order of letters, and where they appear in the sentence.”
“There’s a huge variety but there’s still a creative hand that’s adjusting the parameters, finding the moment in the sculpture that’s aesthetically appealing, “ says Paul Pierson, CarboneSmolan’s design director, “but it’s all driven ultimately by that one piece of content.”
The exciting thing, Carbone says, is that instead of the conventional way of representing what BCG does–by ginning up little icons of smoke stacks to represent its expertise in manufacturing, or little cars to denote its skill in automotive–the company was willing to take a creative leap and represent, say, the biopharmaceutical practice with an image that looks like a kelp forest, or the transportation and travel business like a fish tank. The parametric art works appear on BCG’s website.
“The breakthrough here is that you have the science part of the business–the left brain–embracing something that is super abstract, but it’s not abstract in the sense that there’s no meaning,” says Carbone. “The actual image comes from their deep wisdom about their practice areas.”
“Embracing abstraction can be very trying for this category of business,” he says. “They think very literally. But they now have this rich palette of images that represents how they think in a very challenging way. “
The value of this initiative for BCG is two-fold: not only does it provide web content to distinguish the practice areas, but it provides a conversation starter for both clients and prospects that expresses what BCG is, and how deeply they think about things.
By putting the description of the field through the algorithm, and making it less literal, the art gives the consultants an opportunity to elevate the discussion, going deeper into the many facets that influence business conditions today.
“The designers take the natural language-processing of our challenge statements and use the algorithm like a brush, much like Michelangelo used brushes to paint the Sistine Chapel,” says Portincaso.
“People who are not fans of art can come to understand and appreciate it if they know the story behind it,” says Pierson.
As the images roll out across the web, they become branded elements that a client can use for his own purposes, whether to illustrate a deck of materials, or integrate into email and social media or as environmental graphics for conferences and exhibits.
So far, the initiative has been a success. “Users have doubled the time they’ve spent on the site, and 40% have scrolled down the page,” says Portincaso.
Internally, the program has also been a success. “People are proud again,” says Portincaso. “We were getting a bit stodgy and old and now they feel like this is really cool. But we’re doing this because we believe it, not just because we want to look nice.”