Artificial Intelligence has occupied science fiction dreams (and nightmares) for years and the advent of household “friends” like Alexa and Google’s Assistant have put AI front and center in today’s technological landscape. But if you look back over the last decade, there is no more recognizable example of computer intelligence and engineering than IBM’s Watson. Who can forget the 21st century’s version John Henry vs the Steam Drill when Watson competed on Jeopardy! against the equally legendary Ken Jennings?

IBM has a long history of pushing the boundaries in computing so we were honored to partner with them on their next Artificial Intelligence project, IBM Debater.



A team of IBM engineers had developed an advanced AI technology that was capable of forming and articulating arguments based on research and facts in real-time. We were blown away by the concept and even more to hear that they were going to debut this new AI technology in a debate scenario to demonstrate the capabilities.

The challenge for our team was to give this complex AI a persona that was approachable and engaging. Through discussion with the IBM team it was clear that this AI embodiment needed to be capable of conveying subtle emotions like thought, confidence, humor, and disagreement.



Our initial explorations covered a lot of creative ground to explore 2D/3D treatments, anthropomorphism vs abstraction, and a host of other design variants to find what felt right for the Debater.

Early Design Explorations

Out of this exploration, we found our hero in a capsule shape. The capsule offered us a simple and recognizable base to layer on some more nuanced design pieces. We filled the capsule with a “fluid” to allow for speech wave visualization as well as depicting shifts in momentum, position, and energy.

Through animation, we were able to choreograph these various elements to discover the personality of the Debater avatar. Our team developed rules of movement that dictated when the capsule would break apart into smaller component circles and when it would “stand up” to make a stronger point within the debate. In the end we were able to capture a wide range of emotion in a fun, approachable, and appealing way.

To learn more about IBM’s Project Debater, head to IBM’s official project debater page. You can also see it in action HERE.