The top 20 US design studios of 2018

01-03 21:31

Whether you’re looking for somewhere to work or just some case-study inspiration, the United States has plenty of world-class design studios to choose from.

In this post, we’ve gathered together 20 of the best design agencies of the present day. Some are huge global players, some are small and niche, and most are somewhere in-between. But all are known for their stellar work, their big-name clients and their original, innovative approaches to design problems.

01. Pentagram New York

Pentagram is one of the world’s biggest names in branding and design

Independently owned, global design studio Pentagram was founded in London in 1972. But its uniquely decentralised structure means its New York office, which recently moved to Park Avenue South, is its own entity.

Launched back in 1980 by Colin Forbes, one of the original UK founders, the studio is behind some of the world's famous visual identities, including MasterCard, Windows, The MoMA, and Verizon.

There are eight partners in the Manhattan office, including well-known names like Michael Beirut, Paula Scher and Emily Obermann, and each runs an essentially autonomous operation. Recent projects include identities for the superhero movie Justice League, pan-European sports channel Eurosport, and the new Federal Films division of Republic Records.

02.Sagmeister & Walsh

Sagmeister & Walsh’s work always makes a big impact

Sagmeister & Walsh is a boutique design studio in New York with just a little touch of magic about it. The studio's most recent iterationlaunched in 2012, when Austrian-bornStefan Sagmeister promoted his employee of two years Jessica Walsh to partner.

It’s a full-service studio creating strategy, design and production for big commercial clients, as well as arts organisations, publishers, musicians and non-profits. They’re also known for some prettyquirky side projects of their own. 

Above all, S&W’s work is consistently attention-grabbing, stunningly original and achingly hip; lighting the way for those who believe that corporate work doesn’t have to mean bland conformity.

Recent projects include an innovative visual identity for fashion brand Milly’s; ‘Ladies, Wine Design’, an initiative aimed to foster creative women; and a special cover for the New York Times Magazine themed around Donald Trump’s inauguration.

03. Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

This New York studio holds legendary status in the design community

Iconic US design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv holds legendary status in the world of trademarks and branding. Founded as Chermayeff & Geismar in 1957, by Yale graduates Ivan Chermayeff – who sadlypassed away in 2017 –and Tom Geismar, the design agency has created logos for the likes of NBC, Mobil Oil, New York University, The Museum of Modern Art, Xerox and National Geographic. 

Recent projects include a major monograph, Identity and logos for the ‘Leonard Bernstein at 100’ celebrations; ClearMotion, a next-generation suspension system for cars and trucks; and the Oceano Azul Foundation, which is dedicated to sustainable oceans. 

04. Landor

Landor is known for both its top-class work and its influential industry reports

Headquartered in San Francisco, Landor is one of the world’s biggest and most influential brand consulting firms. Founded in 1941 by Walter Landor, Landor now has 26 offices in 20 countries.

It’s been a member of WPP, the world's largest marketing and communications firm, since 1989, and is known for its annual brand trends reports . Clients include the likes of Alaska Airlines, FedEx, General Electric, Huawei and Sony.

Recent projects include the branding of new companies including the financial powerhouse S&P Global, formerly McGraw Hill, and Covestro, a multibillion dollar spin-off from Bayer’s materials science division.

05. Meta Design

MetaDesign has spread the design principles of Erik Spiekermann and co across three continents

MetaDesign is an international design consultancy founded byErik Spiekermann. Uli Mayer-Johanssen and Hans Ch. Krüger in Berlin in 1979. Its San Francisco office was established in 1992 around Bill Hill and Terry Irwin, and the company, a member of Publicis Communications, now also has branches across three continents.

Among the most visible engagements for MetaDesign in the US in 2017 included a logo redesign for Japanese food corporation Ajinomoto, and the launch of the Loggly brand, a cloud-based log management and analytics service. The studio has also been working on website redesign engagements for UCSF and San Francisco City Clinic.

06. Huge

Huge has made a big name for itself in digital design

Headquartered in Brooklyn, Huge is a digitally focused studio providing a range of strategy, marketing, design and technology services. Founded in 1999, it now also has offices in 14 countries worldwide.

Huge is well named, in terms of corporate influence at least. Its client list covers nearly 20 percent of the Fortune 100 and includes the likes of Coca-Cola, Google, Unilever and Nike.

Highlights for the studio in 2017 included winning McDonald’s global UX account, a global campaign for LG’s V30 phone, and the announcement of a new office in Chicago for 2018.

07. Firstborn

Firstborn was one of the early pioneers of online design and branding

Firstborn is a creative agency headquartered in New York. Founded in 1997, it focuses on delivering a wide range of digital services for big-fish clients such as L’Oréal, Mountain Dew, Bloomberg, Jet and Supercell.

The medium-sized studio is a part of the global network of Isobar, as well as the Dentsu Aegis Network, a subsidiary of Dentsu Inc.

2017 was a typically strong year for Firstborn, in which it became digital AOR for Pepsi and digital consultant for S&P Global; designed a new consumer channel for health brand Nature’s Bounty; and masterminded an Instagram series for a new Adidas shoe launch.

08. House Industries

House Industries combines the physical and the digital to create original and innovative work

Founded in 1993 by Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, House Industries is a foundry and design studio based in Delaware. With one foot in physical design and one in digital, its offering centres around traditional skills in drawing, painting, and lettering.

This studio’s client list includes Hermès, The New Yorker, Lego and Disney, and its work is in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.

2017 highlights for House Industries included a show at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and the release of its tongue-in-cheek self-help book, ‘House Industries: The Process of Inspiration’.

09. The Office of Paul Sahre

The Office of Paul Sahre deliberate shuns the idea of specialisation

The Office of Paul Sahre is a design consultancy based in New York City, launched in 1997 by the eponymous designer, who purposely abstains from specialisation in favour of a problem solving approach that can take any form or function. One famous example was a monster truck-style hearse built for the band They Might Be Giants.

Other past clients have include The New York Times, Google Creative Labs, This American Life, Simon and Schuster Aids and Marvel Comics. The big 2017 highlight for Sahre was completing his monograph, Two-Dimensional Man: A Graphic Memoir, which documents his three decades of work as a designer.

10. Happy Cog

Happy Cog has long been a thought leader in the web design community

Born in 1999, during the early ‘wild west’ days of the internet, Happy Cog has built a solid reputation within the design community for its promotion of common web standards and, more recently, responsive design.

Based in Philadelphia, the agency continues to design award-winning websites, digital products and experiences for nonprofits, higher education, media companies, and global brands.

Notable projects in 2017 included a new design language for materials science company Gore-Tx and a digital redesign for wedding attire company David’s Bridal.

11. Siegel+Gale

Siegel+Gale focuses on keeping things beautifully simple

Founded in 1969, Siegel+Gale is a branding firm headquartered in New York City. It also boasts offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai.

The studio is perhaps best known for its tagline, “Simple is Smart”; a principle it famously put into practice in 1979 when it helped the Inland Revenue Service simplify people’s tax forms. It’s also at the core of its highly regarded Global Brand Simplicity Index, which it releases annually every April.

Siegel+Gale’s commercial clients include American Express, Disney, Dow, Four Seasons Hotels, Microsoft, Motorola and Pfizer, while non-profits include Girl Scouts of the USA, Legal Aid Society, Florida State University and the Museum of Arts and Design.

12. Hugo & Marie

Hugo & Marie is a mix of design studio and artist agency

Hugo & Marie is a multi-disciplinary creative studio and artist representation firm based in Brooklyn. Founded in 2008 by Mario Hugo and Jennifer Marie Gonzalez, it says it aims to “interweaves the values of its founders and artists with the character of its clients”, which include famous names such as Stella McCartney, Lorde, Coldplay and Rihanna.

Recent work for the studio includes a brand campaign for Glenmorangie whisky, a visualisation project for Swedish multi-instrumentalist Thunder Tillman, and an online presence for fashion designer Mira Mikati.

13. Fantasy Interactive

Fantasy Interactive is at the cutting edge of user experience and new technology

Fantasy Interactive is an independently owned, digital design studio based in San Francisco and New York City.

Founded in 1999, the award-winning company is nowadays firmly focused on user experience, working on everything from automotive user interfaces to artificial intelligence, consoles to mobile operating systems. Its impressive list of clients includes names such as Xbox, Google, Twitter, Spotify and Huawei.

Recent projects for the studio, which is often abbreviated to f-i or fi, have included a collaboration with OgilvyOne to launch Chrome in Asia, a product site for Wacom, and a companion website for Sony’s Connected World campaign.

14. Big Spaceship

Big Spaceship offers high-class digital services to discerning clients

Founded in 2000, Big Spaceship is a Brooklyn-based design studio that provides a mix of product design, brand communications and content to its clients, who include Converse, Dannon, Google, Hasbro, Nestle-Purina and Samsung.

Highlights of 2017 for the studio include expanding its executive team, getting selected as digital design partner for budget airline JetBlue, and winning MediaPost’s OMMA Agency of the Year award.

15. The Barbarian Group

The Barbarian Group is now on an even keel after a rocky couple of years

The Barbarian Group is an interactive design studio originally founded in Boston in 2001, but currently headquartered in New York City. Its most celebrated projects to date include the Subservient Chicken for Burger King, AnyFilms for Samsung, and the Beer Cannon for Milwaukee's Best. Since 2009, it’s been owned by Cheil Worldwide.

After a wave of disruptive departures in 2015-2016, which led some to question the future of the company, things stabilised somewhat in 2017, with work for Pepsi, Etihad Airways and IBM being among the project highlights.

16. Stink Studios

Stink Studios works across film, design, technology and strategy

Found in 2009 and originally known as Stink Digital, Stink Studios is a global digital company headquartered in London and New York, which also has offices in Berlin, Los Angeles, Paris and Shanghai. The studio works across film, design, technology and strategy for clients include Google, Spotify, Twitter, Ray-Ban and Nike.

Recently the studio has been partnering with WeTransfer to create “A Message from Earth”, a site paying homage to NASA's 1978 extraterrestrial communication. It’s also helped to design Facebook for Creators, a new platform designed to help video creators develop their skills.

17. R/GA

R/GA likes to focus on the big picture for its forward-facing, global clients

R/GA is a full service digital agency headquartered in New York. Founded in 1977 by two brothers, Richard and Robert Greenber, its global network now spans 18 countries, with 2,000 employees representing over 20 nationalities. Clients include McDonalds, Unilever, Nike, Johnson & Johnson and YouTube.

Sharply focused on staying at the cutting edge of new technologies, R/GA teamed up with Verizon in 2017 to launch Verizon Media Tech Venture Studio, an incubator for companies aimed at disrupting digital entertainment and media.

18. Code And Theory

Code And Theory is one of the industry’s most innovative studios

Founded in 2001 by Dan Gardner and Brandon Ralph, Code And Theory is a digital-first creative agency that designs products, content and campaigns across multiple platforms. Its clients include Bloomberg, LA Times, Vogue, Hearst Publications and Comcast.

Picked as one of the “10 Most Innovative Companies in Design” by Fast Company, it employs more than 375 people in offices in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, London and Manila. Recent projects include a new global website for Maybelline New York, a campaign for Burger King; and a motion graphics theme for NBC News for Snapchat.

19. Brand New School

Brand New School puts the focus on motion and interactivity

Despite the name, Brand New School is not actually a school, but a creative design and production studio that creates ads, interactive media, branding and music videos. Founded in 2000 by Jonathan Notaro, it has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Clients include Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, Nike, Gillette, Ford, and Starbucks.

Recent projects include animated spots for Nike to celebrate Children’s Day in China, launch imagery for Google’s new phone, and a spot-motion spot for a Quaker Oats campaign.

20. IDEO

IDEO wants to use design thinking to solve the world’s biggest challenges

IDEO is a design and consulting firm that is, in its own words, “committed to making a positive impact”. It was created in Palo Alto, California, in 1991, as part of a merger between three companies led by David Kelley, Bill Moggridge, and Mike Nuttall.

Pronounced “EYE-dee-oh”, the studio now employs more than 700 people in nine locations around the world, and applies human-centered methodologies to ‘big picture’ challenges, such as healthcare, education and government itself.

Recent projects include launching an innovation lab to help Peruvians, designing a new digital content platform for The Times and Sunday Times, and helping European fashion platform Zalando expand its services.

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