COLLINS is Ad Age 2020 A-List Design Agency of the Year
Ask Brian Collins about design, and he’ll say it’s not something his agency makes, but “what we make possible for others.” At COLLINS, where he is co-founder and chief creative officer, that core philosophy has landed the agency its second consecutive Design Agency of the Year nod—that, along with some impressive business results.
Whether it’s the just-launched work for Equinox Hotels, the brand refresh for gaming social network Twitch, or the totally reimagined identity design for ergonomic shoe brand Naturalizer, Collins says the through line is using design to conjure possibility. And clients are clamoring for that possibility: COLLINS increased new business by 40 percent and posted 12 percent year-over-year revenue growth in 2019, with zero client losses, despite a challenging year across the industry.
Take, for example, Twitch. As the leading live streaming network for gaming, Twitch had built a passionate following and broad user base. But while the users and the content they uploaded to the platform represented a diverse group, the organization’s branding had not effectively kept up. “Eight years into our existence, it felt like the time was right to shake things up,” says Twitch Global Executive Creative Director Byron Rex Phillipson. “We knew that any future vision or creative expression of our brand needed to walk the fine line of reflecting our community and culture, while broadening the aperture and opening our arms to new friends.”
“They had become the most successful live streaming platform for gamers in the world,” says Collins, “but their original brand idea was running out of road.” So COLLINS worked with the company to create an identity system, product design language, a tone of voice and brand architecture that could evolve with it. “They needed a clearer strategy, a stronger voice and a new design system to better reflect their expanding culture of inclusiveness,” Collins says—and that meant embracing all that was special or weird about Twitch and making it stronger.
The agency began its work by using the platform’s iconic purple as a base to build from. Designers added structures like a custom typeface and graphic “emotes” over that, along with a robust new color palette, allowing the expanding user base to express itself in the visual language of Twitch. This galvanized the brand in its supporting role to the community of users, embedding Twitch DNA in each member’s own personal hero story.
The result was an identity expression that was both ownable by the organization yet infinitely adaptable for users. “They just got it,” Phillipson says of COLLINS. Collaborating with the brand’s internal team, he notes the agency executed “a brand system that captures the magic of Twitch, and sets up the brand to dynamically evolve with our expanding community into the future.”
COLLINS is also turning its attention to helping clients and even rivals engage with the broader design field. COLLINS Ideas, which will launch in May, is an initiative the agency started laying the groundwork for in 2019 with the hire of Paul Jun, previously from Creative Mornings, as editorial director. Jun began working with the agency to create the unit dedicated to shaping and strengthening the landscape designers work in.
For Collins and Jun, itʼs as much about instruction as it is about sharing the philosophy and process the agency employs for its clients with the greater design world.
Jun explains that when someone visits a design agency website, they may be taken with pretty pictures of branded collateral, for example, but if one doesn’t understand the thinking and work went into that output, and what business results flowed from it, the value for the client is pretty hard to decipher beyond gut reactions.
“I admired the work,” says Jun, “but it never helped me understand, ‘How can I learn from this?’”
COLLINS Ideas seeks to spur these learnings by heightening the view of design in business and underlining its value in brand building. And it also sets out to help designers become better at demonstrating that value. “For us, this is critical thought: How do we build strategy? How do we make work? We are adding that extra layer for creative thinkers to make this more inviting, more meaningful,” Collins says.
“Design thinking has sadly turned into a selling tool more than a critical practice or creative process,” he says. In his view, that lip service undermines what design actually represents for clients—a worthy exercise that helps shape outcomes for their clientsʼ customers. “One question drives us: How do we build a great experience for a real customer?”
It all comes back to the agency’s basic philosophy: How does design shape the future? COLLINS hopes to help the entire industry answer that question.