Barber & Osgerby’s MAP and Universal Design Studio to join AKQA

By Patrick Burgoyne

Left to right: Ajaz Ahmed, Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s two businesses – architecture and interior design practice, Universal Design Studio and industrial design consultancy, MAP Project Office – are to join AKQA in the latter’s London HQ in St John’s Lane. AKQA has taken a majority shareholding in both businesses.

As CR understands it, the Universal Design Studio and MAP names will live on: “There’s significant equity and momentum in the Universal Design Studio and MAP brand and our plan is to invest further in those brands by helping to give them a presence internationally,” AKQA founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed tells CR. “At the same time, we will be literally under the same roof together and work on collaborative projects that have just one client team with representatives from all three groups to make the client engagements as easy as possible”

Map worked with SAM Labs on enhancing the entire user experience of their kits from the hardware through to their packaging

It’s a fascinating move for all concerned. MAP Project Studio (which was CR’s creative agency of the year in 2016) has carved out a really interesting space for itself in the digital product/Internet of Things sector, working collaboratively with startups such as BleepBleeps and SAM Labs (see our piece here). Design director Jon Marshall left earlier this year to become a Pentagram Partner which perhaps prompted some discussion about future direction.

Universal Design Studio also has an enviable client list with projects including the Frieze events and high-end retail for the likes of Mulberry and Stella McCartney, as well as exhibitions for the Design Museum and V&A.

With the ad agency world endlessly wringing its hands about its future, this feels like an intriguing and bold move by all concerned, connecting up physical, digital, and service design elements in the holistic ‘experience design’ model increasingly being asked for by clients. Though AKQA has often been bundled in with ‘digital agencies’, its work (at least in recent times) has always been much more about helping its clients ‘do’ what they do rather than just communicate what they do, with relationships typically extending beyond marketers.

TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 system by AKQA

“I’ve always seen AKQA as a design company,” Ahmed says, “and I see our combined core competence (with UDS and MAP) as ‘innovation’. We’ve already played an influential role in the convergence of media and now it’s about playing a role in the convergence of other industries, such as retail and hospitality. I look at UDS and MAP as best in class in Space and Product. The design vision and aesthetic we have for retail and hospitality, uniting the digital with the physical, is so much beyond what exists today that we need to have these skills in house with people who have the same aspiration for simplicity. In addition, we believe the interface is the brand and everything a brand does tells a story. But those stories are increasingly told through experience and service and are powered by data science and artificial intelligence, or cognitive science.”

For their part, Barber and Osgerby say, “We are delighted to join a community that shares our ethos of collaboration and innovation. This new partnership with AKQA will give us the opportunity to redefine the interface between architecture, product and experience design.”

As discussed in our interview with Marshall when he joined Pentagram, design (and particularly the discipline of product design) is the thread that pulls all the elements that deliver so-called ‘digital transformation’ together. As Ahmed says, “Through our work and our organisation, our hope is to elevate every touch point and create more cohesive experiences. For example, we could apply the philosophy of architecture and product design to digital; and apply the ethos of innovation and invention to architecture and product design.”

Studios that can offer every stop along that journey appear well-placed for the future.

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