From famous graphic design firms that move the industry to startups offering modern graphic design solutions for the contemporary fast-paced company, here is our pick of the 15 movers and shakers of graphic design.
With the rise of digital marketing, graphic design became a necessity for every business, big or small. If in the past design agencies worked mostly on brand identities, packaging design and print advertising, now they include services such as modern graphic design, contemporary needs and solutions.
When learning about graphic design and the services creative agencies offer, you probably often stumble upon the same names over and over again. In this article, we will offer insight into more than the design studios that define the graphic design industry, but also contemporary startups that change the way graphic design is created.
In the first section, you will find SaaS businesses, DIY design tools and full-service design companies that offer modern solutions to their clients’ needs. In the second, we’ll focus more on the branding agencies and design studios that set the pace for the whole sphere and are so influential, that they are certainly the trendsetters in design in marketing.
Modern design solutions
For startups, entrepreneurs, marketing agencies and freelancers outsourced for bigger companies, graphic design is a necessity. In an industry where marketing can make or break a business, graphic design and branding play an amazingly important role.
These professionals often need design quickly and at a high quality, but also at an affordable rate. And that is something that the biggest and best design studios and agencies can’t do: work quickly for an affordable price.
Here is where design startups and creative solutions come in the spotlight: unlimited design, DIY tools, freelancers and outsourcing platforms such as the ones in our pick.
Any graphic designer reading this is probably cursing me at the moment. Canva is the furthest thing from professional graphic design, true. But it is an incredibly influential and widely used platform for marketers, influencers and content creators around the world.
Since 2007, the DIY graphic design tool has accumulated an amazing amount of users, and its latest valuation was at 6 billion dollars.
Due to its easy-to-use interface, a large library of templates and the multi-user feature in Canva Pro, the Australian-based tool has more than 30 million active users across 190 countries.
It might not be a place to make quality design, but it is undoubtedly a blessing for many people in need of a quick social media post, small tweak and personal design projects (guess where I’m making birthday cards and event invitations, guys?).
So, agree or disagree, Canva is a design brand to be reckoned with, solely because they figured out the need of their average user and created a market from scratch. After their success, many other online DIY design tools showed up, and although some are great in what they do, Canva remains the queen of quick and easy design solutions.
A graphic design agency can be very expensive for a small business, and slow with turnaround for marketers and content creators. The fast-paced tempo of working in a startup also requires a reliable and quick service when it comes to graphic design. So, what is the modern company’s solution? An unlimited design service such as ManyPixels.
With a huge team of experienced and vetted designers that specialize in different types of designs, ManyPixels offers a one-day turnaround of graphic design requests, at a high quality. You can check some of the best designs from the past year in the 2021 design roundup.
The hiring and allocation of the designers, as well as the quality control, is done by the company itself, so clients of ManyPixels don’t have to worry about time management. And the best thing is that there is no limitation when it comes to revisions.
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The scope of work of the company itself ranges from simple tasks like social media graphics and print design, all the way to branding and logo designs and web design.
An unlimited graphic design company is perfect since it comes at a flat monthly rate, and there are no long-term contracts that limit the clients to remain with one pricing plan.
ManyPixels is also a regular stop for marketers and designers because of its library of free illustrations, which are customizable and created in multiple styles. In an effort to help all design enthusiasts and last-minute quality illustration seekers, the illustration library is ever-growing and following trends in design and marketing.
Similar to ManyPixels, Penji is another subscription-based design company, with big brands like Reebok and Lyft in their customer list.
They are a young and community-driven startup that believes in diversity, dependability and quality.
Whereas ManyPixels is more suited to a small business and startup clientele, Penji’s forte is their huge support network and expertise they offer to merch sellers, and definitely print design.
As far as unlimited design services go, Design Pickle is a veteran: with more than 700 people in its team, this company is ever-growing and built a formidable client base throughout the years.
Similar to the prior two companies mentioned above, they cover the same design products, with an exception of custom illustrations, which are not included in its Essentials or Pro pricing plans. Instead, they have a special pricing plan for custom illustrations.
99Designs is a community-based company that makes graphic design possible for companies in a unique way. Instead of employing graphic designers in their team, 99Designs is a membership-based organization where designers can apply to join, and after a vetting process, they can take part in competitions and claim projects posted by companies.
This platform’s forte is the huge number of great designers, but unlike the previous companies, they don’t have internal management and quality control.
The designers pay a membership fee to be a part of the community and competitions, so that is how they make sure that only seriously interested applicants end up there. The designers themselves are split into three tiers: Entry, Mid and Top Level, and they scale up based on reviews from the 99Designs Curation Team.
The services and pricing packages are also different: instead of based on the delivery and unlimited graphic services, you can choose between a logo and branding, logo and business card, logo and social media graphics, logo and hosted website, etc.
No matter how much and in what direction the design industry moves, some studios will stay important stakeholders and will keep defining the new rules of brand strategy and design. From the Mad Men-era to the new digital world, these professionals and companies have defined the looks and identities of companies known throughout the world.
When learning about graphic design and iconic designers, you cannot escape the name Pentagram.
This design studio based in London boasts so many respectable clients, that it is hard not to write a whole article about them. Benetton, Rolls-Royce, Slack, Warner Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue, Starbucks, The Guggenheim, United Airlines, Verizon, Walgreens, Windows, Mastercard, MoMA, United Airlines are only some of them.
And among the alumni of Pentagram, you will find famous designers such as Alan Fletcher, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, Kenneth Grange, Yuri Suzuki, and many, many others.
The design studio is equally owned by 24 graphic designers and art directors, and describes itself as the “world’s largest independently owned design consultancy”.
As for its services, Pentagram covers any type of graphic design, with a venerable portfolio in building well-known brand identities. In the pictures below, you can see only a tiny shred of the many projects they have recently been working on.
Sagmeister and Walsh are the young, brave and pushing-the-limits duo of the 21st century. Comprised by the partners Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, this fairly young design studio (although not for the lack of A-list clients) is not your average: they often create self-initiated conceptual works and shows and don’t simply work for clients, but also for the creation and art itself.
Stefan Sagmeister is more of a modern design veteran, and even has a Grammy Award for his design of the Talking Heads boxed set for “Once in a Lifetime”. Jessica Walsh is a child prodigy when it comes to graphic design: she started working for Pentagram at only 22 as an intern and declined their offer for a permanent position to start her own studio. She became a partner at Sagmeister Inc. at 25, and since then the company goes by its current name.
The duo has worked together on projects for many clients, but what makes them different are the many conceptual works and projects they have created together. Most recently, they work on their project “Beauty”, in which they beautify old buildings with art and murals.
8. Wolff Olins
Tate, Apple, Spotify, eBay, London Olympics, TikTok, AOL, Google, Grubhub, Uber, The Met… When you see this list of clients, you are aware that it seems like there is nothing Wolff Olins cannot do. And it tells a lot about how many modern brands they helped define.
With a focus on brand strategy, brand redesign and thorough changes of brand perceptions, Wolff Olins is a dynamic, modern and respectable company that has built many contemporary brand images for some of the biggest startups of today.
Their mission is to create transformative brands that move “businesses, people and the world together”. Of course, their expertise has a shiny price tag since the LOI 2012 holds the Guinness Record for the most expensive logo design for the Olympic games, costing a “modest” 645.645 dollars.
9. Meta Design
Volkswagen, Lacoste, Porsche, Deutsche Telekom, Yves Saint Laurent, Berlin Concert Hall, Raiffeisen Bank are some of the clients of Meta Design. This selection immediately tells you that this creative agency deals only with respected brands that aim for greatness, quality and respectability.
They specialize in all spheres of design, from packaging and brand consultancy, all the way to spatial design and packaging.
10. Happy Cog
If there is a design studio mostly known for web design, it’s undoubtedly Happy Cog. Founded by Jeffrey Zeldman, a web designer with a respectable background, it has clients like Airbnb, MTV, Associated Press, AMC Theatres, Papa John’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Harvard and many others.
Their services are mostly centered around digital design and marketing, ranging from branding concepts, all the way to content strategies and optimization.
Creators of many of the world’s most iconic and enduring brands, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv is an independent design firm specializing in the development of trademarks and identity programs.
That is how this iconic company describes itself, and I couldn’t do it better if I tried. With clients like NBC, Showtime, US Open, National Geographic and Animal Planet, this iconic design firm boasts a wide range of clients and capabilities.
And they are veterans in what they do: the company was opened in 1957, with founding partners Geismar and Haviv still holding the anchor of this iconic graphic design company.
Another team of masters of branding, Saffron Brand Consultants is working with a vast array of clients from many industries. From Facebook to V&A (The Victoria and Albert Museum), YouTube to the City of Vienna, they do best what they specialize in: building memorable and unique brand experiences.
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If you like the new designs of your breakfast cereal, thank Landor, the creators of all the new colorful packaging of Kellogg’s flakes. But this brand consulting is much more than that. It was founded in 1941 by Walter Landor, who is known as a pioneer in contemporary brand design, and consulting methods that this industry still uses.
Recently, they have been working with Nestle, Apple, British Airways, Nike, Australian Open, etc.
Social change and adopting new technologies are some of the most important values they follow, and they are ever-expanding. Landor is currently the largest specialist brand and design group with more than 1.200 employees and offices in more than 20 countries.
Every design studio has an ace up its sleeve, and A Practice for Everyday Life’s one is typography. This design studio and type foundry is based in London, and they take a conceptual approach in creating brand projects for their clients.
It is probably the most contemporary and minimalist design studio on this list, targeting a younger audience with its appeal.
Most of their clients are book authors, artists and exhibitions since their conceptual and gentle style with lots of unique typography is suitable for a less commercial, and more artistic industry.
15. House Industries
Fan of groovy designs, flowy letters and the 70s? You’re at the right place. House Industries is a design studio and type foundry, responsible for some of the most iconic typefaces you’ve seen on TV and media: The Cher Show, Vogue, The New Yorker, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and many, many other examples of signage and brand identities.
With its unique retro flair and exquisite attention to detail when it comes to lettering, it is a design studio with a niche. But, they are amazing at their niche, no doubt!