How Strong Design Partnerships Transform Brands (With Examples)

Published 30 Nov, 2023
Alex Kinsella
Alex KinsellaContributing Writer

A successful design partnership is about more than a creative agency or partner offering a specific service. To use a cliche, a strong design partnership is the complete package: Knowing the brand, the audience and how everything comes together for a sum that’s truly greater than all of its parts. This article walks through 10 examples of how great design partnerships have transformed brands like Airbnb, D2L and more.

Design is not just about an aesthetic—it’s a critical tool that drives the success of your brand. Customers demand outstanding, original and innovative design work to make purchase decisions. In fact, nearly 75% of campaign performance is linked to the quality of the creative.

Design impacts everything from brand identity to customer experience. That’s why having a great design partnership is so important to shaping and transforming brands. Dive into this list of 10 examples of dynamic design partnerships for a bit of insight and inspiration.

10 Examples of Powerful Design Partnerships

These examples reflect what happens when ambitious brands partner with the right design company or agency. Enjoy and get inspired to build your own transformative partnership.

1. Airbnb and DesignStudio

Brand: Airbnb

Design partner: DesignStudio

Type of design: Branding and digital interface design

Creative service: If you’re of a certain age, your style has changed a lot since your teenage years. From parachute pants to Starter jackets, you’d probably like to erase many fashion choices from the internet. The same goes for many of today’s most well-known brands, including hotel disrupter Airbnb. In 2014, the brand worked with DesignStudio to create a complete brand overall. The journey involved digging deep into Airbnb's culture and customers and led to the creation of its “Belong Anywhere” brand strategy and its new “Belo” logo. The new brand went beyond website and app updates. It was a shift in its narrative focused on belonging and warmth that continues to play a massive role in Airbnb’s global expansion.

The results: The rebranding initiative was a tremendous success. It trended on Twitter (sorry, X), won numerous awards and helped propel Airbnb to a $29 billion valuation. All this in less than four years. This is one of our favorite examples of the transformative power of design in shaping a company's identity and trajectory.

2. Allbirds and Red Antler

Brand: Allbirds

Design partner: Red Antler

Type of design: Branding, packaging and digital interface design

Creative service: There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes—especially when your new kicks are doing good for the environment. Sustainability-focused shoe brand Allbirds looked to the team at Red Antler to develop its branding and packaging. The goal was to create a brand that could build a movement, transforming the footwear industry's reliance on synthetic materials to sustainable fabrics like merino wool. Red Antler created a brand around a hard-to-forget name, flowing logotypes and dynamic packaging. Red Antler's design for Allbirds' direct-to-consumer packaging was guided by the brand's simple and sustainable approach to design. The result was a shoebox and mailer that used 40% less materials than traditional shoe packaging.

The results: Allbirds successfully established itself as the go-to sustainable shoe brand. The brand's commitment to sustainability and innovative design hit the sweet spot with customers, taking the brand into 35 countries and more than 20 retail outlets.

3. D2L and Superside

Brand: D2L

Design partner: Superside

Type of design: AI-powered ads

Creative service: D2L is a world leader in educational technology, changing how students and professionals learn for over 20 years. With that longevity comes a constant thirst for something new. That’s what sparked its ambitious mission to redefine its advertising strategy. D2L was tired of the same old, same old and came to Superside to help create new ads that could take their copy "A future this bright.." and generate a visual narrative that wouldn’t overshadow the message. Superside harnessed the capabilities of AI technology through Midjourney to deliver creative assets in one-third of the time and effort required by conventional approaches.

The results: The unique and compelling AI visuals crafted through AI significantly increased audience engagement and brand awareness. The ads stood out in the crowded digital landscape to capture attention and reinforce D2L’s position as a forward-thinking leader in EdTech advertising.

Read the Entire Series
Read the Entire Series

Read the Entire Series

This article is part of a series on choosing the right design company or partner. Click below to go to the start.

4. Duolingo and Johnson Banks

Brand: Duolingo

Design partner: Johnson Banks

Type of design: Brand refresh

Creative service: If you’re learning a new language, there’s a good chance—or should we say, “une bonne chance”—that you’re doing it with Duolingo. The language learning platform has global brand awareness today, thanks to the work of Johnson Banks. To revamp its visual identity, Duolingo partnered with Johnson Banks to design a complete overhaul of Duolingo's illustrations and characters. Duolingo’s goal (other than getting you to do a lesson today) was to create a more engaging and visually appealing identity that would resonate with users across the globe.

The results: The brand was already loved by its community, and thanks to Johnson Banks, it’s now the world’s favorite language app. The refresh played a major role in engaging a broader audience to grow users and revenue.

5. Hims & Hers and Gin Lane (now Pattern Brands)

Brand: Hims & Hers

Design partner: Gin Lane (now Pattern Brands)

Type of design: Branding and digital interface design

Creative service: No one wants to go to the doctor, even if the doctor is talking to you over a video call. That was the challenge telemedicine brand Hims & Hers faced when they approached Gin Lane to provide design leadership for its branding and design. Gin Lane created an approachable and modern brand identity, which hit the sweet spot with younger audiences seeking healthcare products. The design strategy was bold and innovative and broke out of the mold when it was time to advertise. Ad placements ranged from inflight videos and podcasts to eyebrow-raising print ads in the New York City subway.

The results: Gin Lane helped Hims & Hers drive impressive brand awareness and media attention. The brand’s valuation reached $1 billion, and it secured nearly $200 million in VC funding. Hims & Hers’ success is one of our favorite examples illustrating the importance of design and branding in defining a brand’s identity.

6. Mailchimp and Collins

Brand: Mailchimp

Design partner: Collins

Type of design: Brand identity and design system

Creative service: Mailchimp is a household name thanks to its ubiquitous—and mispronounced—pre-roll podcast ads. The Atlanta-based brand began as an email marketing tool in 2001, but that was just the start. It soon grew to become a full-service marketing platform serving customers worldwide. The challenge for the brand was that while its name was recognizable, its brand identity didn’t reflect all the platform's services. Mailchimp sought the services of design firm Collins in 2018 to help develop a complete overhaul of its visual identity. Collins was keen to keep Mailchimp’s winking chimp mascot Freddie, but gave him a much-deserved glow up. The studio also changed the logotype to a chunkier font, switched the Mailchimp primary brand color to Cavendish Yellow and introduced illustrations and animations created by its in-house artists.

The results: The rebranding led by Collins was a major success for Mailchimp, attracting accolades and new customers. How’d they do it? Collins knew it was important to retain the elements that endeared the brand to its first fans while creating space for the brand to grow and speak with greater authority to new and wider audiences. The updated brand identity and design system played a crucial role in Mailchimp's business transformation, helping it to clarify its brand and identity system by elevating the core characteristic of its brand—unconventionality.

7. Slack and Pentagram

Brand: Slack

Design partner: Pentagram

Type of design: Graphic design and branding

Creative service: When remote work gets done, it gets done on Slack. But the look and feel of the brand you love today didn’t start that way. Back in 2019, Slack worked with Pentagram on a rebranding project involving a logo redesign and the creation of a new visual identity. The new logo is built on Slack's original hashtag symbol to symbolize its continuing commitment to communication and connectivity (and GIFs).

The results: Pentagram’s work brought Slack's brand recognition to a new level in an increasingly competitive market of collaboration tools (we’re looking at you, Microsoft Teams). The new logo and visual identity have made Slack instantly recognizable, whether on your phone or on your desktop.

8. Squarespace and DIA

Brand: Squarespace

Design partner: DIA

Type of design: Motion design, ad design and brand identity

Creative service: When website-building platform Squarespace needed a new identity system, its creative team turned to DIA for design leadership. DIA helped design a new visual language built around kinetic typographic treatments. The image-making process is handled by a generative system that introduces unexpected occurrences into the compositions, ensuring that the visuals remain fresh and have the potential to grow beyond the initial guidelines into a robust visual language.

The results: The dynamic typography and animations created for Squarespace's ad campaigns significantly reinforced the brand's identity and grew its customer base. With its unique visual language and custom typeface Clarkson, the new identity system has helped Squarespace stand out from its competitors.

9. Vlocity and Superside

Brand: Vlocity

Design partner: Superside

Type of design: Identity systems and scaling design

Creative service: Vlocity is a contract lifecycle management (CLM) solution for Salesforce customers—and one of the CRM’s biggest partners. When the brand expanded its product marketing to support its growing business, the in-house team struggled to keep up with demand. Enter Superside, which put together a dedicated creative management team and network of highly skilled designers to help the Vlocity team deliver on-brand assets that remained true to the Vlocity ethos.

The results: Vlocity’s product marketing team worked with Superside to complete more than 30 projects on time and brand. That meant the brand’s in-house designers could focus on other critical strategic initiatives with clearer minds (and hearts) and less burnout.

10. Zoho and Superside

Brand: Zoho

Design partner: Superside

Type of design: Template design at scale

Creative services: Presentations are part of our lives, but that doesn’t mean they must be boring. That was the driving force behind Zoho’s launch of Zoho Show, part of the brand’s suite of alternative applications to Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365. The Zoho Show team turned to Superside to help design and deliver more than 70 presentation templates to help the tool move beyond the standard templates typically offered by its competitors.

The results: Superside’s flexible subscription pricing and service model matched Zoho’s mission to provide good, affordable services. The brand saw a 75% savings in design production by trusting Superside with the template design for Zoho Show.

What’s the Secret to Strong Design Partnerships?

Here’s what makes all these design partnerships so exceptional:

  • Shared vision: In every example, the brand and the design partner clearly understood the brand’s ethos, goals and expectations.
  • Great communication: Great design partnerships—like all relationships—are built on communication.
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The brands and the design partners valued each other’s expertise and contributions.

Check out our series on what to look for in a design partner to learn more.

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Alex Kinsella
Alex KinsellaContributing Writer

Alex is a freelance writer and newsletter aficionado based in Waterloo, Ontario. When he’s not writing for clients, he’s putting together TL;WR, a weekly culture and events newsletter his mom says is excellent. Alex has worked with some of Canada’s largest tech companies in PR, marketing and communication roles. Connect with him on LinkedIn to chat or get ideas on what to do this weekend in Waterloo.

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