AKQA buys majority stake in architecture and product design agencies

WPP digital design agency AKQA is buying a majority stake in Universal Design Studio and Map Project Office in a bid to unite architecture, product and experience design for an undisclosed sum.

(l-r): Ajaz Ahmed, Jay Ogersby and Edward Barber
(l-r): Ajaz Ahmed, Jay Ogersby and Edward Barber

The two agencies were founded by the same people, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby; Universal Design Studio in 2001 and Map in 2012. They and other employees will retain a minority stake after the acquisition.

Barber and Osgerby’s body of work spans industrial design, furniture, lighting and site-specific installations. Public commissions include the London 2012 Olympic Torch and projects for the Royal Mint.

The three agencies already had a mutual client in the shape of IBM, according to AKQA chief executive Ajaz Ahmed, who added that he had collaborated with Barber and Osgerby before.

"With this move we are innovating beyond multimedia to design our next phase of development," Ahmed said.

"The design vision and aesthetic we have for environments and products, 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 ethos and 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 (artificial intelligence)."

AKQA’s current client list includes Nike, Delta Airlines, Rolls Royce, Volvo Cars and Netflix.

Its calendar year revenue for 2017 was $320m globally. From the start of 2018 to the end of May it is currently 14% higher on a like-for-like basis, said Ahmed.

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