How McKinsey & Company is betting on the power of partnerships

3 minute read

McKinsey & Company has always enabled clients to gain insight and help them to set their strategic direction on the things that matter the most to them. Now it is going further, enabling organisations to actively make change happen and, crucially, to make that change stick. McKinsey asked us to help design a new brand presence that not only reflects the things it is known for, but communicates the transformative force it is becoming.

McKinsey is a management consultancy firm like no other. It’s an exceptional partnership of exceptional people, with a prestigious heritage and a global reputation. Working as lead strategic and creative partner, Wolff Olins has partnered with McKinsey for a number of years on a series of engagements that have stretched across the entire firm.

Beginning with the fast growth Digital McKinsey practice, through to its solutions portfolio and emerging practices such as analytics experts QuantumBlack, we have worked with McKinsey’s leadership to build clear propositions, and define and organise their architecture. Most recently, we have partnered to design a new look and feel for a firm that is changing at a phenomenal pace. Over half of the work McKinsey does for clients now is in areas like design, digital, and analytics, with teams which didn’t exist as little as five years ago.


High Contrast
Whilst some things about McKinsey are changing enormously, others – like its commitment to hiring and developing talented individuals – will always stay the same. We therefore decided to embrace this inherent tension by making the idea of ‘high contrast’ a guiding light for the new identity.

Made up of a series of interconnected assets, the new visual identity represents McKinsey’s changing role in the world, its clients and its people. The new script mark, an evolution of the historic serif logo, was redesigned with a modern character to maximise its digital as well as physical presence.

A new dynamic element was introduced in the form of the ‘Partnership Mark,’ a mark in perpetual motion that symbolises the new agile ways McKinsey works with clients. Used across communications, the Partnership Mark also resolves into a short-form icon. The brand remains blue – but a new ‘McKinsey blue,’ contrasted against a clean white, helping to cut through the visual noise we all interact with every day.


Partnering for Impact
The new identity was purposefully built by embracing McKinsey’s partnership model: Wolff Olins collaborated with best-in-class talent to raise the fidelity of every part of the system.

A new bespoke typeface, Bower, named after McKinsey partner Marvin Bower, was created with typographer Radim Pesko to add a singular confidence and clarity to its communications.


A complete data visualisation package was built with data design agency Signal Noise to enable McKinsey clients to see what matters most. A custom photographic style was developed to give unique fidelity and focus to all imagery and was systemised by the post-production team at The Laundry Room. Finally, Territory Studios created a short film demonstrating the identity in action which was given a one of a kind score and sonic language by Sixieme Son.


After a warmly welcomed launch in Vancouver in 2018, the identity was launched globally [HD1] in February 2019 alongside implementation partners OPX and Critical Mass. We’re excited to see the change it brings for the firm and the continued impact it has in the world.

See more of the work.

Sairah Ashman calls on British leaders to unite

3 minute read

Wow, what a mess.

UK politics continues to implode with party defections, and ugly tribalism is the new order of the day. In the private sector, it’s a bloodbath on the high street and HMV, Asda and M&S are fighting for survival. This follows a year of closures from the likes of Toys R Us, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Evans Cycles and Mothercare, claiming almost 150,000 retail jobs.

It comes as no surprise that some businesses are deliberately removing themselves from the UK equation. Dyson is off to Singapore, Sony is off to the Netherlands, Honda is closing its Swindon plant and nearly one in three British businesses are planning to relocate or shift operations abroad to cope with a hard Brexit according to the Institute of Directors. HSBC might be busy telling us ‘we are not an island’ in its controversial campaign, but it certainly feels that way.

We’re witnessing the same kind of behavior from entire nation states, on a global scale too. Russia is to test cutting itself off from the internet, following in the footsteps of China-style blockades, and the US presidency is still determined to build that wall to protect its interests.

At least the Oscars were fun.

What’s to be done?
It’s clear we need a new narrative, and to move beyond the current I’m Right and You’re an Idiot rhetoric. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum nailed it when he recently told reporters at Davos, “Globalization produces winners… but now we need to look after the losers, after those who have been left behind.” (He’s five years too late and the train has long since left the station, but still.)

Instead of espousing isolationism, it’s time for businesses — both big and small — to step forward and work together. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we’ll only get ourselves out of this hole if we embrace collaboration and inclusivity in the broadest possible sense. This isn’t only essential — it’s doable, as evidenced by the many businesses taking steps in this direction already.


Illustrations by Marnie Cox

More partnerships
Partnerships between different businesses can both broaden horizons for organizations and their customers and massively increase business potential. For instance, while other digital banks avoid physical branches and ignore the swathes of consumers who can’t access their services, Starling Bank has launched a pioneering partnership with the Post Office.

This shows real initiative on both parts. It builds Starling’s credibility, supports local communities and bolsters the Post Office, whose hubs many towns and villages depend on. It’s too early for concrete results but the fact that Monzo is in talks to do the same thing suggests it was a smart move.

More movements
Businesses are increasingly signing up to movements and actively supporting organizations that push for specific social change. Paltry CSR efforts aren’t enough. From the fringes, Too Good To Go is a nice example. It has enlisted established names in the hospitality sector - Paul, Planet Organic and Yo! Sushi to name a few — to offer app users discounts during certain periods and save perfectly good food from the bin.

From the mainstream, look at the incredible work done by the various corporate foundations like the one at Ikea. And, going back to Davos for a moment, see the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It launched its New Plastics Economy initiative with eleven leading brands, including Evian, L’Oréal, Mars, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Walmart. All of these companies will use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, which is no small task given the scale of their operations.

More public-private alliances
Alphabet partners with local governments and telco companies worldwide through its subsidiary, Loon. It uses a network of balloons to deliver connectivity to people in underserved communities around the world, and supplements existing networks in times of national disaster. The work it did with Telefonica and the Peruvian government after the floods there is rather inspiring.

Meanwhile, Airbnb is working with VisitBritain, funded by the DCMS, to promote local experiences to both domestic and international visitors. Carol Dray, Commercial Director of VisitBritain, said of the project: "We want to boost demand for travel right now, inspiring more young Brits to take ‘microgaps’ and be advocates for experience-based travel […] benefitting local businesses and boosting the economy.” From where I’m sitting, this couldn’t come at a better time.

Globalization is at risk of failure. Resources, power and access are being reshuffled and reorganized. This is causing a fight or flight response, but that’s exactly the opposite of what’s needed. Leaders and their organizations must become a transforming force, bringing a sense of community and shared ambition back to our times. We’ll only find solutions to today’s problems if we stand united.

Stay tuned for the next Forbes article from Sairah.

Has Guy Debord's spectacle driven nation become 'The Society of the Apathetic?'

4 minute read

Guy Debord is a figure well known to most students of design. He’s the archetypal pretentious dickhead; it’s why so many of us have been known to quote him.

Debord was the author of The Society of the Spectacle - a treatise/rant/chunk of proto-Russell Brand rhetoric that claimed the public is in awe of a shared fantasy of stuff we think we all should have. He blamed advertising and branding for this, of course.

To a degree, it’s proved prescient of our influencer-obsessed social feeds. However, in the last few weeks, things are getting even more meta, as even the more spectacular moments that we are plugged into every day are failing to hold our attention.

Even the genuinely gobsmacking has been demoted to an everyday occurrence in the daily news cycle. Brexit, Trump, global terrorism, climate change, Love Island, The GC. The world has become so unpredictable, unpredictability is now the norm. It’s hard to make a dent. Perhaps now we are just 'The Society of the Apathetic.'

Adam Curtis has a take on it which he calls ‘oh dearism’ - a resigned shrug of a world that can’t be fathomed and refuses to be shaped. A global meh, punctuated by the occasional uplifting sincerity of a #MeToo movement or a million strong march (for one day).

The pithy start of most creative presentations has always claimed ‘The World has Changed TM’, the inference being ‘for the better’, but it’s certainly not feeling like that right now. Cold War Steve’s twitter feed is increasingly feeling more like documentary than parody.

So how do we design for a country that can’t be arsed? Is it even possible to be nuanced, elegant or light-footed at a time when our leaders are slack-jawed and loose-lipped (I’ll give you ten quid if you aren’t thinking of Michael Gove right now)?

The short answer is we must.

The job of all design (and in particular brand design) is to rise to the challenge of the day. We’ve just forgotten because we are distracted by the Westminster dumpster fire.

Perhaps our focus is also distracted by the industry in-jokes of ‘design thinking’ or self-congratulatory ego rubs of design blogs, meaning the real job of communication has been put on the back burner.

Or maybe its because we’ve all spent too much time writing stuff like this. However it has happened, now is the time to re-engage with reality (Debord’s head would be exploding at the thought of this).

There is gold out there - the common link is it’s counter-logical, disruptive and most of all highly imaginative.

Monzo and Bulb continue to reinvent stagnant markets through fresh human thinking. Ikea’s endless collaborations and creative interventions make it not just relevant but more loveable. Even high street players like Greggs are upping sales by being smart with meta-marketing and product development.

Brand building is increasingly powered by metrics and autonomous processes. Understanding this is critical to stay afloat. But it’s baseline; hygiene. Creativity will always bring the edge. Non-linear thinking tops logic, it leaves data in the dust every time. Data nearly always takes you to a median point, and the median is the route to more apathy.

David Bowie, who didn’t see death as a blocker to creative thinking, was a great proponent of self-actualisation: the belief that if you imagine your future clearly enough, it’s more likely to happen. We are living in troubled times. The way out is to dream harder and set about bringing that alternate reality to life.

Hot off the press: Radical Everything report

1 minute read

Last Autumn we launched the Radical Everything report, and now we’re excited to announce that our printed accompaniment has arrived.

Why create a report? Brands come to us looking for ways to drive real, positive change in our world. To help them, we had partnered with CitizenMe to identify four ways brands can truly “walk the walk.” The report walks through trends, data and applauds brands who are already leading the way.

Now you can request a copy of Radical Everything, available exclusively to our family of branding and marketing leaders. Inside you’ll see each article as a folded poster, which our partners OMSE and Generation Press brought to life by pushing the possibilities with the color gamete.

To receive a copy, please email