This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Brand Impact Awards (BIAs), and to celebrate, our special Decade Award, Small Studio of the Decade, celebrates smaller independent studios that have consistently punched above their weight at the BIAs over the years alongside much larger, better-resourced counterparts.
There's no better example of this phenomenon than Johnson Banks, the small but influential Clapham-based studio founded by Michael Johnson in 1992. Known for defining, then designing, brands that make a difference, Johnson Banks has taken home a staggering 19 BIA trophies over the past decade – including nine Gold-winning projects, two of which were voted Best of Show. This puts the agency firmly up there in our top 12 Agencies of the Decade.
Johnson Banks has also won a Silver Award this year for Undaunted, see our full Brand Impact Awards 2023 winners roundup for more on this and other winning projects, or download the winners booklet here.
Here's a recap of Johnson Banks' Gold-winning projects, and we'll also reveal the runner-up and shortlisted studios for this special award...
- Small Studio of the Decade: Winner
- 2x Best of Show (2015 and 2016), 9x Gold, 5x Silver, 3x Bronze (2014-2023)
Brighton Dome (2014)
Part of a storming three-Gold run at the inaugural Brand Impact Awards in 2014, Johnson Banks' Brighton Dome identity integrates the extravagant Regency-era 'scallopped' shapes found throughout the venue's architecture into a versatile 'D' monogram. A restrained black, gold and white palette gives performers and productions plenty of room to shine.
Winning Gold in Financial Services in 2014, the Acumen identity revolves around a new manifesto that Johnson Banks helped craft as part of the process. By breaking up the text into shorter, mini-manifestos – combined with a cropped 'A' to signify that their work to tackle world poverty is never over – Acumen ended up with a choice of eight core logos.
Cystic Fibrosis Trust (2014)
Tackling low awareness and understanding of cystic fibrosis among the general public, Johnson Banks' rebrand of Cystic Fibrosis Trust picked up Gold in Not-for-Profit in 2014. With a smart activation of the 'is' at the end of 'fibrosis', the studio unlocked a verbal identity system that can continually clarify the misunderstood condition in different ways.
Unicef UK (2015)
To address a lack of familiarity with the Unicef brand, Johnson Banks established a clear and consistent link between the charity and children – and dialled up the emotional impact. A five-word promise sits at the core of the solution: 'For every child in danger.' Enabling Unicef to illustrate millions of children facing violence, disease, hunger and war all over the world, the new campaign toolkit won Gold in Not-for-Profit, the Social Impact Award, and Best of Show 2015.
Mister Cooper (2015)
Specialising in alcoholic and gourmet ice-cream flavours for grown-ups, Mister Cooper needed a distinctive identity. Johnson Banks' typographic lipstick mark expresses the brand's hedonism, 'rubbed-stamped' across collateral like a cheeky kiss. It won Gold in the Artisan category in 2015.
Dear World, Yours Cambridge (2016)
Johnson Banks replicated Unicef's Best of Show success the following year with this inspired and hugely versatile campaign for the University of Cambridge. Also a Gold winner in Education, it emphasises the institution's profound impact through a series of open letters that begin 'Dear World...' and end 'Yours, Cambridge.' These verbally and visually demonstrate what the university has achieved – and will in the future.
In 2017, this Silver Award winner in the Technology & Telecoms category went on to win Gold for its innovative approach to collaboration. As an open-source software company, it made sense for Mozilla's rebrand to be fully transparent too: and Johnson Banks rose to the challenge. Five initial approaches were released for public discussion, with two of them taken forward. 3,000 blog comments later, the final solution – an interpretation of the 'http://' internet protocol – won out.
Royal Astronomical Society (2020)
Founded in 1820 to encourage the study of astronomy, the solar system and geophysics, The Royal Astronomical Society used its 200th anniversary to broaden its reach. Johnson Banks' rebrand packs multiple layers of symbolism into a deceptively simple and elegant graphic solution, winning a Gold Award in the Professional Services category in 2020.
- Small Studio of the Decade: Runner-Up
- 7x Gold, 4x Silver, 3x Bronze (2015-2023)
Hot on the heels of Johnson Banks is another small studio that has been well decorated at the Brand Impact Awards. Founded in 1997, and still co-owned and led by creative directors Nick Finney and Alan Dye, NB Studio has taken home a total of 14 BIA trophies since the scheme began.
Although Best of Show still eludes the Southwark-based team, NB Studio's seven Gold-winning projects prove the impact that smart, quirky, ideas-driven design solutions can have across a broad range of categories.
Here's a recap of those seven projects. Also note that this year, NB Studio won Silver and Bronze trophies this year for Vineyard Theatre and Royal Mail Pride, respectively.
Almeida Theatre (2015)
NB's new visual language for Almeida reflects the theatre's boldness of purpose and contemporary relevance. Featuring visceral images that divide opinion and ignite debate, it challenges the theatre and its dialogue with the world – and won a Gold Award in Culture in 2015.
Created to cater to entrepreneurs, accountants, managers and investors disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the Russian banking system, Zhuck is an app with a difference. While providing all the necessary tools to manage your finances, it jokes, provokes, and occasionally even insults its users to cajole them into action. NB's quirky character-driven identity system picked up a Gold in Financial Services in 2015.
Winning Gold in Education in 2016, this rebrand of forward-thinking design institution Ravensbourne features a flexible framing device that's brimming with energy. While its previous identity was inspired by the architecture of the building, NB moved the spotlight onto what goes on inside.
Petit Pli (2019)
Using an innovative structure, Petit Pli children's clothing can stretch through seven different sizes: from nine months right up to four years old. Winning Gold in Fashion in 2019, NB's brand identity highlights this unique feature with a logotype that appears to expand and contract. Quirky illustration and photography further highlight its sustainable credentials, and in a smart twist, the box transforms into a rocket pack.
Standing for 'Absolutely No Nonsense Admin', ANNA is a hybrid digital assistant that includes an app, a card and a business account. Briefed to "crush boring finance admin", NB gave this simple, efficient service a quirky, character-led brand that adds warmth, wit and humour to traditionally dry and humourless business admin tasks. It won Gold in Financial Services in 2019.
Curious Customs (2020)
Winning Gold in the newly introduced Illustration category in 2020, Curious Customs is a range of stamps based on eccentric British customs such as cheese rolling, clock burning, gurning and bog snorkelling, brought to life through evocative wordplay and quirky illustration by Jonny Hannah.
The Kraken (2021)
This premium limited-edition bottle pays homage to the deep-sea beast that gives the brand its name, and won Gold in the Wine, Beer & Spirits category in 2021. Adorned with embossed tentacle detailing and 'stained' by the Kraken's jet-black ink, it was the centrepiece of the brand's Unknown Deep campaign.
- Small Studio of the Decade: Shortlisted
- 2x Gold, 8x Silver, 6x Bronze (2020-2023); Plus 3x Gold, 3x Silver for Jim Sutherland while at hat-trick design (2014)
While creative director at hat-trick, the small studio he founded with Gareth Howat in 2001, Jim Sutherland collected several trophies at the inaugural BIAs. That included Gold Awards for Wimbledon and Action on Hearing Loss, which also picked up our first Social Impact Award.
Sutherland left that year to explore personal projects, later founding Studio Sutherl& – an even smaller studio with a clout and reputation that far outweighs its headcount of three. Over just four years, Studio Sutherl& has taken home no less than 16 BIA trophies, including two more Gold Awards for its founder.
A collaboration with writer Tom Sharp, 25 Sculptures In Five Dimensions picked up Gold in Copywriting in 2020. A powerful demonstration of how creativity can flourish within even the strictest technical writing and design restraints, the project centred on an exhibition with 25 plinths. Each hosted a 'sculpture': a pad printed with a poetic description of a physical object for the reader to visualise.
Winning Gold in Not-For-Profit, also in 2020, the graphic identity system for London-based horticulture charity Walworth Garden is based on tessellating shapes inspired by the nine 'venations' intrinsic to every plant leaf. These versatile building blocks reflect the ideas of growth, support and community, and join together to create an urban skyline that subtly reflects the shape of a 'W'.
It's been a particularly impressive year for Studio Sutherl&: nine of those 16 BIA trophies have been awarded in 2023. Projects include The Running Towards, Snap!Gammon, De.Coded, Compartment Syndrome and Guy's Cancer Charity.
- Small Studio of the Decade: Shortlisted
- 1x Best of Show (2022), 2x Gold, 5x Silver (2020-2023)
It's perhaps no surprise that the small Shoreditch-based studio behind one of the longstanding collaborations shortlisted for Client of the Decade was in contention for this special award.
Magpie makes this list largely thanks to the runaway success of Mr Lyan's Seed Library last year – it was the first small studio to win Best of Show since Johnson Banks back in 2016, after which followed a period dominated by WPP's creative powerhouses The Partners and Superunion, and much larger agencies Uncommon and COLLINS.
Before Seed Library, Magpie's first Gold Award at the BIAs was for Senser Spirits – making an impact in the newly introduced Illustration category back in 2020.
A new range of non-alcoholic spirits with mood-transforming properties, Senser blends active botanicals to harness the transformative properties of plants. Magpie captured these mood-elevating effects in a playful illustrated story that introduces the key ingredients, before an unexpected reveal – the metamorphosis into a symbolic spirit animal.
Magpie has picked up two Silver and one Bronze trophy in 2023, for SleepyTV, Woven, and AERO.