Uniform: a uniquely playful and creative agency that keeps reinventing itself

12 Apr, 2017

Of all the companies in the Northern Tech 100 league table, Uniform has perhaps the most varied history. In its 19 years, the Liverpool agency has been involved with everything from interior and product design to virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Founded in 1998 by three product design students at Liverpool John Moores University, the company scored an early success with the award-winning design of Garlands nightclub . And when entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe got in touch, they found themselves designing a groundbreaking warm saké dispenser for the second ever Yo! Sushi restaurant.

As revenue and headcount grew, Uniform moved into creating computer-generated visualisations for top architects and property developers around the world. For example, in 2008 they made the launch film and imagery for landmark London building The Shard.

Never a company to stand still, Uniform developed a broader set of services for clients and found itself doing place branding for museums and galleries.

Fewer clients, deeper relationships

It was in 2012 that things got really interesting. “We decided to have fewer clients but do more for them,” says cofounder Nick Howe. “We were interested in getting much closer to our clients, positioning ourselves as consultants and partners rather than suppliers.”

As a part of this shift, Uniform invested heavily in R&D. “Innovation and pushing boundaries has been part of our DNA since day one. But it’s much more structured now – a deliberate function of the business,” says Howe.

A dedicated team within Uniform creates playful concept products to explore what the company can do for its clients. Early examples of this approach included a Postcard Player that brought music recommendations back away from digital algorithms and into fans’ hands via machine-readable cards. Listening Post, meanwhile, was an interactive gig poster that could be touched to play audio clips of bands.

Visit Uniform’s HQ and it can feel a bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with another weird and wonderful toy around every corner. There’s a jukebox on one wall that reads your facial expression to play a song appropriate to your mood, for example.

Liverpool roots, London branches

Uniform now employs 54 people, mostly in Liverpool but with a small outpost in London. They’re working with clients including football firm Mitre, and drinks brand Gatorade, with whom they’re working on a brand activation for Arsenal FC.

Howe praises Liverpool’s “diverse, dynamic and outward looking” qualities, and says Uniform will remain firmly rooted in the city. That said, he expects the London office to grow this year to better serve clients in the capital.

Given Uniform’s many shifts in focus over the past two decades, we can expect more in the future. Howe says that artificial intelligence is a current hot topic at the company. He’s recently returned from Austin, Texas, where Uniform gave two talks on the topic at SXSW.

We’ll watch with interest to see how this playful, creative company reinvents itself next.

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