The Archive: Critical Mass

Citibank iOS App, Quinnipiac University Redesign, Internal Visual Identity


Critical Mass — New York City, NY

My Role

Design Lead / Art Director

I had the exciting opportunity to take part in the establishment of Critical Mass’ New York office. While originally founded in Calgary, Canada, the NYC office was intended to be a front door for the agency, to bring in new business, and service New York City area clients. Besides Citibank, Quinnipiac University, and BMW, I worked on various pitches as well as some internal agency branding.

Citibank’s first native iOS app

With the announcement of the forthcoming Apple Watch in the fall 2014, Citi was invited by Apple to become a launch partner for their new hardware. To be able to seamlessly connect with the Apple Watch, Citi had to build a new iOS native app from the ground up. We redesigned the new app with the primary goal of launching with all of the expected banking and card account features while making the UI intuitive for iOS users. From kickoff to launch, the app was designed, developed, and tested in 7 months.

Credit and banking ledger flows

After a grueling seven month grind we launched Citibank’s first native iOS app. We almost couldn’t believe the reception. Despite being the “version 1.0” of the app, we saw an immediate impact to its App Store rating. The old PhoneGap version of the app was rated around 2 stars. Upon the launch of our app, the rating soared to around 4.5 stars.

The success of the launch allowed for the expansion of the Citibank account for Critical Mass, which saw the NYC office double from around 25 to 50 employees by the end of 2015. By 2017 the Citibank account team in NYC would grow to around 25 employees working on not only the mobile app but sundry other projects for Citibank.

App Store rating from previous app to new native app




A digital rebrand and design system for Quinnipiac University

To accompany a complete rebranding of the university spearheaded by Pentagram, Critical Mass was tasked with the digital rebrand and redesign of Quinnipiac University's (QU) website. The client needed a design system that was flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of content including department pages, course descriptions, social content, and much more while being intuitive enough for their in-house team to manage themselves. The site was built on the Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) platform which was relatively new at the kick off of this project.

A selection of ready to use content components
Content page built from standard components
Responsive states

We were pleased to learn that the newly redesigned was nominated in the website higher education category and was designated an honoree for best homepage/welcome page. It’s always nice to see recognition for your work after a challenging project wraps.

Best Home/Welcome Page 2017
Apps, Mobile, and Voice
School/University 2017
Identity work for Critical Mass and its subsidiaries

In between some of the larger account engagements, I was asked to lead some internal branding initiatives. This included establishing an umbrella brand for companies that we acquired or spun off into our network of agencies. One new acquisition, Zócalo, was required to maintain a unique identity for a period before being more fully absorbed into our network. Finally, when we won all of BMWUSA’s digital work, we believed that we were going to be forced to splinter off a team into a “conflict agency” due to already servicing Nissan/Infiniti out of our Canadian offices.

Original concept for parent and children agency wordmarks

For our new collateral we aimed to project the passion, creativity, and playfulness that were at the heart of our culture, while continuing to nod at our Canadian roots.

Business cards and assorted swag

When we were in the process of acquiring Zócalo Group, a word of mouth and social media, the agreement required that they keep their own identity for a period before being fully absorbed into the network. At that point they were in need of a refresh, so I was tasked with helping establish their interim identity. The direction that they preferred showcased their friendly midwestern roots, along with a helping of buzzy quirkiness. The illustrations found in the sample layouts are pulled swipe but suggestive of our intended art direction.


After winning a significant amount of digital BMWUSA work, we were anticipating a requirement from BMW to split off the team that would staff that account due to an existing relationship with Nissan/Infiniti. While the details of the new engagement were being sort out by the respective legal departments, we decided to get a jump on the possibility of this spin-off agency. While much of the logistics were of a practical nature — a separate office space from the main NYC office, we also needed a new name and visual identity. Conor Brady, our Global CCO suggested “Ikon” and I ran with that as I began to experiment with a log and visual treatments. Inspired by BMW’s rondel, I started with a circular grid and built the letterforms from it.

Ultimately, we were never required to split off a child agency, as BMW’s legal team wasn’t worried about our existing business relationship with Nissan/Infiniti. This was a fun exercise, but in the end it was unnecessary.

Other work from The Archive

© 2023 Will Gabrenya