Huge builds senior ranks to lead ‘transformative’ work

The shop has hired two directors to help launch a conversational design practice and makerspace to tackle voice and AI.

Take a tour of Huge Toronto’s offices and you’ll likely go home sore from all your rubbernecking.

Huge is billed as a digital agency, but much of the work it gives birth to is nurtured in the physical world. Every nook, cranny and wall at the office is occupied by tinkerers, tools and tests. It’s not uncommon, now, to see the agency working on prototypes for a line of BBQs for Canadian Tire, or a cycling helmet for Scott. It’s also not uncommon to see the open-concept office plastered with very detailed user journey maps, with the teams plotting the bridge that consumers cross from the physical into the digital world.

The agency is morphing to become a company no longer relegated to advertising; it’s edging closer to becoming a creative consultancy, says managing director Matt Di Paola, who joined Huge last fall. “We tend to work with a lot more clients who are on a three- to five-year digital transformation of their organisation now… The integral work that we’re doing is more transformational than just output, and we’ve been adding more strategic people as we have seen this demand.”

To support these efforts, Huge has hired two new senior directors.

It’s brought on Maria Pereda in the newly-created role of group experience director, as well as Darrin Patey as technical director. The two previously worked with Di Paola at former agencies, and will lead the user experience teams handling work for brands including Sinai Health Foundation, WestJet, Giant Tiger and Four Seasons.

Because Huge is rooted in UX and design, Pereda will lead the research and strategy behind the development of games, mobile apps, websites and even physical retail spaces, says Di Paola. But more than that, the former product design director at Schoology (an edtech company in the US) has been selected to head up the agency’s new “conversational design practice,” which is meant to push Huge further into voice and AI.

More clients in the U.S. and Canada (less so in the latter as Di Paola says fewer brands have shown as much interest in the space) are looking at Huge to design interfaces for voice assistants and develop chatbots, he says. “[So we wanted] someone to champion that and pull the organization along to give the agency a point of view on this. We have content strategists and visual designers who are used to designing interfaces, but that will evolve into more conversational design as Maria leads the team.”

No stranger to the space, the agency has routinely participated in hackathons to beef up its expertise and create rapid prototypes around voice ideas. It was most recently involved in the Amazon Alexa Cup, as well as the Huge x Amazon “Change for Good” Hackathon during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

As for Patey, the technical director (who joins Huge from The Garden Collective in Toronto) will also help launch an innovation practice, called the Garage. Similar to an actual cafe that Huge launched in Atlanta (which also serves as an idea incubator), the internal makerspace will be used to test and teach new technologies, including mixed reality and AR for the agency’s environmental and retail brand experiences.

The Brooklyn-founded agency has 13 offices, from Tokyo to its only Canadian outpost in Toronto. The Toronto office staff count now sits at 50, following new project wins from Sinai, Giant Tiger, MaRS Discovery District as well as growth with existing clients, such as Four Seasons and ATB Financial.