All the Connections Matter

Our unique creative intelligence platform kyu OS is kyu’s largest collaborative initiative. Here’s how it came to be.

Upon joining SYPartners (SYP) in 2015, Adam Brick remembers the excitement he felt learning SYP was part of a collective of ambitious creative organizations. The only problem? He had no way to connect or collaborate with people at the other kyu companies. When he joined kyu a few years later, he set in motion the system he’d been searching for.

To facilitate learning, gathering, and inspiration, kyu uses a creative intelligence platform as a central point of access and connection. Known as kyu OS, it’s a crucial part of what kyu offers its member companies. 

“We want to give as much as we can to the entire collective so that we’re all at the same starting point. It's core creative intelligence,” says Brick, VP of Products and Technology at kyu.

kyu OS — as in “Operating System” — is a rich and multifaceted platform that offers close to 3,000 users insights into each other’s client work, projects, skills, passions, events, and stories, making it the collective’s largest collaborative project to date. Every month, kyu companies share information, from new hires to the latest projects. But how do you create a space that serves thousands of people across disciplines, cultures, and time zones?

“From the beginning, it's been about providing a platform that helps people throughout the organization make connections,” says AJ Hughes, who leads growth for kyu’s parent company, HDY Holdings and championed the initiative while an executive at kyu. “In the early days of kyu, we were smaller and were able to create some intentional events that connected people. But as we’ve grown to nearly 3000 employees, you have platforms like kyu OS to help facilitate that.”

Mapping a Collective

The origins of what is now kyu OS began with ATÖLYE. Even before joining the collective, the community-powered creative services organization knew the value of visualizing connections. In early meetings with kyu leadership, ATÖLYE demonstrated an open-source network tool called Graph Commons, which mapped data to produce a visual representation of its community. In it existed a microcosm of what the kyu Collective could be.

“Not just logos on a page,” recalls kyu VP of Strategic Design and Innovation Ryan Murphy, “but ecosystems of different individuals connected by skills, passions, and more.”

Back then, there were only nine companies in the collective. When ATÖLYE joined in 2019, they were tasked with bringing a kyu Graph to life, with Murphy supporting the project from the kyu side. Senior leadership and tech representatives from each of the member companies became ambassadors of kyu Graph. That cohort navigated the privacy implications of sharing data and debated ways to make the product more inspirational.

From these working sessions, came the idea to also showcase the humanity of collective members by allowing users to build their own profiles and highlight both their work and passions.

Getting kyu Graph off the ground was an uphill climb, one that required numerous onboarding sessions, game sessions, and workshops to explain it.

“There was a steep learning curve,” says Deniz Dönmez, a design lead at ATÖLYE. “We were flying two planes at once: We had to get people to use the tool and give us feedback on why we needed this. Asking questions like, do we really need this? Would you use it? But also talk about usability.”

In January 2021, the team saw the fruits of their labor. kyu Graph made its debut at kin, a three-day gathering that brought the collective together for the first time. Despite being fully remote, the event was well received and the response to kyu Graph was overwhelmingly positive. It was clear to those involved that they were developing something special.

The next step? To build a sustainable product but one fully owned by kyu.

Iterate, Learn, Repeat

How do you make connections tangible and meaningful for users? That’s the challenge that Brick — who was tasked to lead kyu Graph Version 2.0 — faced and what drove him to move beyond the beautiful network maps that kyu Graph had surfaced. “It became apparent very early on that if the concept of creative intelligence was to have legs, it actually needed to have a platform where users could do things, not just view things,” he Brick. Instead of just offering knowledge, it had to mobilize and inspire users. This shift in concept also required a bigger, dedicated team to bring the product to life.

A key new member was product director Hiba Ganta, originally an ATÖLYE community member who joined kyu in Fall 2021. While impressed by the network visualizations, she was more excited by the opportunities to connect people on a human level. 

For the past two-plus years, Ganta has been on a mission to make the product as human-centered as possible, whether that means focusing on building a friendly and intuitive interface or engaging with members of the collective to unearth relevant use cases and elevate the creative community.

Bringing everything together while streamlining the information was a goal identified in the prototyping stage. The platform needed to be interactive and make business-activity easier, but also offer a way to be seen in the fast-growing collective.

For the OS team, it’s been important to move with intention but move quickly. One example is the “Beta” label atop the kyu OS logo. With Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming as inspirations, Brick made the strategic decision to include it as a way of telegraphing the evolving nature of the product.

“Many of us are perfectionists. I am too. But a platform like kyu OS cannot be built in isolation. kyu OS is for our Community and we put features out when they're ready for feedback,” he says, pointing to the team’s method of “Iterate, learn, iterate, learn.”

Throughout, gathering feedback has been a critical part of developing and evolving kyu OS. User needs and behaviors are just as important as the business goals of stakeholders. When kyu OS was unveiled in April 2022, it was no longer just a set of network maps; it was an operating system that offered a full experience to collective members. It’s a place to explore current and past clients and projects; discover commonalities; participate in events like portfolio shares and workshops; join cross-collective communities around topics like DEI and Climate Action; and be inspired by the stories across the collective.

Fresh intelligence is paramount to kyu OS’s success and comes thanks to “data champions” across all of the member companies. These individuals, often part of a company’s talent team, are responsible for providing monthly workforce, project, and client updates to the Creative Intelligence team. Each company has a custom workflow; some data champs are handling companies with 50 people, while others have hundreds of employees. It’s a massive, on-going task.

The Road Ahead

The need to introduce new behaviors also extends to users.

“The more this platform is front of mind for people, becoming a go-to point in their week or day, the more utility and impact it can have,” points out Anthony Quigley, SYPartners’ VP of AI Systems & Emergent Technologies.

So, how do you make users aware of a powerful new platform and, more importantly, keep them coming back?

It’s Ganta’s hope that in engaging with different parts of the platform, people will truly start to understand the agency they have within the collective. “There really is such an opportunity for you to make your mark and build your own network,” she says.

The elements that helped bring kyu OS to life are also part of its future promise. As Brick sees it, the hope is that “more people start making definitive, strong decisions based on the information we find through kyu OS.”