Parsons’ Core Creative Agency At 50

In-House Agency Is An Innovator Across The Ages

Close your eyes for a minute; imagine doing your job 50 years ago. Things were a lot different; there were no cell phones, no laptops, no keyboard shortcuts. A lot more hands-on, too, with a pica ruler, pencil, and your trusty X-Acto never far from reach. To merely survive in our fickle industry is impressive; but to thrive in it for 50 years you must be doing something right. And that’s just what Parsons’ Core Creative Agency has done.

Monumentally, 2022 marks the 30-member in-house agency’s 50th anniversary. Join us as we reflect on their first half-century and the many ways they are sprinting headfirst into the future.

So, what exactly keeps an in-house team at the forefront through so many changes, both within their company and the industry overall? The Chicago-based agency’s Creative Director, Kathy Sara, says, “one of our keys to success is pretty simple: it’s what we call our Diversity of Thought Model. While we have a team full of career creatives who went to art schools and academies, we also seek out creatives with an array of backgrounds. We have a former economist, county courthouse intern, classically trained musicians, car detailers, licensed European architect, college educators – the list of our team’s past professions and passions goes on. This broad range of experiences and points of view unquestionably drives more creative solutions.” And Kathy herself is no exception, having a history of professional floral design and statuary restoration.

Diversity of Thought continues to enable Core Creative to meet new challenges from different perspectives. Varied backgrounds weave together, overlapping in unexpected ways and becoming a strong foundation for innovative thinking.

With Parsons being a global tech firm, it may be surprising to hear that Core Creative has held on to their old-school roots. They continue to physically construct scale models and produce handcrafted print solutions in-house. From analog to digital, they continue to build on their interests to push the boundaries of their capabilities. Over these past five decades, this quest for growth has expanded their key disciplines into graphic design, 3D visualization, video/photography, creative writing/copywriting, illustration, interactive, and creative/print production. Not only are they evolving, but with last year’s GDUSA competition results in hand – more on that in a minute – it’s safe to say they’re excelling in every service they provide.

One of their all-time favorite examples of innovation in action is a 2019 tradeshow booth for CoMotion LA. The Core Creative team imagined, designed, and produced an 80s arcade-themed experience. This is a literal case study in collaboration, setting the stage for the next phase of their team’s evolution.

This project was their first to leverage all seven of the team’s disciplines in a single deliverable. Creatives of all stripes came together with a common goal of highlighting two of Parsons’ smart city technologies in an engaging and memorable way. This included two games developed fully from scratch in Unity – one a touchscreen-enabled evade-the-hacker game, the other a full-scale arcade driving game, complete with working steering wheel and pedals. The Creative Production team engineered and fabricated the cabinet from the ground up. It had to be strong enough to hold the electronics and durable enough to handle multiple cross-country trips. That sturdiness needed to be balanced with the ability to ship using conventional overnight carriers, which limited size and weight. The clever solution: a one-of-a-kind cabinet with components engineered into modular sections that were just under FedEx’s maximum package size. In fact, the largest piece had only 2 total inches to spare.

The rising demand for scalable, individualized problem solving is how Core Creative’s flagship process – Creative Labs – was born. This facilitated ideation methodology provides a safe space for generating both fantastical and fantastic ideas. It not only solves problems, it produces some of Core Creative’s best concepts ­– concepts like the recent branding of FlexRoad, a state highway traffic management project.



The FlexRoad brand was developed from square one for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT). The goal was to craft a responsive identity system consisting of a program and project naming structure, a versatile tagline, and a visual branding package.

The naming process spanned three progressive Creative Labs, each giving Core Creative a better understanding of the INDOT team’s expectations, the needs of the program, and helped to navigate copyright/IP considerations. These early sessions paid dividends when the focus moved to developing a tagline. Ideas came easily and naturally from the progress of the previous creative conversations. Ultimately the team decided on the pairing of FlexRoad: Less Stop, More Go.

The branding package included a responsive logo design, color palettes, brand guidelines, and a host of templates. These items together needed to help convey the program’s mission of increased reliability and safety along a busy roadway. The FlexRoad branding has been used to develop print and digital marketing materials, a website, and videos that help establish public outreach, while building trust within the community.

At GDUSA, we believe that in-house design teams are uniquely positioned to express and protect the essence of the brand, product, and mission. It is important for executive leadership to recognize and appreciate this invaluable perspective. Core Creative is a great example of this philosophy in practice. They work closely with clients and stakeholders at all levels to marry art and copy into compelling stories. They are developing award-winning Parsons-branded content, as well as stand-out creative solutions for external clients. They’ve developed branding for products, joint ventures, public agencies, and commercial clients – they deeply understand the heart of the brands they are building, as well as the brand they champion every day. This understanding allows Core Creative to seamlessly collaborate with their peers at Parsons, producing engaging and persuasive branded proposals that help Parsons win more work. And that’s not all Core Creative is winning.

So, about those GDUSA Awards. In 2021 we recognized Core Creative as being in the top three nationally for our GDUSA American Inhouse Design Awards. They followed that up with a top five finish in the GDUSA American Graphic Design Awards going head-to-head with full-service agencies. And this is no fluke, as they continue to submit high quality work year after year.

What do the next 50 years hold? Holographic storage, telepathic communication, that Mars colony we’re always talking about? We’ll see. But if history repeats itself, as it tends to do, chances are high that Core Creative will continue to be among those leading the charge.