Duolingo, the Pittsburgh-based maker of the language learning app of the same name, has acquired Detroit-based design and animation studio Gunner.
The Gunner-Duolingo connection isn’t a new one. Gunner has been a key part of Duolingo’s animation plans for the past two years and produces still art assets and animation for the language-learning app and Duolingo’s early childhood literacy app Duolingo ABC. Gunner also produces graphics for the company’s marketing campaigns.
Duolingo first approached Gunner about an acquisition in April 2021. In an essay published on Gunner’s website, the team said that, “spent nearly 1 ½ years mulling it over” and “after making sure everyone was on board we decided it was the right move for the future.” All 15 employees at the studio will join Duolingo full-time, and continue working out of their Detroit office.
According to Gunner, they gravitated to Duolingo’s mission statement:
To develop the best education in the world and make it universally available…
“The purpose of our work – and who it benefits – has been in the back of our minds for a long time, especially on client-driven projects,” the Gunner team says. “Duolingo’s mission felt right, and we knew we could put our energy behind it.”
Gunner says that it will continue to produce unbranded content, R&D projects, and short-form content under its new owner Duolingo. Its sister studio Hobbes will continue to operate independently as a motion studio focused on creative solutions in product design and emerging technology. In 2024, the company also plans to launch an independent art and and animation school in Detroit.
Gunner co-founder Ian Sigmon elaborated on his feelings in a press release, saying: “We have been fortunate to collaborate with so many great brands as a studio, but over the last couple of years Duolingo has stolen our hearts. Our artists pour so much care into every project, so it feels right to be at a company that invests in art, and has a mission that we believe in.”
Duolingo co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn added, “We know that the hardest thing about learning a language, or any new subject, is staying motivated, and that’s why we make Duolingo fun. Art and animation are foundational to the Duolingo brand, and we use them to help make Duolingo a beloved daily habit in millions of learners’ lives.”
Duolingo’s has taken major steps towards improving and expanding the visual components of its platform, and in October of last year hired highly-respected animation executive Linda Simensky as its first head of animation.