Make yourself at home
The brand experience at airline lounges rarely extends beyond free food and drink. For MyLounge, No.1 Traveller wanted to redefine the lounge, resulting in a considered, consistent experience that draws the visual identity into sync with the new brand strategy. Brittany Golob reports
The word lounge has countless connotations. In airports, though, the lounge is most akin to its 1980s and ‘90s incarnation – formal, exclusive, business-like and elite. When Fraser Norton joined No.1 Traveller just four months before the launch of its new brand, MyLounge, the company was beginning to change that.
Its No.1 lounges are in five major UK airports, but the MyLounge project was intended to be a bit different, even from its chic older brother. The space at London Gatwick’s North Terminal draws inspiration from the Zoo&Co-designed visual identity, from the feeling of being a guest in someone’s house, from modern airline travel, from quirky yet comfortable restaurants and hotels and from the architecture of the space itself.
“Originally, it was kind of cheap,” Norton says. “I said, ‘That’s fine, you want to get the cost-conscious traveller in, but that isn’t good enough. You can’t just say to people, this is a cheap version, we still want them to buy into an experience.” That was the starting point for research into the needs of the traveller and the ability of a lounge – by definition an exclusive space – to offer quality service and products at a low cost.
The visual identity relies on a pink, blue, green, grey and yellow alongside an industrial, informative typeface. Yet, the new MyLounge space is not a riot of colour and eccentricity. Norton says the splashes of muted colour around the lounge draw on the identity, but without overwhelming the user with either grey or with brightness. The goal, he says, is to make the traveller feel relaxed, comfortable and ready to begin their holiday before they even step on a plane.
“In terms of the experience,” Norton says, “The first thing was the space itself. It is very much laid out like you’re going round someone’s house.” He outlines the flow of the space from the open-plan kitchen area to the communal table and breakfast bar through to a cluster-oriented lounge space and a semi-private games room and entertainment room. The company sought to bring the MyLounge values of social relaxation, the energy and excitement of travel, generous and warm hospitality and cost-consciousness. “That’s where the name came from,” Norton adds. “The reason we went for loft design was because with the architecture in here, if you can call it that, you’ve got this floor to ceiling glass and these concrete columns so it just naturally lends itself to that loft feel. It doesn’t feel forced. I always find it difficult when brands become faux-thentic.”
Each aspect of the lounge, from the bowls in which the custom-ordered mezze platters are served to the tea – up-and-coming British brand Joe’s Teas – and cakes on offer to the lamps and concrete furniture, was chosen specifically for its relationship to those brand values. Even the music, which changes in tone throughout the day was selected to evoke a relaxed, yet cool feel – Norton even tested in on his sexagenarian parents to ensure it wouldn’t put anyone in discomfort.
The social aspect imbues both the design and the MyLounge communications strategy. The selection of custom-created loaf cakes, for which the brand wants to make itself known, will feature a ‘loaf cake of the week’ that will also drive social engagement through Twitter as MyLounge encourages followers to create the recipe themselves.
The combination of high street furniture and fittings and custom pieces creates a unique experience that is customisable at potential future locations – much like a Byron burger or CitizenM hotel. Staff uniforms are jeans, ties, cardigans and Converse, creating a smart-casual feel that puts people at ease.
The typical Gatwick traveller is either away on business or is travelling with a group – the airport is the hub of choice for short-haul European destinations and families on long-haul holidays – thus MyLounge caters specifically to that audience. Norton says the company wanted to the MyLounge brand to feel open to families and groups, audiences typically estranged by airport lounges. The experience is thus multisensory and aware of its users – even the Bellinis can be ordered custom for a group of four.
Chief commercial officer at Gatwick, Guy Stephenson, says Gatwick served 38m passengers in 2014, up from 36.5m the year before. That has brought not only higher volume to the airport, but more savvy travellers. He says of the MyLounge idea, “The wacky ideas that [founder Phil Cameron] has are actually reasonably grounded.” Cameron adds that the MyLounge project will allow No.1 Traveller to extend its brand to reach a new audience of passengers that expect more from their travel and lounge experiences.
MyLounge has been open since late August and acts as a more informal, inclusive little brother to its No.1 neighbour. Regarding the experience, though, Norton says, “I really hope they go away thinking three things: one, I just feel really relaxed and chilled out now. Two, they really thought of everything and every detail was considered and I felt loved, felt cared for; it felt like I’d been to someone’s house and they’ve shown me that warm hospitality. And three, there’s just nothing like this, I want to go back, I wish I could have stayed longer.”