• Transform magazine
  • June 25, 2017

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Opinion: Why brand an infrastructure?

Russell Holmes, ico design Partners.jpg

The past decade has seen a transformational shift in how we in the UK see our infrastructure. Where once transport hubs were pragmatic, liminal spaces, today they are destinations for retail, dining and a whole lot more.

Why create a brand for an airport? This was a question that we asked both ourselves, and our client, before undertaking the rebrand of London Luton Airport (LLA). From a passenger and partner’s perspective, LLA, the UK’s fifth-largest airport, was viewed similarly to its competitors – a reliable, functioning infrastructure. Wasn’t that enough? Isn’t an airport’s sole function to be a location that simply facilitates the catching of a plane?

It’s obvious that although this is still their primary function, today’s airports fulfill a number of different roles. They are important retail spaces, significant employers and their hinterlands have become booming business hubs. They’re a way for a region to flex its economic muscles or demonstrate its civic pride – even show off its artistic heritage. They may still be classed as infrastructure, but the more flights we take, the more our expectations of them are changing.

Boarding an aircraft is no longer a remarkable event; it’s often a chore. As our perception of air travel shifts, it’s evident that the excitement that used to be reserved for a flight is now, to some extent, spread thinner throughout the entire journey. As flights themselves have become more mundane, the airport experience has grown more rewarding.

Rail travel has undergone a similar transformation. Twenty years ago, the thought of visiting St Pancras Station for dinner or a glass of champagne would have seemed not only odd, but positively foolish. The station and its neighbour, King’s Cross, were uninspiring places, to say the least – and at the wrong time of day they could be quite intimidating to the lone traveller.

The regeneration carried out in the past decade has seen them become spaces that feel markedly different to rail terminuses and more akin to retail malls.

For today’s passengers, transport hubs are increasingly places of enjoyment, eating and exploration. With this backdrop, simply developing a new visual identity for London Luton Airport would have been not only a missed opportunity, but a mistake. This was a chance to reposition LLA within the market, and develop a fully rounded brand that would resonate with a public that was increasingly expecting more from the airport experience.

This shift – from being seen as infrastructure, to becoming recognised as a destination – drove the entire rebrand. It’s a future-focussed approach that is, I believe, completely in keeping with the value we will place on infrastructure branding in the near future. As one stakeholder said, “The successful airports of the future will recognise that the holiday starts the moment you arrive in the car park, step into the terminal or visit their homepage.”

Russell Holmes is partner and strategy director at ico Design Partners