Good credit card design is not as easy as it looks

I enjoyed David Benady’s article on the potential for designers to create distinctive cards for financial services clients (DW 4 May).

When I was director of branding of a very, very big bank, which has more than 100 million card accounts worldwide, I had long discussions with my colleagues about how our credit cards could and should create impact in the wallet and at point of purchase.

What most people don’t know is the severe restrictions you face when working on such a small – but valuable – piece of real estate. Material specifications, quality standards and technological constraints, not to mention the security precautions of production and distribution, can prohibit innovation in design.

To most bankers, defining good credit card design is like pornography: they know it when they see it. But their brief is always the same: ‘We don’t want a boring, me-too card – and we have to keep costs down.’ If only there were a Pantone reference for WOW, then the beleaguered marketing services executive’s bonus would be safe.

Even the most successful card issuers are ready to sacrifice hard-earned brand equity in pursuit of short-term boosts to customer acquisition numbers by launching feature-based products and pursuing so-called co-branding deals.

My advice to the business heads and their designers is to put the customer first and, heeding Uncle Ludwig, let form follow function.

Concentrate on getting the product offer right – make it compelling and unique – and the design of the plastic will be the easy part.

Brant Long, Longhand, London W2

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