Davies Baron’s aviation jobs reach dizzy heights

Davies Baron is a London-based consultancy with no big offices worldwide. Yet it is up there challenging the bigwigs in airline design. Clare Dowdy charts its route to success

Judging on this year’s performance alone Davies Baron has good reason to describe itself as one of the world’s leading aviation design consultancies. In the past five months Austrian Airlines and Air New Zealand have both taken flight with new Davies Baron logos, while British Airways First and New Club World brands and cabin interiors have been revamped by the group. Its input is also present at ground level in airport lounges and retail areas. And now it is working on the identity and branding for Scandinavian carrier SAS, an appointment Davies Baron sees as “a tremendous coup”.

In fact, for the past three or four years the London-based group has been targeting aviation projects and has made considerable inroads on to pitch lists including Landor Associates and Diefenbach Elkins in the US. Indeed, Davies Baron managing director David Davies acknowledges the stiff competition from across the Atlantic: “Traditionally, aviation design has tended to be dominated by predominantly US-based consultants.”

The spoils of such coveted and potentially lucrative appointments are tempting. As well as being high profile, international airline work throws up opportunities for ongoing branding assessment, in the air and on the ground. “Carriers that have a vision of their future are engaged in a continual process of product development which intimately involves design expertise,” says Davies Baron marketing director Paul Hafke.

While Davies Baron’s desire to get into aviation is understandable, the airlines’ interest in Davies Baron is less obvious. Why have overseas carriers seemingly turned their backs on the airline design big-wigs in favour of a London group best known for its retail work?

Davies believes the group’s disciplinary mix is at the heart of its success in the aviation industry. With grounded clients including Marks and Spencer, Habitat and The Royal Bank of Scotland, Davies says the group has learnt that “what happens on the high street informs what happens in the air and vice versa”.

And while Davies Baron is continuing to chase airline projects, design staff being discouraged from pigeon-holing themselves and concentrating only on airline work. The retail side of the business is healthy, claims Hafke. Apart from the perceived synergy between trends on the high street and those in aviation, Hafke adds it is not in the consultancy’s interest to create “an isolated view of the aviation business. We want people to understand it at the level of customer experience”.

While Davies Baron sees itself as having arrived in the sector, longer-established firms deny feeling threatened by the extra competition. Landor, which is currently rolling out its 3D designs and logo work for Delta, fails to see how the London group can offer clients a truly multi cultural perspective. “Our clients will attest to the added value that a global firm with integrated practices can bring to an airline identity assignment,” confirms a Landor spokesman.

Davies Baron cannot boast of such an overseas office network to draw on. And it purposely shuns such worldwide link-ups as WPP’s newly-formed Enterprise Identity Group to win projects. “We’re unsure as to how these larger organisations will better serve clients,” says Davies, adding: “The big, multi-national design conglomerate looks at first sight more like a 1980s solution.”

But the group acknowledges that local input is vital when branding an overseas airline, and it forms design alliances to deal with each project. It teamed up with companies in both Austria and New Zealand when designing for their national carriers and a Scandinavian partnership is planned for the group’s latest job.

With such an apparent rush of work in one sector it would be fair to wonder whether Davies Baron can keep up with the goals it has set itself. David Davies is in no doubt that his consultancy is on a roll, but the group’s retail output has been ominously quiet, and it remains to be seen whether Davies can keep both the retail and aviation balls in the air.

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