Design wins the war for wallet share

Companies that offer credit cards are waking up to the branding opportunities

How can designers help banks and financial services groups communicate through card design? Frampton says they must be brought in as soon as the issuer starts thinking about strategy.

That’s the way it worked for Scher on the Citibank project. McQueen, on the other hand, has designed all three Amex cards around previously determined strategies and strict guidelines.

Smith says American Express typically gives McQueen a brief and talks to him ‘about the people who hold the card and what the branding behind it is. Then he comes back with four or five designs; some that capture [the strategy], others that we’re less happy with.

‘We then say, “Here are the brand guidelines”. The typeface for the name is standard, as are the numbers, the magnetic strip and codes on the back. Then we’ll see how we reproduce the design on plastic, bearing in mind it’s got to shrink down to card size,’ he says.

A credit card’s dimensions, as well as myriad rules about what must appear on it, can present significant design challenges. Oehler says, ‘Cards are so small; so much must go on them – the chip, the signature, numbers and expiry date. We end up looking for space for all the different elements.’

He says the situation is often complicated by credit card companies’ demands and by the rise of co-branding. ‘We try to stick with the Citibank colours, but the Citibank gold has to be the gold that Visa specifies. And when [card issuers] co-brand with insurance companies or airlines, both identities need to be there, and both companies have expectations of [logo] size and so on. It’s all very political and, creatively, the issue becomes, “How do you still make it look good?”,’ Oehler explains.

Nevertheless, it appears that a memorable credit card design is worth its weight in (a predetermined) gold. ‘In many instances, a card is the only tangible aspect of a brand you get,’ says Frampton.

‘They’re huge consumer products,’ concurs the Barclaycard spokesman. ‘And you need to be consistently creative if you’re going to attract customers.’

Indeed, Frampton recalls the first time he saw a clear credit card. ‘The first time you see something like that, it goes around the table at the pub. And that’s what everyone’s ultimately going for: that “I want it” factor,’ he says.

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