Design differentiates brands

Design is what enables brands to differentiate themselves, but concepts must be ever changing and evolving, according to Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive officer Steve Ridgway.

Ridgway was speaking at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Wednesday morning, as part of the Financial Times Business of Design Talks for the London Design Festival. He was joined by Frank Stephenson, head of Alfa Romeo style, and Nick Jones, founder of the Soho House Group.

The subject was ‘branding with design’, and how companies are trying to differentiate themselves with design-led offerings. How do creative directors and designers go about reshaping corporate images in this way?

Virgin Atlantic is currently undertaking a large design project at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3, about which Ridgway said, ‘We are going to create our own world inside Terminal 3.’ He also ironically states that he is a ‘great believer in plagiarism. There are only so many ideas out there and you can steal ideas. For example, we have to thank McDonald’s, we nicked their idea of a drive-through’.

‘Design is part of everything we do. Everyone uses the same Boeing planes that fly in and out of the same airports, so we need to be different, and we do that through design. It is the design of the planes and clubs that enables us to be different,’ he added.

When challenged on Virgin Atlantic’s ‘terrible’ website, Ridgway agreed that this is one design area that needs to be addressed, and while the company has a strong record in product design and better skills in certain areas, touchpoints such as these should be updated.

Jones agrees that design is important to the restaurant and club sector, but it is also important that design is for the customer and not the designer. He believes that design should evolve. ‘There are hundreds of Pizza Huts, and they’re all disgusting. Take several food places, they can be different, but they are all the same and it just doesn’t work, whereas Pizza Express is always changing and evolving. I think design should always be changing.’

One of the worst insults in the industry to be called is ‘retro’, according to Stephenson, because the design always has to move onto the next level. ‘Design for me is one of the factors that sets us apart from others,’ he says. ‘If you don’t have design quality in the product you bring down the reputation of the brand and business strategy. We try to take something that already exists and try to move it into the future.’

Tomorrow (Friday), the Design Retail talk takes place at the RFH at 8am, with Vittorio Radice from La Rinascente, Murray Moss of Moss and Florence Delorme from Habitat.

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