Qantas redesign more than a superficial makeover, insists airline and design agency

Qantas has insisted its new logo and livery unveiled yesterday is more than just a superficial makeover as the agency behind the new look suggested decorative change for the sake of it was the worst mistake any brand can make.


Qantas liveries through the years. The new-look is in the foreground

Stu O’Brien, chief executive at Houston Design, who worked on the design with Qantas consultant engineer Marc Newson, warned against self-indulgent rebrands, arguing it could spark a “backlash” from “savvy” consumers.

Speaking with media after Qantas unveiled the new design – which includes new typography, a tweaked tail-fin and the introduction of a retro roo under the cockpit – O’Brien said any new design should reflect wider changes or improvements within an organisation.

“It’s not just a logo change, it’s about the logo representing the experience and the stories,” he said. “There has been lots of conversations about logos verses identity, and brand is not just about a logo. It is part of an overall transformation of experience and product.”


He added that “change for change’s sake” does not sit well with consumers, and suggested companies that rebrand superficially are playing a dangerous game.

“People don’t want to see change for decoration purposes, and I think people are a lot more savvy now,” O’Brien said. “Any large scale brand that transforms itself without substance will be found out pretty quickly.

“In some instances, if you do that the backlash can be quite severe. If people seem to decorate something, the backlash can be huge.”

Olivia Wirth, Qantas Group executive brand, marketing and corporate affairs, added: “This is not just a change of logo, it is far greater than that. There is a significant transformation program across Qantas and on-going investment and commitment to continuing to improve the overall brand and customer experience.”

The new-look has been timed to coincide with the arrival of Qantas’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which will enter service in 12 months’ time, while the 100th anniversary of the airline in 2020 was also an important factor, Wirth said.

The last rebrand, by Hans Hulsboch, took place in 2007 to mark the introduction of the A380 superjumbo. Remarkably, some aircraft in the Qantas fleet are still flying with the pre-2007 livery.

Wirth rejected suggestions the Hulsboch creation had been ditched relatively quickly.

“Ten years is actually quite a significant time,” she said. “The introduction of the 787 to the Qantas fleet next year is the perfect time, and the introduction of a new fleet provided us with an opportunity to do it. Not only is it cost effective but it’s also a step-change in the experience customers will have on board the 787. We thought it was absolutely the right time.”

Qantas' Olivia Wirth

Olivia Wirth: timing of rebrand is perfect

Wirth confirmed that some aircraft in the fleet, including the A330 wheeled out yesterday with the new-look, will “effectively jump a livery”.

She explained it takes a decade to repaint its entire fleet – meaning not all aircraft carry the Hulsboch design.

O’Brien said the role of the Houston Group was to contemporise the image “enough for it to last another 10, 15 to 20 years”.

“Taking a step back, if we didn’t take advantage of this time it probably would have been out for 20 years before you had that opportunity again, and by then I would suggest, 20 years on, it’s just way too long,” he said.

“This is about an evolution. It was done in a much faster moving world, so that contemporisation was critical, and in the run up to the 100 year anniversary it was the right right time to embed this more contemporary brand.”

O’Brien said he hoped the “retro roo” under the cockpit would remain in place “for ever”.

“We treated this very sensitively and it was done with great details,” he continued. “The trick was to make as much change as we could to contemporise the brand but without departing from some of the key attributes of the most iconic brand in Australia.

“Qantas was here before us and it’s going to be here a long time after us, so we are custodians. You have to step back and see the brand in a much grander view and grander timeline than just the moment you have.”

He said some “fall into a trap” of “jumping on an iconic brand and doing something for their own good, and not the good of the brand”.


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