Experience branding through art and design - British Airways Terminal 5


Ulrik Hogrebe | March 24, 2010

A brand strategist for the design agency e-Types makes the case for art as a necessary luxury in airport design

Ulrik Hogrebe, associate brand strategist for the design agency e-Types, makes a case for the luxury of experience by profiling the way British Airways commissioned art for its terminal at Heathrow Airport.

Heathrows Terminal 5 was finally finished in 2008. The idea was to expand the airports ailing infrastructure and to cement its position as one of the busiest airports in the world. Concurrently, British Airways was awarded sole-use of the newly erected terminal. Convenient for BA´s air traffic, sure. But also extremely convenient for BA as a brand. After all, they had practically been handed a gigantic brand showroom with a guaranteed audience of roughly 35 million passengers a year. When you work in branding, this is the point where you start letting the champagne corks fly. But once the initial excitement has passed and the hangover starts setting in, your left with one pressing question. What the hell to do with all that space? Apart from the usual platter of more or less drab restaurants and duty-free shops, BA chose to fill the terminal with art and design. Art and design meant specifically to shine a light on the BA brand. The following is a quick run-through of Terminal 5´s art collection, emphasising the works specifically commissioned by BA.

Troika: “Cloud”

The art and design collective Troika were commissioned to create an installation that could demarcate the move between the busy duty-free gallery and Terminal 5´s intimate and exclusive VIP lounges (lounges that by the way are decked with original works from British art superstars like Damien Hirst, Julien Opie and Bridget Riley – but that’s another story in itself). The result is “Cloud” – a 5 meter long hi-tech cloud-like sculpture, that invokes the experience of leaving the chaos of mile-long cues, hectic departure times and mad gate-to-gate dashes for the calm and wonder created when rising above the clouds just after take-off. And Cloud really works, providing a mesmerising experience – not just because the thing is stunningly beautiful but because its been created with BA´s brand in mind. Fusing cutting-edge technology with the old-fashioned “flip dots” (remember those old fashioned signs that would audibly flip over to form words? You’ve probably experienced them on train stations etc. That’s them.) Cloud successfully frames BA as an ultra-modern airline while leading the mind back to when air flight was a stylish affair. When people flew in suits and wing-tips rather than H2O sandals and tank-tops. It refers to elegance and (British) heritage and creates a feeling of aspiration in the tourist looking up at it from the duty-free lounges while crafting a sense of security for the global CEO that he has chosen the right airline while rising on the escalators up towards the Shangri-la of the first class lounges – and this being without ever brandishing a BA logo.

Troika: “All the Time in The World”

Again Troika delivers a poetic and beautifully executed hole in one. All The Time in The World is a electro-luminescent world clock, where the usual big cities have been substituted with places that awaken more romantic and exotic connotations; Sydney has been exchanged for The Great Barrier Reef, Mexico City with the Aztec Tenochtitlan, Dar Es Salaam with Mt. Kilimanjaro and so on. A simple yet effective take on a classic that subtly substitutes the meaning of travel – from simple travel to real adventure.

Chris Pearson: “Pegasus & The Winged Lion”, Digital Relief-series

Chris Pearson´s work resides in the über-exclusive Concorde Lounge- Through advanced digital projections and hidden lighting Pearson performs an elegant hack on the BA coat of arms – spinning small off kilter tales around the iconic unicorn and lion. Pearson balances perfectly between irony and humor echoing a central aspect of the brands national heritage – British humor. Combined with the opulent surroundings, Pearson echoes the British taste for eccentricity and Class with wit and intelligence, turning what could have been just another generic luxury lounge into something inimitably British.

Chris Pearson: Oak Seasons & Willow Boughs

A feat he repeats in Oak Seasons and Willow Boughs that inhabit the other Terminal 5 lounges. Again Pearson utilizes the uniquely British – the seasons represented by electronic oak trees and British design icon William Morris´ iconic oak prints – to create an atmosphere that communicates the brands history and essence. Pearson’s comprehension of the national fondness towards all things quirky is reflected in the details – small roadmaps and representations of light bulbs are cleverly hidden in the leaves of the oak trees to the surprise and delight of the attentive viewer. A light-hearted and playful detail yet a detail that conveys a sense of surplus and generosity to the passenger – “We have made an effort to surprise and entertain you”.

In conclusion, BA have managed to communicate the brands central characteristics without ever touching upon the shrill screech of invasive advertisements brandishing Boeings and heavily made up stewardesses in the “More Coffee Sir?” position. Through subtlety and elegance, BA have managed to create a space of reflection that echoes the brands tradition and heritage while placing them solidly on the technological forefront.

Most importantly, BA provides an experience to the passenger. An experience that he isn’t paying for and that actually carries real value instead of badgering him with the usual dumbed-down marketing clichés; a generous approach that shines a light forward for branding and advertising – especially for high-end brands which BA must be reckoned as in a market dominated by Easy Jet and über penny pinchers Ryan Air. Or as Ron Pompei from branding consultants Pompei A.D (clients include Urban Otfitters, Coca Cola, Stolichnaya etc.) puts it “Luxury as objects is giving way to luxury as experience”.

Finally, if you have a bit of extra time, have a look at the “making of the Cloud” video featuring representatives from BA, the curators and my old boss from Troika recounting their experience with the Cloud.

Furthermore, there are some more design porn-ish shots of all the installations on Wallpapers site here And if you are really into the whole digital design thing, I would recommend Troika’s book Digital By Design described by MOMA´s Paola Antonelli as “a bible”.

Ulrik Hogrebe, Associate Brand Strategist, e-Types