A reimagined experience. An Exclusive Inside Look At Cathay Dragon

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Part three of TheDesignAir’s exclusive series on the making of Cathay Dragon. Read parts one and two.

This week brought a brand new airline officially take to the skies, with Dragonair now becoming Cathay Dragon. The new airline now aligns itself with its big brother Cathay Pacific across many passenger experience touch-points while still maintaining its own unique brand personality that has now come to life.

We’ve already seen the new aligned Cathay Dragon liveries roll out and grace the apron of Hong Kong International airport, but yesterday saw the official launch of the new airline and brand.

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Perhaps the most noticeable change so far lies with alignment of cockpit and cabin crew. New uniform pins will appear pride-of-place. While the uniforms themselves haven’t changed, cabin crew now have a name badge, brand new wing badge and a new baggage tag.

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Cockpit crew have had more changes too, with ties, belts, wing badges, epaulettes and jacket buttons all changing to bring them inline with the Cathay Dragon brand pillars.

“We have created consistency and alignment between Cathay Dragon’s cockpit and cabin crew for the first time. By creating a half and full wing badge we have visually pulled together the crew as one team.” It was a prime example though of how price and logisitics are key considerations during a rebrand process, Ruaraidh Smeaton explains.

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For the new crew wings, inspiration was taken from a new source.“Rather than a design that drew from the more traditional bird wings, we sought to create a more contemporary look by using a jet engine blade,” explains Jeremy Kong, Art Director at Eight Partnership. “The combination of strength and grace in the blades’ shape is echoed in the twist of the badges’ wings.”

Cathay Pacific engaged Eight as their brand experience partner to help refresh the experience of the new Cathay Dragon. And much of this rebranding exercise has been initiated to bring Cathay Dragon and Cathay Pacific inline rather than purely align the inflight product.

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“When considering the possibility of alignment between Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon crew, the existing uniform designs presented some challenges. The ‘tunnels’ (the uniform’s mechanic for affixing the pin) for the existing broaches are set at different angles on the Pacific and Dragon uniforms. Aligning the broaches/half wings, would have meant retrieving 1,000’s of uniforms to manually align the angle of the tunnel.”

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The new cabin product has also allowed for the Cathay Dragon to add an authentic Chinese flourish to the more pan-Asian inspired Cathay Pacific brand. “We have used the Cathay Dragon rebrand as an opportunity to align a lot of the more basic packaging you see on-board both airlines e.g. toothpicks and sugar tubes. Whilst retaining the same base design, we’ve added a contemporary Chinese pattern to the Cathay Dragon packaging to emphasise its slightly differentiated design ethos.”

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In fact, the food and beverage offerings allow Cathay Dragon to showcase their points of difference from globally recognized Cathay Pacific. Cathay Dragon’s regional and Chinese expertise will come to life in the coming months including Cathay Dragon’s signature clay hot pot rice, Pun Choi over Chinese New Year, crab roe, pineapple buns, egg tarts and HK style milk tea.

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It seems the design teams have also injected an element of ‘joy’ to the new brand, something often overlooked in a rebrand, but also connects closest with passengers, “We are introducing new ‘soft’ products to emphasise Cathay Dragon’s contemporary Chinese design ethos pillar.” Smeaton states.

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The airline hasn’t just looked at a visual palette, but has instead embraced all senses, including sound. “We are also working on a new branded sting/pre-roll, to play before any inflight entertainment content. We’ve developed the sting with a up and coming HK film director and features a new branded signature melody throughout.”

While Cathay Dragon’s hard products are already aligned with their sister carrier (with Business and First Classes matching the Cathay Pacific products) the airline also sees further alignments with the ground product appearing in the coming months.

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“Dragonair’s G16 lounge, at HK airport, is also undergoing a renovation to bring it into line with the new Cathay Pacific lounge design. There will also be new airport signage featuring the design language of Cathay Pacific, a combined website and mobile app next spring and shared lounges and loyalty programmes.” Smeaton concludes.

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In conclusion, Cathay Dragon’s rebrand, although complex, has subtly and smoothly reinforced a stronger connection with sister carrier Cathay Pacific. But as our three-part series has shown, this has been much more than just a new coat of paint. A rebrand for any airline is a costly and time consuming process and is never taken on lightly. What Cathay Dragon has managed to achieve is a group level design architecture while embracing and celebrating differences in product through design flourishes and signature service elements.

To most, this may look like a simple case of a livery rebrand, but the design ethos that has sparked this change, runs much deeper.

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