April 11, 2016
Designing a new credit card. That’s got to be easy right? That’s what our in-house design team thought too. But for Gemma Armstrong, Mark Jump and their manager Jo Sired, it turned out to be a voyage of discovery. “I’ll never look at credit cards the same way again,” said Mark, who thought it would be a quick and simple job. It turned out to be both complicated and interesting and involved a trip to France along the way.
“We wanted something that was both innovative and the purest expression of the Virgin Atlantic brand,” said Gemma. “The aim was that every time anyone uses the card, they are reminded of Virgin Atlantic. We want them to talk about it and show it off to their mates.” The results speak for themselves. The gorgeous cards feature stylised illustrations of the tailfin and engines of our next generation Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
The starting point was Mastercard’s own brand design guidelines, which factor in placement of logos, contactless chips, the magnetic strip and specific wording. But there was also lots of flexibility to make the card the stand out. The skill was marrying the two in a refined and exclusive way. That meant daily calls with Virgin Money to make sure the creative concepts were being developed in line with card industry regulations and that Gemma and Mark could achieve their ambition within the tight deadlines. “We didn’t want to be disruptive for the sake of it,” said Gemma who had looked at countless card designs from other companies.
Some used portrait images, which she decided against. Others eschewed the traditional ‘embossed from behind’ style in favour of printing as much as possible on the back of the card. Both Mark and Gemma liked this approach. But the rear of the card presented its own design challenges. Mastercard insists on black text on a light background which involved a lot of playing with the design ‘swoosh’ that runs through all the final creative.
With the cardholder’s details on the back and the bare minimum on the front, Gemma and Mark then had the space to create something really beautiful. Yet the most talked about element is neither the front nor back. The edge of the card has a graduated tint. This is a first for a UK company and adds a distinctive and sophisticated look, especially when viewed side on in a wallet. “Being handed the first card with the edging was a good moment,” said Gemma. “It’s those little touches and the detail in the drawings that make our card unique.”
After creating mood boards, a set of concepts and going through several rounds of selection, the final ‘future of flying’ designs were chosen. Not long after, Gemma and Mark to set off for France to supervise production, and that’s when things got really interesting.
In the super-secure facility of Idemia (the printers) in France, Gemma and Mark’s job was to sign off on the printing, make sure the colours were on brand and ensure the overall quality of the cards was the best it could possibly be. An unusual process called stochastic printing is used, which is a much higher resolution than traditional print. Offering better and more consistent results, it’s less wasteful than regular printing, but from the designer’s viewpoint, it is much less forgiving and therefore needs extra scrutiny. A final checklist ensured the correct positioning and clarity of the logos and other elements; then everything had to be signed off by Virgin Money and Mastercard. Once complete there was time for a factory tour to see for themselves the nine stages of assembly of the card*.
The other important thing to say about the manufacturing process is that recycling is taken very seriously. The factory produces absolutely no waste and excess materials are sent to be made into toothbrushes and tyres.
Of course, it’s not just the credit card that our Brand Design team had to design but a whole list of supporting materials too, from online adverts, display ads and social posts to welcome booklets, statements and Ts&Cs leaflets. Overall the project has taken several months, but for Gemma, Mark and the design team, working with the Virgin Money design team was a real highlight. “It was a big collaboration with Virgin Money. We had so much to learn; lots of dos and don’ts and legal requirements that we didn’t know about when we started,” said Gemma. “They were so supportive; they understood the attention to detail that comes with our brand and were just as proud as we were with the result.”
It’s not just the card that needed to be designed. Here are just a few bits of the supporting material
*For the real credit card geeks out there these are: