The evolution of an icon
Hulsbosch was the only company invited to update the identity of the most recognisable Australian brand in the world. The brief came direct from the CEO, the catalyst being air travel innovation with the arrival of the new Airbus A380 and Boeing Dreamliner.
Hulsbosch repositioned Qantas as a contemporary and innovative brand with a progressive future, facilitating many business transformations Qantas built around the customer experience. Hulsbosch revitalised the brand moving it into the 21st Century while retaining the corporate heritage and long associations with the best qualities of Australia - natural, free-spirited and confident.
Geoff Dixon, Former CEO and Managing Director
THE TALE OF THE KANGAROO
Flora and fauna have inspired Australian designers since the late 1800s and by the turn of the century, trademarks for soaps and shoes, matches and bicycles appeared as part of rising nationalism. Following Federation, our favourite marsupial hopped onto our Australian Coat of Arms… and there it has remained as a symbol of our culture. The original kangaroo symbol appearing on Qantas aircraft was adapted from our one penny coin in 1944. The kangaroo was painted beneath the cockpit of the first Constellations following the airline’s decision to name its Indian Ocean passage ‘The Kangaroo Service’. The winged kangaroo symbol was created by Sydney designer Gert Sellheim and first appeared in 1947 to coincide with the new UK service. They were the first aircraft to carry the Flying Kangaroo and the first to operate right through to London with Qantas crews.
Airlines attract designers like cats crave cream. So, when word got out about the Qantas rebrand, competition was fierce, to say the least. Geoff Dixon, CEO and managing director at the time said: ‘Many Australian and global strategic design companies were falling over themselves to do this job. But I chose Hulsbosch. I trusted them to produce the kind of work that met our business objectives. There was no way that I was going offshore, no way. There was another thing, and it had to do with relationships. Hans had already worked with previous CEOs, John ‘Tubby’ Ward, John Menadue and James Strong when I met him. I got to know him, liked him and admired his work. I’m not a great believer in change for change sake, and Hans understood that. I was happy with the Qantas brand, but as time went on one thing irked me… people were saying ‘great airline, but not a particularly good business’ 1.
Indeed, Hans had a thorough understanding of Qantas branding because he worked on the redesign of the logo back in 1984. He remembers that from the Qantas identity concept of 1984 the word ‘Australia’ as the country of origin was omitted from the aircraft exterior. Qantas was so well known around the world it was considered the airline no longer needed it. However Qantas is a Government airline and when in 1984 the new identity concept was presented to then Prime Minister Bob Hawke he demanded the word ‘Australia’ be brought back on the aircraft2.
Hans recognised that Qantas had been using the strapline ‘Spirit of Australia’ in its marketing campaigns. The line was created earlier by advertising agency MDA. However by 1983 some marketeers at Qantas and MDA thought the line had dated and they saw no use for it. A stickler for consistency in branding, Hans always considered this line a Qantas ‘battle cry’ and advised CEO John Ward to put it directly on the exterior of the plane. It was approved on the spot and added to the identity roll-out3.
Then in 2007 it was clear that change was in the air. New technology and customer needs demanded a review of the brand and its logo. To revitalise the brand, Qantas invited prominent Australian design experts – fashion designer Peter Morrissey, food and beverage expert Neil Perry, industrial and interior designer Marc Newson and brand identity designer Hans Hulsbosch – who all maintained its rich heritage and showcased Qantas’ longstanding, proud association with the best Australia has to offer4. Under the watchful eye of Dixon and his team, this collaborative approach created a brand that has become a truly iconic representation of Australia’s spirit.
Both Hulsbosch and Dixon understood that Qantas was, and is, Australia’s best-known and loved global brand. And they agreed that the kangaroo symbol was better known overseas than the Australian flag. Of course the Qantas brand is under constant scrutiny from everyone – the government and the unions, from the flying public to the marketing fraternity – ‘everyone’s an expert and they all feel as if Qantas is their airline’5. Therefore any changes to the brand had to be meaningful but subtle.
Ultimately the catalyst for change came in the form of the new Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner planes that were added to the fleet. However, a visit by Hans to the Airbus plant in Toulouse clearly demonstrated that new development and innovation of the back stabilizers meant that the legs of the kangaroo as it was then, was no longer visible due to the plane’s large wings. It appeared as if the legs had been cut off. Even Louis Gallois then CEO of Airbus expressed concern: ‘Hans, Qantas has the best airline identity in the world. Everyone around the world loves it. How do you think you are going to improve it?’ 6
Hans had already considered this and one of the ideas was a kangaroo symbol that was more ‘in flight’, not static like the previous emblem. There was no problem placing this shape on the newly engineered tail fin of the A380.
Another idea that was pursued was to bring the kangaroo’s ‘wing’ back. This was in line with the kangaroo symbol designed by graphic designer Gert Sellheim. The ‘winged’ kangaroo had featured on aircraft until 1984 when it was deemed ‘old hat’. Unfortunately in 2007 the Hulsbosch team simply could not convince Qantas management to bring it back and that idea was dropped7.
In July 2007, Qantas unveiled the new interpretation of its iconic logo. It was designed in keeping with Qantas’ increasing focus on contemporary design for its entire brand. It was sleeker and more contoured than previous versions and it very quickly became the key element that identified Qantas throughout the world. In the end the Qantas Board and its CEO regarded the refresh as one of the best in Australia8.
Indeed, in 2007 the Qantas logo received a prestigious Mobius Award for outstanding Creativity; Corporate and Brand Identity and in 2008 it was chosen as one of the ten best identities in the world at the Cannes Lion International Award9. In 2012 Marketing Magazine voted the Qantas logo second in the top ten best Australian logos of all time10.
1. Dixon, G. (2017). [Rebranding Qantas]. 2. Hulsbosch, H. 2017 [Rebranding Qantas]. 3. Hulsbosch, H. 2017 [Rebranding Qantas]. 4. Dixon, G. (2017). [Rebranding Qantas]. 5. Dixon, G. (2017). [Rebranding Qantas]. 6.Gallois, L. (2006). [Qantas logo]. 7. Hulsbosch, H. 2017 [Rebranding Qantas] 8. Dixon, G. (2015). [Qantas]. 9. Gardner, B. and Catharine Fishel, (2011). LogoLounge 5: 2,000 International Identities by Leading Designers. Los Angeles: Rockport 10. MarketingMagazine. (2012). Top 10 Australian logos of all time. Retrieved from https://www.marketingmag.com.au/news-c/top10-australian-logos-of-all-time/
"Hulsbosch was the logical choice to redesign our identity because of their brilliant creativity and consistency, delivering the results year after year."
Geoff Dixon, Former CEO