interview: porter airlines with neal whittington

by Grace Bonney

last month i flew to toronto for the interior design show and got to hop a ride on porter airlines. when i mentioned flying to toronto everyone said, “ooh! are you flying porter?” and proceeded to tell me how cool and well-designed the entire airline was, from the stewardess uniforms to the boarding lounges. i didn’t really understand the hype because i was too busy being grouchy about the ride from brooklyn to newark airport, but when i got on the flight, i understood. this boutique canadian airline was the most well-designed airline i’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine). so when i returned home i was thrilled to hear from neal whittington of present & correct, who played a big roll in the project! i couldn’t resist bending his ear about the airline’s design scheme and he was kind enough to do an interview with me about the process. i hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the design process behind the brand as much as i did- and at the very least i know you’ll enjoy neal’s raccoon mascot for porter- i can’t stop watching the little video of him running around town (it’s definitely worth watching, it’s painfully cute). thank you to neal for taking the time to speak with me!

CLICK HERE for the full interview after the jump and many, many more pictures from the porter design project..


D*S: Could you tell us your name, and a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Neal Whittington: My name is Neal Whittington and I run an online store Present & Correct from here in London. I’m an illustrator/graphic designer who sources and designs products for the shop but I also work on other fun freelance bits and pieces. I’m 29, I like stationery, jumpers and a good jumble sale.

D*S: Could you tell us a little bit about Porter and how you became involved in the Porter Airlines project?

NW: Before P&C I was a full time employee of Winkreative, Porter are one of their clients, and I was involved in the project right from the very start: pitching for the initial branding, developing the brandmark, plane livery and seeing it through to all of its many applications and of course creating the raccoon character and his numerous guises for the advertising of the airline. I still oversee the advertising campaigns which is a lot of fun.

D*S: American Airlines are known for less-than-forward thinking design (which the exception of some cute design from the now closed Song airline), why do you think this project really took off and was embraced Canada?

NW: I think because it has an almost old fashioned approach. The idea for a mascot was brilliant in that no one else was doing that, yet it was very evocative of airlines from the 50s and 60s. Flying was refined in those days, it was aspirational and full of glamor. Porter has a fun, warm feeling. The personality and willingness to be cheeky, but not tacky, has made it stand out. But also they provide a brilliant service at a time when a lot of airlines are scrimping and saving across the board. That kind of attention to detail isn’t missed these days and I think people really appreciate it.

D*S: What was the overall look and aesthetic vision for the porter project?

NW: A private jet that is for everyone, something reminiscent of the golden era of flying which has comfort , sophistication and personality. The porter tag line is ‘flying refined’ and I think that sums it up really well.

D*S: Could you breakdown the elements you designed and how you chose them and describe the creative process behind each (please touch on the color palette if possible)?

NW: I designed the brandmark, corporate palette and pattern, as well as the different in flight applications such as bottled water, the lunchbox, napkin. And of course the raccoon! Winkreative oversaw the interiors of the plane, right down to the seat leather, and also some elements of the lounge at Toronto city airport. They also design and publish the in-flight magazine Re:porter.

The color palette was chosen really early on, I guess the main thing was that we wanted it to feel smart and timeless. We decided against any loud accent colors but decided on a fairly conservative palette that would form a solid background to the fun elements and graphics that would sit alongside it.

All of the amenities were really fun to design, I love that kind of work. Having the raccoon eating the ‘p’ and ‘r’ of the logo on the lunchbox, or him snorkeling on the water bottle. It was a real luxury to work with a client who was open to that sense of fun and so for me it was super enjoyable. And these kinds of things will be refreshed every so often to keep the brand new and the passengers happy.

D*S: I love the little porter raccoon character- could you tell me more about him? He’s so friendly and welcoming, i wish more airlines had those sorts of mascots to keep you feeling happy.

TW: We wanted the mascot to add an element of fun to the brand without doing it directly with the mark or color palette. It harks back to retro airline design where characters were often used. The raccoon was an inspired decision, made by Tyler (Brule). They are smart, cheeky, determined creatures and everyone in Canada is familiar with them. It got people talking!

D*S: In terms of the design concept- were there any looks or styles you were trying to avoid or move away from? ie: wanting to stay away from primary colors, hard angles, etc.

NW: We didn’t want to use any maple leaves or red, that was stipulated right from the start. The main thing was to make it look friendly but smart. Not too hard edged and corporate looking, moving away from that to make it more personable.

D*S: What was your favorite component of the porter design project?

NW: The ongoing advertising campaign is a constant source of amusement because we put the raccoon in the silliest of situations and he has developed such a personality through them all. He might be an animal but there is something very human about him. His expression never changes no matter what he is doing, which makes him a little wry. Seeing the plane unveiled was also an amazing feeling.

D*S: How was the porter project (advertising, design, etc) received in canada?

NW: As far as I know it has been received very well, the airline is busy and getting great reviews. Apparently citizens of Toronto often ask porter what the raccoon will get up to next, and how much they like seeing him in the paper. So that’s lovely to hear. Illustrated advertising stands out against the other regional airlines and the in-flight items often accompany people home, which is a great compliment because we wanted them to be covetable!

D*S: Do you fly porter? And if so, how cute are those little hats the stewardesses wear?

NW: I have been on the plane but not flown in it! I have seen all of the stewardesses lined up in their uniforms though and they look great. It was like the scene in ‘Catch me if you Can‘. The pill box hats are so cool, I’d quite like one actually. Pink Tartan, a Toronto based label, designed the uniforms and got the look and feel spot on.

D*S: Porter is designed to serve Canada and the US- were there any stylistic differences or choices made to cater to either audience?

NW: No not at all, it was good to stick to what we were doing in Canada and then see that through into the U.S market. Then the brand is consistent and seamless wherever you may be traveling to or from. Also the experience that porter provides will draw people to it and they will get it and be appreciative, regardless of where they are.

D*S: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

NW: It was really hard to imagine graphics on a plane! that was a bit alien to me. Thinking in that kind of scale threw me but it worked out ok in the end, I had lots of professional airline chaps to help me.

D*S: What was the most fun or your favorite part of the project.

NW: The advertising is fun because its ongoing and we always have to come up with something new and witty. I do love the lunchbox too.

D*S: Lastly- where can we see more of your work?

NW: P&C is always being updated with new cards or prints that I do, and there will be some new notebooks soon and other fun stuff and I just finished illustrating a book which is out later this year. I love doing the shop so much, and of course there are ongoing porter campaigns. I have just finished some new ads which will be in Toronto papers soon. The raccoon is a little saucy in one of them so I hope people like his new, racy ways.

Thank you, Neal!

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  • Great interview! I’m really happy that Porter is doing well in our city, and love seeing the ads. My first Porter flight was Toronto-Montreal and I was blown away by the lounge, the graphics, the stewardesses, everything!

  • wow, i had heard about Porter but this wasn’t what i expected from an airline! Amazing. Nice to see. I just looked at Neal’s shop P&C and am now a convert! Lovely stuff all around…am even a little jealous!

  • Those of us who travel a lot for business have been so beaten down. This is one of those times when good design is way more than a luxury. I bet executives who normally come home after a business trip all crabby and get-away-from-me are nicer to their kids after a Porter trip.

  • I’m from Toronto where racoons are vermin and a huge menace. It perplexes me why Porter would select this animal for their mascot.

  • Yep, racoons are not the most glamourous of creatures! but then a lot of animals are pests yet are still used as mascots. Raccoons are pretty smart, and I wonder if by choosing this animal it was bound to stir up some debate? therefore, some press…

  • So wonderful! This seriously makes me want to take a flight to Canada and I HATE flying. I used to fly Song a lot and I even remember writing them a letter telling them how good design and little comforts make such a difference for someone who terrified of flying. It was a pleasure to be on their planes. Sad that they’re gone.

  • Welcome to Canada!!! I’m gonna check this out and so far I’m totallyl in love with it! Thanks for the interview, great to pick a creative mind! : )

  • What a great article and interview. I just found your blog from Notcot.org. But I’m definitely adding it to my reader.

    As a graphic designer myself, I have appreciated this brand from the first moment I saw it. The brand design and the airline itself are something of a breath of fresh air. And it’s no wonder this is the work of a Londoner — the Brits do branding very well!

    Thank you for the very interesting and insightful read.

    Eric Gooden

  • Nice campaigning. However, a little disappointed that they didn’t go all the way with the website as well. I’ll hand it to them for being clean and understated on the home page…but the out of focus, low-res photos deeper into the site give a templated/stock photo feeling that doesn’t suit their unique brand.

  • I don’t mean to be a downer here, but as someone who works in advertising and brand development… I’m just not feeling it. I think the visuals are all wrong for this project. To me this says, “we couldn’t afford to hire an advertising agency who would really study our brand so we hired this illustrator who makes cute stuff”

    • kristen

      you’re welcome to your opinion, but just to clarify- they didn’t hire just an illustrator, they hired tyler brule’s creative agency, winkreative. neal was working with them at the time.


  • present and correct is one shop that makes my heart go boom boom boom, and many years ago when i owned a small shop in london, i stocked some present and correct designs when neal was just starting out.. and look where he is now.. im jealous.

  • I run a dog magazine so I’m interested in the photo of the lady in the apron with all the dog photos behind her. I can’t read the caption so I’m not sure how it all fits with Porter. Grace, can you tell me what the caption says?

  • Hi Leah, I just saw your comment, I emailed you the details of the lady in the photo, she has a nice doggy boutique in Montreal. The magazine did a story on a weekend in the city.
    p.s thank you for all of the other kind comments :-)

  • I adore the raccoon! I like how the logo is the face for the raccoon. It is a nice change from the norm. Great way to create brand recognition! I have noticed a trend towards simplistic and cartoon-ish branding. I like this better than over the top, larger than life ads with high-res photos and rain-drops and glitter. Present & Correct is adorable! I love the (sold out) Air Mail letter set!

  • Hey Leah, the place is called Evive (evive.ca). I have been going there for several months for fresh dog food!

  • I’m a little uncomfortable with Tyler’s agency designing the porter stuff and then heaping praise on them in Monocle. That’s a little too much overlap for a magazine that prides itself on editorial integrity.

    That said. Porter is AMAZING. I flew from Toronto to Halifax. There was a snowstorm and it looked like we would be snowed in. Even though they didn’t have to (because the delay was weather-related) Porter was going to put everyone up in a hotel and give us cab chits.
    It turned out we were able to fly, so I got to enjoy the lounge (free biscotti! free soda!) and excellent service. They are the sole airline using the Toronto City Airport, so it’s amazing.

    The trip back from Hali sucked (not their fault, stupid Hali airport).

    Porter should be supported by anyone who is sick and tired of airlines either being grossly rude to customers or too expensive (Virgin rings a bell).

  • Love love love Porter! I, too, couldn’t understand what the hype was about until I flew MontrealToronto. They got something right! Cute in-flight mag, no-fuss, edible snacks and booze, an amazing, centrally-located TO lounge… with free internet (honestly, my flight was delayed and I hardly noticed – I watched YouTube videos the whole time).

  • Porter Airlines is absolutely AMAZING! On a trip to Montreal recently a friend and I decided to try Porter as we had heard nothing but good things. From the moment you step into the terminal you realize it’s going to be a completely different experience. The lounge is chic and relaxing and while looking around we noticed that all the other “Porter supporters” were chic and stylish themselves.

    Once you board the plane and sink yourself into one of the extremely comfortable seats you’re greeted by one of the stylish flight attendants….everyone it seems whether they’re working or flying on Porter has this quality! The flight attendants are very attentive and cheerful without being overbearing. That flight was one of the best experiences I’ve had flying ever!

    Regarding the adorable Porter raccoon….having his cute little face on the water bottle with diving gear had my friend and I smiling all the way to Montreal.
    I always love seeing where the furry creature will pop up next and what he’ll be wearing in the ad campaigns.

    I have and will continue to recommend Porter to anyone in the future and will use it for any destination in my travels that they service.

    Thanks for this insightful article! I really enjoyed hearing Neal’s behind the scenes process creatively on how the raccoon became the friendliest creature flying in the sky!

  • Wow, this convinces me to try to fly Porter when I go to Halifax this summer. Flying out east on Air Canada is PAINFUL. If anyone read about their whole over Christmas scandal of bumping people off flights to accommodate people from further out west who had had flights canceled due to weather and hoping as many people as possible would cancel or take a train instead of adding extra flights to where people were trying to get… They were trying to get me from Ottawa to Calgary to get a flight from Calgary to Halifax… that stopped over in Ottawa! I’ve certainly had it with Air Canada and I might be willing to deal with the less often flying dates in order to enjoy Porter!

  • I love the idea of bringing back the old style of flying… it was so glamorous… boy have times changed!

    I don’t get the raccoon. Like the uniforms but I think it would be hard to plan hair style’s around a hat.

  • WOW! What a fabulous airline!! As a lady of a certain age who remembers when flying was glamorous & fun, I found both on Porter! It’s the best! Why can’t Porter teach all the other dreadful airlines how to fly??? From wine to snacks, from good manners to comfort, we love PORTER!!!

  • I have flown Porter a few times, and I must say, they always make me feel special, unlike our other Canadian Airline that does not seem to have respect for their clients. Love everything about it, the inviting lounge, the flight attendants uniforms, their concerns about your comfort, and of course being treated the way that a client should be treated. I just love the Racoon, who says that you shouldn’t use animals in advertising, it certainly warms the heart, and Toronto is the Racoon capital of the world so it’s very appropriate.

  • A private jet that is for everyone: This is a great strategy, slightly ahead of its time, in its essence it speaks to the 99% movement. I used to fly frequently with Porter, and I enjoyed it a lot. If you want to know more about the brand, here is an article on the things Porter does right: http://wp.me/pQuyG-51

  • After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked
    on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from
    now on each time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment.

    Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that
    service? Kudos!

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