CR Blog

Futurebrand rebrands American Airlines

Graphic Design

Posted by Patrick Burgoyne, 17 January 2013, 16:31    Permalink    Comments (50)

American Airlines has unveiled a new brand identity from Futurebrand, replacing the 1967 Massimo Vignelli classic with a 3D 'flight symbol' and plenty of the good ol' red, white and blue

 

 

 

Anyone who is familiar with Mad Men will have an idea of just what a central place American Airlines has in corporate America. Don and the boys are forever holding it up as the ultimate account, the piece of business that could transform an agency's fortunes. In design terms too, American Airlines, along with perhaps IBM, FedEx and UPS has been one of the greats – the last survivor indeed of the golden age of US corporate design when Rand, Bass, Vignelli et al branded America.

 

 

Unimark/Vignelli's 1967 classic has now gone the way of Bass's AT&T logo and Rand's UPS, with American Airlines unveiling a new brand identity by Futurebrand (read Rick Poynor's piece for CR on Unimark here). This video partly explains the airline's thinking and Futurebrand's reponse (more here).

UPDATE: Read our interview with Vignelli abut the new identity here

 

 

This is evidently an important time for the airline. Though mired in financial difficulties it has made a major investment in a new fleet of planes and wanted to signal very clearly the changes that will bring. It has also been in merger talks with US Airways so that may well have affected both the decision to rebrand and the work itself.

 

 

Key to the new look is what is being referred somewhat clumsily to as the 'flight symbol' (above). This 3D device combines several AA 'assets' – the letter A, a star, an eagle and the red, white and blue livery.

The 'flight symbol' is combined with the airline name (set in a custom face named American Sans) in a new mark.

 

 

The tails of the planes will feature red white and blue stripes

 

Twitpic via @avphotographic

 

It's interesting to compare the stated intentions of the Futuruebrand work with that of Vignelli's original. The latter, was all about stressing "the professional, no-gimmicks attitude" of the airline. It is, Vignelli's site says, "one of the few [logos] worldwide that needs no change".

Obviously, AA thought otherwise.

Perhaps relying on a "professional, no-gimmicks attitude" just won't cut it in the airline business these days.

The Airline has stressed its desire to show that it has made a lot of progress - on its planes, its service, its cabins and so on. It talks about a "a clean and modern update to the core icons of our company". They've changed and they really want you to know it.

For its part, Futurebrand says its work reflects "a more modern, vibrant and welcoming spirit" for the airline, while "the livery expresses American’s origins but also the spirit of modern America: innovative, progressive and open to the world".

Well, the 'flight symbol' is certainly more modern in the sense that gradients and 3D effects are a (relatively) recent phenomenon in graphics. The way the various assets have been combined is undoubtedly ingenious (although a colleague thought it looked like a pair of 3D glasses) and it will be interesting to see how it works in motion and in airport lounges etc. But the type is disappointingly anodyne and to me really doesn't feel "modern" or "vibrant". Nor does it have the spirit of "brightness and optimism" which Futurebrand's Sen Seger hopes for in the film above.

The highlight for me is the tail livery. Combined with the AA planes' silver bodies (which I always thought looked stunning) it looks really beautiful and indisputably American. Apparently, though, the materials used to make many of the new fleet mean that the raw silver fuselages of old will no longer be possible in some cases. Instead the silver will be faked using mica paint. Sigh.

UPDATE: Read our interview with Vignelli abut the new identity here


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50 Comments

The 'flight symbol' practically blends in to the plane, its beak sort of just disappears into the silver of the plane. Or is that just me?
Jim
2013-01-17 17:42:49


The choir of employees at a contemporary art museum in Detroit who shall remain unnamed just vetoed this. Unnecessary, horrible design. Someone paid for that horseshit?
V M
2013-01-17 17:44:00


Nice job with the logo....but that tail is horrible.....and why is the color in real life not shinny like in the videos...
Greg
2013-01-17 18:01:48


I don't have any great affinity to the original but the new version is just bleurgh.

There was plenty of scope to tweak the original to freshen it up.
M
2013-01-17 18:17:57


I am really not sure about this one. One minute I like it, the next I am not so keen. Might be a grower.
Superfried
2013-01-17 18:19:16


I really like the fact that Vignelli's wasn't disgustingly brash andnin your face, but this? Urghh. I'd want my money back...
Harry
2013-01-17 18:19:42


I wish they'd released this three weeks ago. I just undertook a re-brand of the iconic airline for my Final Project at university... Screw you Futurebrand, stealing my god damn thunder.
In all seriousness, not sure if i'm a taker on this just yet, as @Superfried said, it might be a grower, but i think more homage should have been paid to Vignelli's design.
Jack
2013-01-17 18:36:55


I'm not a fan of the little flash - as has been said the 'beak' is lost.

The tail piece is a nice touch apart from one major issue.... the flags the wrong way round on the 'hero' side.

Like a kid who's just scratched dad's car, they'll have to remember to only park up the right way around ;)
Gavin Martin
2013-01-17 18:38:54


Nice of them to drop Helvetica it does feel dated (at least to designers) It's more corporate and less 60's, boner inducing, graphic design that most of us love but I think it's suitable for the market leader.

My first thoughts was "this doesn't fly with me" but upon further analysis I quite like it. Who else but designers analyse rebrands so much? Let the people decide!
Matt Hauke
2013-01-17 18:43:03


USA! USA! USA!

Nicely done

@AAtailstripes
AAtailstripes
2013-01-17 19:10:23


I think the combination of all those elements into that mark is quite ingenious really. I also see the tail fin on top of what was mentioned. It is a bit heavy on the gradients though surley is not going to last the nearly 50 years of its predecessor. I completely agree that the typography is a lot weaker and I'm not a big fan of the logo and word mark together, they look a bit disparate.. As with the above comments, I'm not a big fan of the tail although it screams America and gives an impression of speed. In that respect it does it's job well.

In all a clever mark but a weaker execution in my opinion. I'd still rather see the simplicity of the chunky Helvetica against that gorgeous chrome flying the skies. Those planes hark back to an America I really like.
Rich
2013-01-17 19:53:18


It is so today, taking all the feature it needs to cope with the "aqua style icons" that is in trend right now. However it will soon become so out of date...
Hamlet Auyeung
2013-01-17 22:10:07


I'm surprised they didn't use the 'flight symbol' on the tail of the plane, it's seems like it was tailor made for that shape and composition and would be a much more elegant solution than the tacky band of red and blue.

I think the flight symbol itself has a lot of potential for brand expansion. It stands up as a bold iconic graphic once all the 3D effects are removed. With respect to brand recognition, reiterating the eagle is a logical move as it builds upon the legacy and public relationship with Vignelli's dynamic mark.

The typeface unfortunately is a total bore and doesn't reflect the consideration and distillation evident in the eagle mark - same can be said for the coloured tail bands. I hope they reconsider.
Mustafa
2013-01-17 22:41:03


That tail looks a bit naff, like the end of a Rocy film, and the people in the film are talking in utter cliches. But at least the planes are still nice and silver.
Wowser
2013-01-17 23:48:06


I agree with your opinion on the logo type. It's a style that, similar to the new Windows brands, seems very weak to me.
Rhys
2013-01-17 23:48:14


It's absolutely heinous. A tragic bludgeoning to a timless icon. I think American's logo and livery just needed an update similar to what KLM did a few years ago. it did not a need a complete rework. I understand that more composites are used and the polished metal wasn't going to work, but this livery just screams cheap upstart. The AA executives should have given some serious consideration to several of the ideas as modified airliner photos / car database .com. There were several that captured the corporate identity and brought it into the 21st century. What ever AA paid for this rebranding, they paid too much.
Jeremy1977
2013-01-18 00:35:40


I'm not a fan of the design, I don't hate it generally, but the tail is pretty terrible.

Gavin, the field of the American flag should always be placed in the most prominant/honored position. On a vehicle like this that is towards the front (that's also why military patches on the arms have the field facing the front).
David Stewart
2013-01-18 00:50:05


My goodness gracious me, I will say this - that airoplane pictured underneath 'thy flight symbol' is flying far too close to the ground. That's not on. I'm starting a petition against it.
Adam
2013-01-18 02:23:59


Would have been more refreshing if they just did a 'Diet Coke' style crop of Vignelli's original wordmark on the planes. They had ownership of both a strong, established brand and a design classic which had character. People have experienced a journey with these kinds of classic logos and now by ditching them completely, they've lost that connection; at least in a graphic sense. But sure, they probably needed to establish their brand as a more secure, serious company for todays travel needs.
J.
2013-01-18 03:01:41


rubbish! I love the old logo.
raji
2013-01-18 05:41:07


I can understand all the cries of dismay – wasn't going to be anything different considering the history of the brand, but I can't blame them for wanting a fresh face away from Helvetica. If you park the history to one side I quite like the marque that suggests the eagle. Don't be too quick to throw scorn!
Steve
2013-01-18 08:59:34


Too bad they didn't reuse the bird symbol on the tail fin instead of adding the collage element.
Nicolas Mendoza
2013-01-18 09:38:00


I don't particularly dislike the new logo and typeface, i'm more just saddened that the iconic Vignelli mark is now consigned to the history books. Surely a better solution for brand continuity would have been to refresh the existing logo rather than replace it with a new one? Someone please explain the strategy to me behind throwing away a mark that is recognised around the world and treasured as a national icon in the USA.
Adam
2013-01-18 09:59:25


I like it, design is a business communication tool, so our veneration of great designs and designers shouldnt mean that those works are entombed in amber for all time, never to be touched. Is it me or is every single large scale rebrand greeted with dismay.
Adam
2013-01-18 10:07:21


I like it, definite improvement... But I did see a helvetica remix of new logo on twitter—and it looks dated! Tracked-to-an-inch-of-its-life 90s Helvetica... it's 2013! Lets move on helvetica lovers. Plenty more typefaces out there.
LukeO
2013-01-18 10:12:41


pure rubbish!
ornello
2013-01-18 10:29:55


Imagine yourself talking to the client at the briefing – they've just decided they need to completely overhaul everything, get rid of anything that looks old or dated and cram as many american icons into a logo as they possibly can. Because they're a NEW ORGANISATION, goddammit.

Now picture how bloody awful the whole thing could have been.

Well done to Futurebrand for a nicely ownable logo (it's not a marble, flag or somesuch bullshit) and a clean, elegant identity. The flag on the tail is a nice 'AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!' touch, too.
Ed
2013-01-18 10:37:11


it has the feel of "greyhound bus" logo.
its not strong visually nor memorable.
if they go with the large red, white, and blue (and I'm not suggesting that) - it needs stars not white bands in the blue field for recognition.

the old logo had a lot of brand recognition. refresh it, not replace it.
carl
2013-01-18 10:47:33


That video explaining the new brand makes me want to quit working in branding.
Joe
2013-01-18 11:16:22


Pretty bold statement Joe, care to elaborate?.......
James
2013-01-18 14:10:28


The tail reminds me of a marvel captain america illustration. Something to do with the style of the mock ups maybe.

I like it. I'm not a fan of the logo, it does look a bit fussy and awkward but I love the tail and I think it once the redesign is rolled out, I reckon it'll look really striking.

Everyone moaning about how the rebrand is not nessessary, I'm quite sure a lot of us have worked on rebrands which might be considered unessessary. But we still do them because a) we want the work and b) we think we can improve on what came before. It's a good rebrand and I think it'll work out well.

It's a bloomin' plane, it needs to be eye catching!
Matt
2013-01-18 14:11:49


Don't get the logo, it looks like a bit of peeled back skin you've picked at that's dried up hanging off the plane
meh
2013-01-18 14:31:38


The peeled paper look has definitely been over done now! If the word American wasn't there I'd take a punt at it being a French airline.
Kieran Riddiough
2013-01-18 16:13:57


It's not a logo it's a 'Flight Symbol', Uugh.
jonny
2013-01-18 16:16:25


How sad, the AA logo was the best part about American Airlines, truly iconic and identifiable. New does not mean better. The new logo matches the overall quality of the airline!
efmarch
2013-01-18 17:11:26


Personally, I like the 'flight symbol'. I think it does capture some of the essence of the previous brand in quite a neat and modern way. It's application, though, just fails – it's far too small on the fuselage and disappears. It's shaped like a tail fin – why not PUT IT ON THE TAIL FIN?!! Instead of some characterless, convoluted stripes. Just too wild, I know!
Overall, though, super- blandtastic. There seems to be no courage in the world anymore :(
Andi
2013-01-18 17:32:27


I love it. It is modern and it stands for AA moving forward keeping the essence of his identity for the next decades.
Antonio Lobo
2013-01-19 11:49:34


I'll admit that despite its ubiquity, I do have a lot of respect for helvetica (I saw a great documentary once about its history and the designers who love it or hate it) and its interesting how some brands have become so synonymous with the type family that many feel that if is abandoned, the brand is in some way also abandoning or at least compromising it's heritage and identity. I can identify with that reaction, but I also accept that a rebrand needs to explore alternatives and take risks or branding design would end up languishing on a plateau for ever more, failing to evolve along with the business it represents.

However, that said, the element in the rebrand that I feel is particularly regrettable is indeed the logotype. It isn't the loss of helvetica as much as replacing the red and blue singular 'americanairlines' with two words in grey. The colours and missing space were just timelessly sexy and full of character in my view but maybe I'm overly sentimental for 60s design. Change is essential of course, but preferably not a 'baby and bathwater' change to the blandly generic and anonymous.
Simon B
2013-01-19 12:05:57


I actually like the new updated look. I did noit think I would as I tend to like the classics more but I do.
Marielaina Perrone DDS
2013-01-19 18:34:06


Looks like 12 stripes to me.
Submitted
2013-01-20 08:13:36


@marcbubb: Vignelli - bitter old man angry about his #logo being scrubbed off American Airlines planes or does he have a point → Eye opening interview with Vignelli on the AA rebrand http://t.co/2vGDXo2v
Marc Bubb
2013-01-20 11:57:33


Another great looking tail-wing - that's all we need...
Angelo Bellandi
2013-01-21 14:12:10


Pros: the silver (wasn't the plane previously painted white?); the typeface; the colour scheme.
Reality Check
2013-01-22 16:47:26


No stars all stripes!
Louis Lygo
2013-01-23 14:54:08


The logic behind dumping 46 years (1967 to 2013) of world-renowned design eludes me.

The timing is a lesson in what "corporate arrogance" means.

All of which would have mattered less if the rebrand was as revolutionary as it had to be.

In fact, it is a total disaster.

The typeface is innocuous but clean, and that's where the good points end. The "flight device" (likened to a seagull poking its head through a shower curtain) is very Nineties with its halftones, looks out of place and is too small and weak. The tail is overpoweringly garish. There is a dearth of sexy detail -- bare engines, bare winglets... The juxtaposition of elements is haphazard. It all has the feel of a nepotist exercise where a post-Communist state airline has been revamped by the Minister of Transport's "promising" 14-year old daughter on her iPad. An ambitious Paraguayan low-cost startup planning a weekly schedule to Rio would have done it better!

Upcoming plastic airplanes need to do away with the bare metal look? Really? In the 1960s AA bought BAC One-Elevens that had to have their middle regions primed beige. You guessed: out came the aluminum foil! In the 1980s, AA bought all-primed A300s in a mid-gray scheme that fitted the rest of the fleet nicely. This apart, consider how distinctive a 787 covered with aluminum foil would have looked and what plaudits AA would have won for nodding to tradition!

Appalling!
Peter Skipp
2013-01-24 09:05:39


I suppose the branding was in ned of an update, however, applied on the airplane, it gives the uneasy feeling that the fuselage is peeling away... I thought the staggered lines applied to the tail went out with the late 80's? that technique was applied to all kinds of delivery and tech companies back then. It certainly is bold, maybe too bold. It just does not say 21st century to me.
Garry
2013-01-25 15:30:22


The "flight symbol" (why not "logo"?) seems the most interesting and attractive part of this rebranding, but it strikes me that its shape is undoubtedly crafted to mimic that of a plane's tail fin. Why it isn't being painted there is beyond me.
Jameson
2013-01-29 00:01:31


Forsaking the classic AA logo cannot be forgiven.

I'm only an amateur critic, but airline livery design is near and dear to my heart, and I'm thinking some of you might appreciate my critique here...

http://www.askthepilot.com/

Enjoy,
PS
Patrick Smith
2013-02-01 18:39:46


Clean. Uncluttered. Strong, Striking and Modern, with the ability to last for many years. I love it.

The only downside may be the "target value" to anti-American sentiment in the US and around he world, but that is precisely what make us American... Bold, proud and unapologetic leaders.
Eric von Suthoff
2013-02-26 07:17:21


We think its a massive improvement, good to see they are now moving with the times! I agree > 90s Helvetica... it's 2013! Move on helvetica lovers. Yes! There are plenty more typefaces out there! Team @ http://www.indigoriver.co
indigoRiver
2013-05-30 17:12:37


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