Vignelli on new American Airlines: no sense of history

“Design cannot cover the mistakes of bad management, but styling can.” American Airlines has introduced a new brand identity and livery, replacing Massimo Vignelli’s classic created in 1967. We asked Vignelli for his opinion on the new look

“Design cannot cover the mistakes of bad management, but styling can.” American Airlines has introduced a new brand identity and livery, replacing Massimo Vignelli’s classic created in 1967. We asked Vignelli for his opinion on the new look

American Airlines’ new mark

And Vignelli’s original


CR contacted Vignelli, who created the airline’s previous identity which endured for over 40 years, for his thoughts on the new scheme after it was unveiled yesterday. “A designer can only be as good as their clients, therefore the new American Airlines Identity doesn’t surprise me much,” he says. “Clients without [a] sense of history, could not understand the value of equity. When we designed the logo for Ford we decided to keep the original Ford oval, because it is part of our collective culture and history. We did the same with the CINZANO logo, and we will always do that when equity and history come together on a brand. However we are not conservative, on the contrary we design [a] new logo any time there is a need for it.”

Collateral created by Vignelli/Unimark in 1967


“It seems to me that there was no need for American Airlines to undertake such a change, but many people do not understand the difference between Design and Styling, and believe in change for the sake of change,” Vignelli believes. “This is a very young country and has little time to appreciate the value of history. Perhaps in the future it will became wiser…”


“Eleven stripes for a company in Chapter 11?” American Airlines’ new livery


“Design cannot cover the mistakes of bad management, but styling can. That is why American Airlines opted for that solution. (Eleven stripes for a Company in Chapter 11? an appropriate solution….). The logo we designed 45 years ago had equity, value and timelessness. Why to bother with it”

“Anyhow, I am quite proud of what I did long ago and wish the best to them. Only time will say…”

Read our post on the American Airlines redesign here

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  • Harry

    Although I think he came off as a bit of [commented deleted by moderator] in the Helvetica documentary, he comments here are spot on. The tail, seriously?!

  • Can’t agree with with the great Mr V. that styling can cover the mistakes of bad management. More likely to reflect it…

  • I am surprised they decided to rebrand. The new logo to me personally is not as strong as the one Vignelli designed. I lol’ed at 11 stripes for a company in chapter 11.

  • James

    Vignelli is slightly off the mark to suggest there was no need for a rebrand. New materials such as the composites employed in the fuselage of the Boeing Dreamliner are not silver when left unpainted, so it was inevitable that AA was going to have to start thinking about at least a new overall shade.

  • Ed

    The new logo is crying out to be used on the tail fin, the stripes looks like an afterthought, the two elements look like two different concepts mashed together.

  • Mustafa

    Gotta love the Massimo – not only did he slam American Airlines and incompetent clients, he slammed America too. Boo ya.

  • simon

    What a great shame. Yet another generic brand created with a 3-D effect and no imagination.
    At least they didn’t paint the planes!

  • Todd Sledzik

    Can the “11 for 11” comment be clarified? Did Vignelli really say that? The way it’s set in parentheses made me think it could be an editors note.

  • Massimo comes across as just ‘bitter’. Especially as the eagle element HAS been carried across, his ‘equity’ argument falls flat. The new logo is more 3D friendly, the 45 year old logo looks, and is, deffo 2D. It could also be criticised for being not unique enough (2 x A) and unclear as to what the eagle is exactly.
    Give us a break Massimo, logos that are so good they last 50 years! That’s the end of Design Groups as we know them:0

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ Todd

    He did indeed. Massimo’s comments came in via email and are reproduced as written and in full.

  • Dion

    Why does a logo have to be 3d friendly? That is not a design solution it is a style which is the exact point Vignelli is making. The new logo is not unique at all. I remember logo design trend books declaring the ribbon 3d effect a trend years ago. And how can you say the new eagle is more clear than the old one?

  • Matthew Ingram

    The “flight symbol” looks rather like an eagle with its neck broken back over its wings. It gives no sense of evoking forward movement, elegance or aerodynamism.

  • Geoff Naylor

    While I agree that the old AA logo is showing it’s age – not surprisingly it looks very 1960’s; Vignelli’s design hasn’t aged well in my opinion – the new version seems to be a mish-mash of different concepts. The wording (is it ‘American Airlines’ or just ‘American’?), the eagle symbol and the tail stripes. The stripes definitely look like an unfortunate afterthought.

  • Never really a big fan of the original 1967 identity, it looked a little dated even in the 1970’s when I first remember seeing it! New identity should be given credit as an evolutionary update.

  • H5

    A “bottle-opener” by CHEVRON, no?

  • Tim

    I think Ed has touched on something in his comment above. The new ‘flight mark’ logo is crying out to go on the tail fin . . . was it originally destined to go there I wonder? If so, how did the stripes appear? The effect certainly is of two identities mashed together.

  • Tim

    Love to hear Futurebland’s response to Vignelli’s comments.

  • Brian

    The flag on the tail looks like an afterthought because it was created to harmonize with the US Airways tail. When the project started the idea of a merger with them was more distant.

    Delta rebranded to a bright red tail with icon pointing northwest about a year before it announced a merger with Northwest…

  • Brian

    And while I agree with Vignelli’s assessment – let’s not forget his initial design deleted the eagle altogether’- in ignorance of history. Employees cried foul and it was incorporated shortly after.

  • Mmm… The mandatory ‘custom-made’ type to get the distinctive look (or is it yet another frutiger clone?), the imperative 3D effect and shadows. My first reaction is negative as this redesign seems not very creative to me.
    Imho, an iconic identity such as AA was very much in need of an attentive fine tuning instead of such a radical redesign. Time will tell if this identity lasts as the old one.

  • does not evoke any emotive feelings for me. Design wise it does not excite me at all. Technically the 3D falls flat. I wonder what the management was sold or how does the management thinks this new id will help with its transformation. May be a total change was necessary, but something ‘mild’ will soon get lost. Looking forward to see the total roll out.

  • S-M-A-C-K-D-O-W-N

  • That is a damn good looking plane It’ll be interesting to see if the new design will be around as long as the ’67 one.

    I think the new identity is an attempt to tell Americans that AA’s fate is tied to the nation.

  • Paul Shaw

    I think the designers did a great job of fitting the i onto the exit window. Note the subtle positioning of the dot.

  • Chris

    Haters. Here’s another good design getting attacked by the mob. “Grab your pitchforks! We hate change!”

  • João Garzón Albuquerque

    Already comment on this elsewhere but to cut it short I also believe 3D is a add on to a logo its something you can do to it and it as stupidified as it might be it actually sells logos to clients because its something they can’t dream of achieve at home. That said it comes down to wether you are facing good or poor design that was 3D’ and regarding this logo in my opinion its thumbs up. Now on tail livery thats americana stuff nation pride etc and AA is that. Last but not least on the chief I dont find him bitter he is right america should learn to respect tradition and history better is logo was a reference and from a referenced designer so it should had been commisioned properly and possibly to him also but that doesnt make it a bad work in the end and if you read him correctly he says it was badly commissioned thats his view and it is very much a stand up and defensible position in my opinion, guys.

  • Akhil Malhotra

    Anyone else notice that this re-brand follows a trend – look at Air France and British Airways. They all replaced great brands with immense Brand Equity with brands with gradients and ribbons and visual clutter.

    This re-brand is par for the course – a community-led design with mixed metaphors and missed opportunities. The eagle’s head looks like a piece of aluminum peeling away from the skin, while the tail (oh dear God, the tail!) has only 11 stripes. Maybe I slept through History class, but weren’t there originally 13 colonies? Perhaps the stripes wrap under the tail, but even so, it’s a poor application and uses gradients and layers as crutches to replace substance with style.

    All in all, a fitting wordmark for AA. Missed opportunities for a company that misses connections, and has missed its connection with consumers for years (full disclosure: I refuse to fly AA due to their regular tardiness, lack of service, and horrendous overall customer experience).

  • Ed


    “They all replaced great brands with immense Brand Equity…”
    “I refuse to fly AA due to their regular tardiness, lack of service, and horrendous overall customer experience”

    If that’s their Brand Equity, it’s no wonder they’ve rebranded is it?

  • Article is spot on. They should have leveraged the existing branding. It was starting to show it’s age, but there was no reason to throw it out. Honestly though, the eagle on the old AA logo gives me a very 3rd Reich feel. Maybe a bit to strong of a symbol when compared to the 3d modern fluff that’s more common now.

    Worst thing about the eagle on the new logo is that it reminds me of a French flag turned sideways. Maybe because the bands are nearly equal width?

  • Andy

    The “eagle” reminded me of something…oh, yeah, da bus.

    See picture next to 1.3 “Spin-off from Dial Corporation”, here: .

    Da bus.

    Great branding!

    [Course, da bus has wifi. I’m looking at you, Americus]

  • > “The mandatory ‘custom-made’ type to get the distinctive look (or is it yet another frutiger clone?)”

    It’s actually much closer to Luc(as) de Groot’s TheSans. See the two compared here:

    It’s very common for clients to say “I like this font, but let’s change this and this character”. It seems likely that is what was done here, sapping TheSans of its personality for ultimate American blandness.

  • Andrew

    A little bitter, bud. Time moves on. That 1967 eagle always looked a little third reich to me, honestly.

    Btw there are 13 stripes, 12 of which are visible in these photos.. So much for clever.

  • Andrew

    I’lll miss the Helvetica, though

  • this design smacks of greyhound and amtrak…

  • Interesting to read these comments from the original designer, but if we set aside all that fluff about equity and history and look at it honestly, the old logo looks dated and just hasn’t withstood the test of time (for an example of something that *has*, see Mitsubishi or Nike). Sorry, Massimo, but the new logo is just plain better.

  • Hi, How does the stripes on the tail count to 11? to me the total number of stripes are 13, to me both numbers are od…

    The new logo is good, not very unique, but if compared with previous one, I say the previous AA was very strong! I am not happy with the tail fin and I see a lot of negative remarks about this all over the internet, so I think they should seriously consider a change.

    I also agree that the gradient color should not be used in the new trademark but I guess that can be changed in future… but something to be noticed here is the eagle head is silver that blends into the skin of the aero plane itself.. don’t you agree that there must be some contrast for the logo to stand out more visibly?

  • in addition to my comments above, I like to know if the client is rebranding the look or also the name? as previously it says American Airlines but now it says only “American” ?

    Any thoughts?


  • Dear American Airlines,

    Gradients are great in print to create depth on flat surfaces.

    But an aircraft is not a flat surface. Instead, light and shape combine naturally to create pleasing variations in tone.

    The application of a gradient to the logo and flag elements contradicts this natural interplay and disrupts the dominant lines of the aircraft.

    Your shareholders money would have been better spent improving American Airlines quality of service in an effort to surprise and delight your customers.

  • I like the new gradient colours, no idea why the new motif isn’t placed on the tail fin it would seem a no brainer!