Futurebrand rebrands American Airlines

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

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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