American Airlines' Logo Crash Test

Questionable redesigns—they happen to the best logos, including Hershey’s, UPS, and countless others. Now American Airlines’ Vignelli-designed double A, introduced in 1967, has been grounded, replaced with a new aerodynamic computer-rendered soaring (boring) eagle, one of a new breed of  homogenized airbrush marks that are popular today.

“The best sign of a great design is that you never get tired of looking at it—in fact, it keeps looking better over time,” Paul Goldberger wrote on yesterday’s VF Daily. “That’s what I’ve always thought of Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s designs for the exterior of the American Airlines fleet, which was elegantly simple and powerful: red-white-and-blue stripes running the length of the plane, the rest of the fuselage left in its original polished aluminum, the name “American” in big, clear, strong Helvetica letters atop the stripes, and an abstracted version of the airline’s old logo, “AA” with a stylized eagle, on the tail. For 45 years, since the first Vignelli-designed planes took to the air in 1967, that was it. It felt crisp, distinctive, powerful, and understated, all at once. And it looked as fresh last week as it did four decades ago.”

He added: “Talk about fixing what wasn’t broken. The design of the outside of its planes was the one thing that American Airlines had, hands down, over its rivals.”

11 thoughts on “American Airlines' Logo Crash Test

  1. Sarah

    I think the phrase that best works here is lipstick on a pig. I’m all for signaling a new beginning, but throwing away a strong, very recognizable brand isn’t the way to do that. With any luck, they first invested in improving the company itself because if they didn’t, they’ve left themselves with nothing.

  2. Tom Parrett

    A new mark for a company needs time. First reactions are not always sound, or reliable indications of one’s durable feelings. I agree this mark seems awkward, but separated from its Helvetica title (American or American Airlines) it gets interesting. Is that an implied left stroke that’s missing, so we’re really seeing an A? Does the diminishing perspective imply travel or the future? The wing-like strokes above and below the eagle’s beak—why are their tips turned in opposition? To suggest round-trip?

    The mark centered alone on a magazine or newspaper page or outdoor sign with a bit of type at the bottom, “Renewed,” would be intriguing.

  3. Michael Blackstone

    Just when we thought American Airlines could not go any further off track we got another huge shock with this week’s unveiling of the “New American” paint scheme and its announcement that it is effectively walking away from its globally recognized and prominent “AA” logo – Its 80 year old brand identity. This is a classic example of crisis management. Grasping at straws and trying everything possible in an effort to “do something” to take eyes off of their years of mismanagement and poor choices over the last 14 years which lead this once great airline to bankruptcy . There is a huge desire at AA headquarters to do something big that will shake the world and make people like American Airlines again. This is the thinking behind this not very well thought out bold and ridiculous move to rebrand American Airlines.

    Now, with over $1B per year of excess cash they extracted from their employees through brutal negotiations with their 3 unions, AA management feels rich again and could not wait to start spending that money to give American Airlines a new fresh look and a new airline feel. We all think this is a good idea. Yes we need new paint on our jets, and new interiors and new jets to fly more efficiently. You will not get a complaint out of me for these purchases. But wiping out the brand? This could prove to be a very costly mistake and most likely will be virtually ineffective in reviving the airlines image, without the support of their employees who are the face of American and who are the ones actually paying for all of these new changes. How much will it cost to get rid of every AA logo on earth? I bet Tom Horton does not even know the answer to this important question. Why not spend this money on actually improving the route structure, buying new more efficient jets, fixing up the interiors on our older jets, putting on WiFi and new entertainment, and refreshing the paint on all of their jets while retaining the AA logo? Way less expensive and far more important to the customer experience. The customer can’t see the paint, except from the terminal, and she does not care about the signage on every building that will have to be changed to be consistent globally everywhere American flies. The customer cares more about how they are treated, how comfortable they are, the route structure, flight frequency, being on time, how good the food tastes and if we are providing safe and excellent air travel for a reasonable price.

    Going away from the “AA” logo, the brand itself that American has spent billions promoting and building over the last 80 years to become one of the most recognizable brands on Earth, is a very big mistake. This move levels the playing field for its competitors with smaller marketing budgets to steal away market share from the once iconic “AA” brand who needs to retain and attract new clients now more than ever.

    Coca-Cola would not dream of changing their colors or their old fashioned script lettering to something hip and cool for the sake of refreshing their brand. Disneyland would not shorten its name to Disney and change its colors either. It is better to increase marketing frequency and keep their current brand consistent and prominent as the best soft drink and the best amusement park on the planet. This is the only way to defend your brand as a mature company should do to remain the biggest, the best and most popular choice for consumers worldwide.

    American Airlines management has no regard for this legacy, and is throwing away its advantage in the marketplace by removing the AA from its massive fleet of aircraft. The only real value American has left, is it’s recognizable AA brand which is worth billions. This lack of understanding of what is really important to the air traveling public, and management’s unwillingness to find new ways to differentiate itself from other airline brands by providing a service that is superior to its competition for a comparable price. New comfortable and quiet interiors, new leather seats, more legroom, better food, better jets and a fair price is all customers really want. When is American’s management team going to be forced to resign and let someone else who understands and loves the airline business run it.

  4. chris

    The full critique is spot on. And the rendering looks like a sophomore level photoshop assignment.
    Changing a logo doesn’t reinvent a brand anymore than a coat of paint builds a new house.

  5. Cindy

    I am on board with Keith. This is intended to create a new experience for the consumer. Fresh and contemporary while not discarding the company’s rich heritage. I say well done. Brand identity has a purpose which is intended to improve perceptions toward the business, which hopefully, is credible. I already feel better about stepping on to this plane. An ‘old’ and outdated image for an airline (ie: safety) is a very a very bad perception indeed.

  6. Mark Clough

    Looking back at Massimo’s design I find the symetry and balance of white-space truely masterful. In my humble opinon the new eagle design is not that strong. The angle should be slightly more upright and lack of the double A (AA) is very disappointing and a miss of a unique opportunity. As stated by other’s, national flags as symbols become tired quickly. The new typeface is bland and lacking of any personality.

  7. Donna

    I love it! It looks like an A, then again it doesn’t! The crossover has the Eagle beak look going. Now, how this will fit in with a possible USAir merger is another question.

  8. Keith Hamilton

    Funny how quick we are to forget about the business side of design. (Remember when our profession used to be called ‘commercial art’? At least we had that crass moniker to remind us.)

    The brand identity wasn’t broken, but the brand is. American needed to signal to its market that there’s been at least a symbolic regime change by changing the face of the regime.

    It’s not personal. And it’s certainly not art. It’s business.

  9. Tarek

    First off, I read your daily email and respect your design critiques very much. On this, add some context, as the change was much more of an aesthetic updating…

    As a frequent flyer of the airline, and a young entrepreneur who appreciates both calm consistency of a great brand and fresh updates, I’m not entirely in line with the above. I totally agree with this: “designs for the exterior of the American Airlines fleet, which was elegantly simple and powerful”. But American Airlines, as a company, for it’s employees and it’s customers, needed a restart. Something fresh to ‘symbolize’ a new era for the brand, which has battled bad press and a ‘boredom’ for a long time now.

    Often throwing a new shiny coat on top of ‘old reliable’ can incite the conversation of ‘new’ amongst onlookers. And that a big deal for them. Not to mention, they are making a very big company push to support entrepreneurs, startups and young businesses. A crowd that appreciates updating, change and ‘newness’.

    As for the new design. I agree that the frequency of “homogenized airbrush marks” is nauseating. And I didn’t have too many questions on the redesign until you mentioned that. Perhaps the tail coating will get old overtime. And I don’t feel comfortable placing bets on the success of a redesign. But for now, for the company and it’s constituency, it was a good move and quite a bit of care went into it. Maintaining the eagle, the ‘A’ and the colors was a nice touch, even if it does play too heavily on today’s ‘logo mark’ trends…