Anna Kövecses’s theoretical redesign of American Airlines focuses on conveying an aura of safety.

Muted tones and simple graphics work to exude a quiet calm.

Retro details, like low-slung chairs and ticker boards, reference the company’s past.

“I tried to find out what this company is about, what people expect from this company,” she explains over email. “Then visualize exactly that expectation, not less, not more.”

In addition to her elegant visual identity, the young designer rethought the core user experience of the AA website.

She proposes a pared down ticketing interface, bolstered by a new "blog" section where fliers can sign up to share stories and insights.

Bloggers could earn points for sharing about their travels, cultivating a socially oriented rewards site.

The project was spurred by agency Victors & Spoils, who invited creatives to rethink American Airlines after they announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this spring.

Co.Design

A Hyper Cool (And Controversial) Rebranding For American Airlines

Anna Kövecses was paid $1,000 for a proposed redesign of American Airlines. Is that right? And will it really help AA do better?

The “uninvited redesign” has become a fixture on the Internet over the past few years. It perpetuates the perfect symbiotic relationship between designer and audience: People love seeing what Wikipedia or Microsoft might look like in the hands of a genius, and designers love stretching their legs without the burden of a real client or brief.

It’s even become a way for established agencies to secure work. In 2011, Boulder ad agency Victors & Spoils did a hypothetical rebrand for Harley Davidson that helped them nab the actual gig. And this spring, upon news that American Airlines would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they reached out to AA’s CEO Thomas Horton in much the same way. “We’ve decided to act as if we’re working together already,” wrote CEO John Windsor. “We’ve put this brief to our crowd of 6,000+ creatives--offering $10,000 of our own toward the ideas we think can best help American Airlines become a more nimble airline.”

The invitation has spurred dozens of redesigns. One of the best came from Cyprus-based designer Anna Kövecses, whose no-nonsense, vaguely retro aesthetic lends itself to the company’s historic brand. The concept won the young designer $1,000 from Victors & Spoils, along with valuable media exposure. “My aim was to strip down the AA identity to the core and this meant building down the whole design to match this core as well,” Kövecses says over email. “For me, this core expectation has turned out to be safety. I wanted to design something that makes people feel safe because it visually meets up to the extremely high technology of aviation, the security and flawless on and off board services provided, and reflects the great history and experience behind American Airlines.” In muted greys and blues, set off by a wood grain highlight texture, the boarding pass and website exude a quiet calm. Simple, readable Helvetica signage and subtle nods to AA’s post-War heyday round out the identity.

But Kövecses explains that her vision comes from a deeper consideration of AA’s brand. “I tried to look at the whole problem from a Dieter Rams-inspired point of view and find out what this company is about, what people expect from this company,” she explains over email. “Then visualize exactly that expectation, not less, not more.” It’s no secret that AA is at its worst where customer experience is concerned, a problem they’ve misguidedly tried to solve by launching a series of bizarre standalone sites that target women, African Americans, and other minority groups. Kövecses reinvented the website by improving the UI, but also by including a robust user-generated travel blog where customers can swap tips and stories in return for AA bonus points. Travelers can take ownership over the site by registering as a blogger, and connect with friends and fellow tourists. Buying a trip you’ve read about on the blog is the obvious, but not overbearing, end goal. By incentivizing sharing with frequent flier points, AA could cultivate a socially oriented rewards site.

As BuzzFeed’s Russell Brandom pointed out last week, uninvited redesigns are “the frenemies of the web.” And they’re everywhere. But mocking up a slick-looking homepage only takes a few hours. Implementing a design strategy across a sprawling, multi-organization corporation? Not so easy.

That doesn’t mean that such exercises are meritless, of course. Redesigning a big brand is a way to fill out your portfolio, and as Victors & Spoils have demonstrated, a way to grab the attention (and business) of companies that would normally hire elsewhere. What seems troubling, in the grand scheme of things, is how these redesigns are being consumed. In the ecology of the Internet, aesthetics frequently trump content--designers looking for attention in the form of clicks will shoot for something that looks good, rather than something that might solve a more complicated, organization-wide problem.

Such behavior was demonstrated by another young would-be American Airlines designer, who published a public missive against AA that called out their “hideous” site for causing him “horrific displeasure.” To his surprise, a designer within AA reached out to him, hoping to give a little insight into how a multi-armed organization handles their web presence. It was a fascinating, insightful response. “You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives," said the mysterious source. "It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations.” Unsurprisingly, he was soon fired from his post at AA. On his blog, the designer labeled the AA employee’s response “a cop-out.”

Kövecses’s reimagining does address the company in a deeper way, making it much more successful (and interesting) than some of the other more superficial concepts out there. And unlike many of her peers, she doesn’t have outspoken ambitions to work for AA--for now, she says, it’s simply a chance to show her chops.

[H/t Skift]

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86 Comments

  • Wow 4:20 on the phone clock so edgy. Wow the seat number is the largest bit of info on the boarding pass and the gate number is not even included. Wow I totally associate wood with aviation and air travel. Fuck this derivative instagram looking garbage. There's a circle of wood floating in the sky like WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

  • Hipster? Boring? I don't think either. It's a style.. RETRO 60's like the original designer of AA.. Helvetica etc.. ITS A BIG NOD TO Massimo Vignelli ;) Cheer up people!

  • Francisco Alegria

    Geez, it's only an idea. Sure, it's not great, but it's not that bad. It sounds like a lot of you guys have huge chips on your shoulders. I would like to see what some of the peanut gallery thinks is an example of a good design.

  • CW

    Nice try. But it's not good. It conveys too much simplicity which is being translated into inexperienced and an amateur company. You've stripped it down so much, and added too many unrelated elements, that it lost it's identity.

    Nobody is contesting the look (as your title implies), we all agree it is no good.

    #TryAgain

  • JP

    This is like what every kid graduating with a design degree is doing now.

    Hopelessly unoriginal and filled with arbitrary devices and elements that have nothing to do with the AA brand established over half a century ago.

    That isn't to say it looks "nice," but there's more to graphic design than aesthetics.

  • Sam

    Absolute hipster nonsense. Designing a visual identity is about effectively and honestly communicating what a company is all about. Last time I flew with AA, they weren't about growing beards and conversing their fuel.
    And don't even get me started on Futurebrand's over-designed, pointless, and ineffective redesign.
    I agree that AA's branding had become cluttered, frustrating, and counter-intuitive, but that has nothing to do with a logo and everything to do with the thoughtless brand management of the company itself. What AA needed was a REFRESH, not a multi-million dollar ugly REDESIGN.

  • HighBoltage

    This design is so gay! Wood can not be a colour and it has no link to the American Airlines identity! 
    "This hipster design aesthetic may be "cool", but if all the hipster designers out there start undertaking brand identity projects, soon every company out there will look like it operates in the same industry sector."

  • Sean Rawley

     In what way is this "gay"?

    I fail to understand the correlation between this rebranding exercise and sexual identity.

    Please explain.

  • Vaughn Gunnell

    Hipster Airlines.

    The sole purpose of brand is to differentiate your company from competitors. This does a great job of that, but now it looks more suited to a bespoke clothing or sunglasses manufacturer.

    This hipster design aesthetic may be "cool", but if all the hipster designers out there start undertaking brand identity projects, soon every company out there will look like it operates in the same industry sector.
    I am not using the word "hipster" in a derogatory way, I am using it to describe the visual style with which it has now commonly become associated with.

  • Joe Nicklo

    "AmericanAirlines" is the brand's registered trademark...why change it just for it to LOOK good? That's a pretty big oversight. This should be a lesson to designers everywhere — if you're going to do an unsolicited rebrand, do your research first.

  • Traveler X

    This designer is lacking the fundamental elements necessary for travel in the modern age. How the hell is someone going to get through security without some sort of bar or reference code.

    Hip without substance...

  • Freaky_zu

     I like it, it's clear cut and it does have a bit of a simplistic touch to it but thats what makes it easy :-D

  • brian

    TERRIBLE. MEDIOCRE. NOT SAYING ANYTHING WE HAVEN'T SEEN BEFORE. AVERAGE AND BORING. SO WHAT IF THE MOOD BOARDS LOOK 50'S. IS THAT REALLY THE BEST YOU CAN DO NEXT TO A TYLER BRULE?

  • A. J. Tarnas

    I don't think I like the wooden circle in the middle. Says "blind spot" or "beam in your own eye" to me.