American Airlines has rebranded for the first time in over 40 years.

A 3-D model of the new logomark.

Their new branding includes everything, from the logo to the planes to the terminals to the website.

At its heart is the Flight Symbol, a red and blue wing that’s also the airline’s new eagle--a less aggressive, more optimistic rendition of our nation’s bird.

An abstract flag has been placed on every wing. It has no stars, but the stripes look fast.

Inside, passengers get revamped inflight entertainment options. You’ll also spot wood married with the technology through the business/first class areas.

Why start this campaign now? AA ordered over 500 new planes, and they wanted a means to showcase the investment.

Because if they’re spending the money anyway, they might as well flaunt it.

Co.Design

American Airlines Rebrands Itself, And America Along With It

What is the American Airlines brand today? To answer that question, AA first asked, What is America?

American Airlines has just rebranded for the first time in over 40 years. The AA logo of yore is gone, replaced by the Flight Symbol, a red and blue eagle crossed with a wing. And every plane will be tagged with a high-velocity abstraction of the American flag on its tail.

There’s logic behind the decision: AA recently ordered 550 new planes. Many will have composite bodies that can’t be polished with the mirror shine of American’s existing fleet. The look had to be reassessed for brand continuity, so the company has spent the last 2+ years with Futurebrand reconsidering everything from the plane’s finish (it’ll be mica silver paint) to the logo to the website to the interior seats to the terminal kiosks. But it all started with a question: “What are the things that are relevant from all over the world about America?” Rob Friedman, VP of marketing asks.

“Technology. Entertainment. Progress. These things people really feel are American attributes,” Futurebrand’s Chief Creative Officer Sven Seger later answers. “We didn’t make this up. It’s from people all over the world.” In approaching the redesign, American polled both their own employees about what defines the American brand (the answers were predominantly the planes’ silver fuselage and the eagle logo) and the larger globe about the American country (which is where tech, entertainment, and progress come in). What they were looking for was, not just what is American Airlines, but what is America in the age of globalization?

“The old identity was slightly skewed to a more powerful American image. We needed to move it to, we call it ‘American spirit.’ What’s the side of America people really, really love,” Seger explains. “People have huge love for the eagle, but not necessarily the eagle in the downward position potentially attacking someone.”

So AA kept the eagle, but it ditched the talons and transformed it into the Flight Symbol. It’s both a bird and a wing. But instead of being focused on the hunt, it’s focused on the flight, because sleeping through a coast-to-coast red eye doesn’t make you Top Gun. (Whether you like the new logo or not, as an American citizen, I’m glad it’s been changed.)

Futurebrand’s research also found that the American flag, of course, was another defining trait of America itself. The challenge was, how does American portray America without becoming blindly patriotic in the global market? The solution was a striped abstraction of our flag, augmented into a high-velocity graphic printed on each plane’s tail to make aircraft seem like they’re flying, even when they’re sitting still. In other words, they ditched the stars in favor of the stripes.

“With stars, the design has a different connotation,” Seger says. “It gets you quickly into the 4th of July. It doesn’t get you to technology and progress.”

Interestingly enough, you won’t see this flag abstraction anywhere else in AA’s rebranding--which includes everything from the insides of their planes to the kiosks at each terminal. In these spaces, American focused on the Flight Symbol. Spaces will be filled with blue, the new blue of American, specifically to complement the eagle. “We brought the sky down to the ground so the symbol, the eagle, can actually fly,” Seger says. “It’s blue; it’s very optimistic.”

Additionally, the interiors of both terminals and planes needed to capture the specific feel of America’s interior design. Admittedly, we’re not a country known for its avant garde furnishings, but we are known for craftsmanship. Futurebrand interpreted this as using wood that’s “a little bit heavier” mixed with steel. The buzzword they used was “seamless tech,” an implication of technology behind comfort, or a wholly redesigned in-flight entertainment system.

No doubt, not everyone will like AA’s reboot. The original brand has been seared into our consciousness for decades. Even Futurebrand admits to mocking up several ideas that were far more conservative, polishing the old logo and typography but not fundamentally changing it. But as an American, I have to say, I greatly appreciate the rebranding of how a corporation is ultimately representing my country, not as an aggressively postured world power, but a TV-loving society that likes to travel and makes a decent table.

See more here.

[Hat tip: Gizmodo]

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88 Comments

  • Rob Britton

    I have some experience with the brand.  A couple of weeks after the September 11 attacks, American asked me to lead the advertising and marketing planning group, and to be part of a larger team to help rebuild the brand after the tragedies (I left the company in 2009 after 22 years).  

    I deeply respected the 1968 logo and graphic work of Mr. Vignelli -- and, often overlooked, the "stripes" livery design from Henry Dreyfuss.  That said, four decades is a long time, and change was needed, whether before or during the recent Chapter 11 filing.  I attended early meetings, almost a decade ago, with FutureBrand, and with other identity firms that had ideas.  

    So I was eager to see the new design.  It's new, and it's fresh.  The new, purpose-built font is clean.  The "flight symbol" is rather generic, and seems like a design by committee.  More practically, I don't think it works when rendered small, and without any other identifying symbols it will not quickly denote the airline to new flyers here and abroad -- at least not compared to the AA and eagle mark.  The tail is rather too complex, and I join those who wonder if FutureBrand had looked across the airline world to see similar designs, for example that of Cubana.

    But to repeat: it's new and it's fresh.  

  • i think its a good decision to make the tail graphic a little more complex. To make yet another simple design is to conform to the 'simplicity is the best' design philosophy that is permeating UI and graphic/identity design. Simple and flat designs work for all the reasons we know, quick reads, easily remembered etc, but I don't want to see every single brand try and become the same thing. I think the design is great as is, and im excited to fly and experience the new changes myself.

  • Bernard Williams

    Such an American icon in flight upgrading their look is very inspirational and helps me creatively. Change is always good but there is always a process before the change happens. Thank you AA for taking the time to consider everything that makes AA what they are and who they are.

  • Laurent Bourscheidt

    I wrote a blog post a few days ago about the subject on our site and glad to see that many sees the customer experience as the ultimate sanction, rather than eagle treatment, trailblazzing flag and forgetable font.

    American Airlines may say what the brand is in their tweet back "Our new look symbolizes our passion for progress & the spirit that is uniquely American" but ultimately it is what customers say it is so we shall see if it was just lipstick on a pig as the expression goes.

  • Sharon Thorne

    I must say it is not before time. The most uncomfortable and boring flight of our lives ever were in a Business Class flight from LA to Kahui. Never again would we fly AA. May be we could think about it now you have up-grade. You just need to up-grade your staff and bring them in to this century.
     

  • Yo!

    “We brought the sky down to the ground so the symbol, the eagle, can actually fly,”
    .....very humble

  • Jaime

    Is this really something AMR needs to do at this juncture? I've flown on AA since I was a kid when they would actually hand out 'Wings" to kids. It was back in those days that AA had their real impact on me that is still with me today. HOWEVER, the industry as a whole really needs to focus its attention on improving customer care and satisfaction. Why now expend resources where it matters most and improve the overall everyday experience? Nothing about a new look, logo or branding will ever trump price, service and value. Ever. Certainly not when it comes to airlines. If I want to feel and be patriotic I will head over to my local VFW or USO and spend one on one time with a vet. I almost feel somewhat insulted at the notion that AA spent time thinking that re branding their aircraft would even fall under such a category.

  • Rod Burkholz

    Definitely a massive improvement, but as a brand designer and developer, it's my professional opinion that they fell somewhat short of perfection. They missed an opportunity to take this concept further. It needs to be fatter, for one. It needs to be more organic and curvy. It looks so rigid and stiff and the size and placement of the icon in relation to the type is way too small. I get that they were trying to imply the tail of a plane, but the tail of a plane is FATTER. It doesn't only have a thin edge. Fatter, curvier, a bit more organic (in the not so rigid sense) and it could have been so amazing. Great effort but I'm disappointed an confused at why they had such a great concept but crap execution of implementing that concept. 
    CONCEPT: A- 
    EXECUTION: C- (maybe D+)
    IMPLEMENTATION: B-/C+

    My credentials: http://www.behance.net/heliusc...

  • Zachary Hoffman

    Overall, I like it. Though if they weren't trying to be patriotic, they should've just put the eagle on the tail. If they manipulated the shape of the eagle logo, it would work just fine on one.

  • David Galardi

    How stupid could you be?  "But as an American, I have to say, I greatly appreciate the rebranding".  

    The logo is symbolic of the French flag and includes a "bleeding flag".  The bleeding flag is a strict no-no when one things of the US military.  Every pilot that has flow for the US military knows this.   As a branding expert, they failed miserably.  I would not be surprised if US Airways tosses the whole livery, as they should.

    Couple this with rebranding during bankruptcy and you magnify the pathetic state of affairs at AA.  I live in Dallas and have not flow the airline in almost 4 years.  I also travel every week.  Poor performance starts at the top.

    David

  • Zachary Hoffman

    First, how is it symbolic of the French flag? because its red, white, and blue? America's is too, and it even has the layout of the flag right. Second, how is the flag a bleeding flag? The only similarity the two have is the stripes.

    Third, the bankruptcy is the reason that they need to re-brand. NOBODY likes flying American Airlines. They have a terrible image, and their old brand is a part of that image. If they want to make money, they need to get rid of the old brand.

  • Alex

    It's terrible, it ruins the icon, the legacy, the history. When Coca Cola and Pepsi rebranded, each time they kept elements of their iconic roots and were able to retain their brand image. American could at least have kept the "AA" and typeface. But nope. What irks me also is the parable on the eagle - "But instead of being focused on the hunt, it’s focused on the flight, because sleeping through a coast-to-coast red eye doesn’t make you Top Gun." Sure, it doesn't make me Top Gun, but for a split second it makes me think I am, and that's one of the most damn American things ever. 

  • Julia DiSalvo

     I like the new look, but I agree that keeping the "AA" would have strengthened the logo. A stylized eagle alone doesn't say "American Airlines" to me—but "AA" does.

  • Jimmyjim

    All, take off your design hat and put on your business hat for a minute... Who cares about the rebranding???  Rebranding doesn't change customer service.  New Look, Same Horrible Service!!!!  ...save the cost of 500 new planes and poor rebranding; use that money to steal Southwest Airlines employees and treat customers better!!!  ...ok design hat back on real quick - the palette on the horizontal lockup is a disaster with the contrasting of the new cyan blue and their attempt to carry-over their legacy blue.