A High-Flying Legacy of Design

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Tucked away within the luxurious folds of Airline Visual Identity: 1945-1975 are nuggets of information, anecdotes and factoids that chronicle the feats and failures in airline design over the years. Here are a few of our favorites:

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Howard Hughes’ Golden Arrows
At one point during his maniacal leadership of TWA, Howard Hughes opted for a gilded corporate identity that involved having the newly ordered Convair 880 made of a golden aluminum alloy. The auriferous aircraft were to be called Golden Arrows, but for economic reasons, Hughes’ golden dream had to be abandoned.

Character Rules
During his more than 30-year tenure as CEO for United Airlines, Pat Patterson centered the character of the airline around what he called the “Rule of Five: Safety, Passenger Comfort, Dependability, Honesty and Sincerity.” The rules were not only evident in the airline’s conservative branding colors, but also marked one of the earliest instances of safety being used as a core marketing principle.

Pop Goes the 747 Astroliner
To inaugurate American Airlines’ first Boeing 747 coast-to-coast service in 1970, pop artist/real estate developer Peter Gee created one of the most electric posters of its time. The model number 747 pops off the metallic background in a disco-neon pink, while the name “Astroliner” gleams in a light-reflecting silver foil. The poster is now part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Industrious Visions
To prepare for the arrival of its DC-8 jetliners in 1955, United Airlines recruited Raymond Loewy, a pioneer of industrial design, a field that applied the techniques of functional design to industrial products like fridges and cars. He not only revamped United’s livery, logo and more through a streamlined “styling program,” but also played a significant role in the design of aircraft interiors – even devising food trolleys that could be preloaded with in-flight meals.

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Destination Tomorrowland
As a tycoon in both the aviation and movie industries, Howard Hughes had both the wherewithal and caprice to capitalize on unlikely partnership opportunities. When Disneyland opened in 1955, he collaborated with Walt Disney on a mock-up rocket for the Tomorrowland theme park called the TWA Moonliner, named after Hughes’ airline.

Unlikely Origins for the American Eagle
In an effort to unite the conglomerate of airlines that collectively became American Airlines in 1934, the airline challenged its employees to design a new company insignia; professional designers were banned from participating. The winner, Goodrich Murphy, a divisional traffic manager, beat out a thousand entries with an American bald eagle. He chose the symbol to represent patriotism and the power of flight, and because he knew that many on the judging panel had military backgrounds.

The End of the Plain Plane
By marking the end of plain design, Braniff International heralded the beginning of its colorful branding identity. The philosophy behind the color revolution underpinned the airline’s marketing campaign, with text on posters explaining, “Where airplanes had always looked like huge aluminum cigars with stripes down their sides, [we] selected seven colors and painted the entire fuselage. (You can fly our airline seven times and never fly the same color airplane twice.)”

The Inherited Crustacean
A mythical-like winged seahorse logo was the first logo for Air France, inherited from Air Orient, one of its predecessors. Nicknamed “shrimp” (“crevette” en français), the curious sea-tailed horse character was used until the late 1950s, featuring prominently in various posters and often nestling into the c in “France.”

A Country’s Soul, By Kodak
In 1971, graphic designer Raymond Pagés created a series of 16 destination posters for Air France, applying the latest avant-garde technique at the time. Equidensities by Kodak was an abstract photographic style with partial negative and positive exposures, vivid contour lines and bold contrast. According to some, the resulting effect was as if each poster captured the soul of the country it advertised. Pagés’ series is acknowledged for marking a turning point in Air France’s visual identity.

Concorde Conceptualism
While destinations often prevailed as the subject matter for airline posters, a unique 16-poster series by Roger Bezombes sought to illustrate concepts. After a seven-year period of debate – many deemed the series too modern or too complex, the decorative panels featuring metallic embossing and other fine treatments made their debut. The complete set formed a giant seven-foot-10-inch-tall interlocking panel, and was a rare giveaway for VIP Concorde passengers, presented in an elaborately designed oversized cardboard envelope.

Hip to Be Square
Despite the newly posted job for assistant to the industrial designer being described internally as one only fit for a man, in 1956, a young architect named Mary de Saulles brazenly redefined both the role and the British European Airways brand. In a stroke of genius, de Saulles placed BEA’s long-established logotype in a bright red square – a simple decision that was as cost-effective as it was attractive. Two years following the logo’s implementation, market research revealed that BEA’s square was the most recognized logo in Britain after Shell’s.

Want more? Read “The Art of Flight,” in the latest issue of APEX Experience magazine, The Design Issue.

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Toronto, Ontario.