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.