What’s the deal with airline logos?

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Feb 15, 2018
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Why is it so difficult to reach a consensus on the redesign of a brand or logo? That’s the question both American Airlines and Lufthansa are asking themselves this month after backlash from designers, government agencies, and some airline industry followers.

Back in 2013, American Airlines made the decision to switch from their iconic, Massimo Vignelli-designed logo from the 1960s to something a bit more modern. FutureBrand was awarded the contract and the chance to reinvent the brand with a rich history and strong cultural mythology. The result was a stark departure from the logos in American Airlines’s past:

Image from

The change was, for the most part, well received. However, issues arose when American Airlines tried to copyright their new, modern logo. The airline already has the logo trademarked in the US to prevent another carrier or tourism entity from using it in its marketing. But a copyright would have been the next step towards longer and broader protection internationally if it were approved.

According to a registration specialist at the US Copyright Office, the logo “lacks the authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” The airline disputed that finding and requested a reconsideration, citing that the logo “far exceeds the extremely low level of creativity required to sustain a copyright claim,” according to the letter from Andrew Avsec, an intellectual-property lawyer with Brinks Gilson & Lione.

Related: 15 gorgeous website redesign concepts

Long story short, the copyright board’s decision on January 8, 2018 repeated a longstanding requirement set forth in the Copyright Act that prohibit registration for “familiar symbols or designs; (and) mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring.”

This begs the question: does the Copyright Office know anything about design? The body’s leadership team is largely composed of lawyers and policy makers. But this is largely a design decision. Shouldn’t there be a designer on the team at the Copyright Office who can weigh in on the types of decisions?

Speaking of airline logo redesigns, Lufthansa made waves last week by changing the background of its iconic 100-year-old logo from yellow to blue.

The press photos show a redesigned tailfin featuring a white logo on a dark blue background in place of the former blue-and-yellow design. The plane's grey underbody has been replaced with white.

According to architecture and design magazine De Zeen, “The redesign, spearheaded by Lufthansa in-house designer Ronald Wild, comes 100 years after the logo, which depicts a stylised flying crane inside a circle, was first created by German architect and designer Otto Firle for Deutsche Luft-Reederei (DLR), Lufthansa's predecessor.

“The yellow was added in the sixties by graphic designer Otto "Otl" Aicher and students from his Gruppe E5 at the influential Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Ulm design school), which he co-founded.”

So those are the changes: yellow to blue, grey to white. But you would not believe the design outrage. The critiques range from “bland and pointless” to “a design bellyflop” and “a late capitalist nightmare”. People have been remarkably critical of changes that are less dramatic than the American Airlines rebrand.

”Brands are about more than logos.”

Twitter Logo

But does it really matter? When you think of a brand, are you thinking of their logo, or do you think of something more impactful? Brands are about more than logos. Look at Coca-Cola and IBM’s new fonts, for example. These are more than just images; they’re wider-reaching ways to reinforce their respective brands in our daily lives.

Or think about the voice assistants we use every day. It’s not just about the logo for Apple and Amazon. Now they’re literally picking the voices and interfaces we use to get things done. Their brand presence is EVERYWHERE.

What do you think? Do logos matter? Are you upset with or impressed by or ambivalent to these changes? Let us know what you think and how you feel on Twitter.

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