“It’s the only airlines in the last 40 years that has not changed their identity. All of the airlines come and go and they change it. American Airlines [is] still the same and how can they improve? They’ve got the best already.” They had the best, but yet and still were unsatisfied. After more than 40 years, American Airlines has stepped away from the identity that has become so synonymous with brand. The man who gave the above quote is the designer of the 40-year iconic logo and also the Italian graphic design legend, Massimo Vignelli.


Vignelli’s work has been celebrated across the design community, using key elements of the Swiss design handbook; one can still see his work while riding underground through New York’s transit system, shopping on the streets of your favorite department store and until a week ago one was able to see his work in the heavens. It’s a big deal not only because one is updating one of America’s most known airlines, but also because your updating someone’s work who is seen—not only by himself, but by the world—as one of the best.


There’s been a lot of talk amongst designers about the new identity and that’s rightly so. The flying eagle with two A’s surrounding it has been as much of an American icon as a slice of apple pie. The folks at Futurebrand, who have worked with brands like Intel, British Airways, Beck’s and UPS, had the task of updating the logo and bringing it to the modern age. So how does one improve on the best?


Futurebrand’s Take


 American Airlines is one of but a handful of brands considered true American icons. Strong and proud, its silverbirds are fixtures in the sky, and its namesake sense of possibility inspires deep loyalty. Today, the company’s also invested in that most American of ideals: progress.

American recognized it was time for a new look to better reflect the progress of its multi-year journey towards modernizing the airline and its customer experience.

The new look—the next step in American’s overarching transformation—is inspired by the company’s heritage and incorporates colors and symbols universally associated with American. A reimagined logo—called the Flight Symbol—evokes the star, “A”, and iconic eagle of American’s past, all brought to life in refreshed shades of red, white and blue. Together, they reflect a more modern, vibrant and welcoming spirit.

The logo also debuts alongside a boldly reimagined livery. With proud stripes and a timeless silver body, the livery expresses American’s origins but also the spirit of modern America: innovative, progressive and open to the world.

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The New Identity

The new identity is good. It isn’t bad. It’s close to being great, but it is really good. Futurebrand was able modernize American Airlines without ruining the brand’s history. The eagle can clearly be seen between the red and blue color of the airplane wing. It’s strong without being obnoxious and flashy. The misstep with the new identity comes with the overuse of gradients. It feels like a design decision that came from American Airlines and not the designers at Futurebrand. I can almost hear them in the conference room asking the designers for a logo that shines. “We want something that’s flashy and sparkles.” I personally believe that the logo would improve if you took out the gradients, but that is just a personal belief. Overall, as far as the identity is concerned I do feel like that their work is equal to that of Vignelli’s previous design work and in terms of the overall look it may surpass that of the great designer.


I’m not going to talk about the livery (a.k.a. the implementation of the identity on the airplanes) because it sucks.