AA Rebranded

I see that American Airlines has rebranded themselves after 45 years, as covered on Brand New, and I want to take a moment to talk about my impressions of it. See the Brand New article to see some of the collateral materials I mention below. A second opinion of the rebrand was posted while I wrote this post, and that one gets at the same impression I have, perhaps in better language.

The original logo has a lot of design weight behind it. In addition to being in service for 45 years, being a prime example of Helvetica usage, and being an icon for all America, it was designed by Massimo Vignelli. Vignelli is not one of the first few designers that comes to my mind, but I think most designers would agree that he falls alongside Paul Rand, Pentagram, and the other iconic designers held up in every college design class. He’s one of the great advocates of Helvetica and minimalist grid design. He made the New York City Subway identity that we all recognize.

So this logo that he designed in 1968 has a lot of weight for designers.


American Airlines has now introduced a new look which brings the brand into the 21st century. The new soaring eagle mark is graceful and invokes both the eagle and the plane’s tailfin very successfully. The physical materials, such as the ID tags and printed brochures, are also lovely – retaining the classical look AA’s brand equity has earned, while simultaneously looking refreshed, modern, and simple.

However, I’m neither a fan of the plane wraps nor the website design (which is too wide for my little screen – max 960px wide, or responsive please! – and almost the entire content is below the fold), though the website design probably more attractive than the old one. And the typography of the new logo: well. All I can say in its favor is that it’s legible and the kerning (letterspacing) seems fine – which is more than can be said for plenty of logos.


Setting aside the tailfin graphic, I think the wordmark is pretty disappointing. It’s set in something called American Sans, which looks very similar to something supremely generic like Lucida Grande. The type for the old logo was not particularly inspired either, but I would say that at least it was set in a worthy typeface. Helvetica was carefully designed with both counter space (empty spaces in the letter) and letterform in consideration, which is why it looks so great by itself and is so overused. Whether American Sans was designed with so much thought or not, it’s ill-suited to a wordmark due to its lack of distinction. A wordmark needs to be memorable – Lucida Grande (the near cousin of A. Sans) is not, as evidenced by its use as the current Mac operating system font. From a general inspection, the wordmark also looks like it was simply typed out and kerned, without any extra love. American Airlines has gotten its own generic sans-serif made, which works well in their headers etc, but does not make a memorable wordmark by a long stretch. Perhaps the concept was that the wordmark should not distract from the graceful tailfin graphic – but if so, it becomes somewhat of the design elephant in the room, or the afterthought to the graphic.

I do like the American Sans type on the website though.

2 Responses to “AA Rebranded”

  1. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    Love the detailed analysis of the fonts in AA’s website. And on the subject of the website, personally I found it very difficult to locate things I use all the time even under the fold. Maybe I will get better at it. I do like the way it looks in broad terms though.

    I did not find your actual thought on the new logo. You commented on it but what do you think? I like evoking the tailfin but I don’t find that it conveys much distinction. I was assuming that it was working toward some sort of merger of the AA and US Airways name concepts but could not come up with how. The logo could just as well apply to any airline in the US as far as I can see, which is disappointing. I also wonder how the subtle gray shadings that bring out the Eagle’s beak will reproduce. I like the old logo because you could print it even in plain two tone black and white and it still works. The current one if printed even in grayscale loses a lot of its validity. Overall I was disappointed with the new look.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      You’re right that the new logo is pretty generic, while the old one was more unique, but part of that may be equity that the old one has built up and the new one will have to start over. The mark is attractive enough by itself that as people get used to it, I think it will become memorable.

      Gradients in logos are becoming more and more commonplace in the digital age, even for big companies. Usually the way reproducing them is dealt with is to make a separate single-color mark, or some other grayscale-appropriate version. Judging from the collateral pieces shown in the Brand New article, they may not be planning to do a grayscale version of the logo, but rather a single-color solid mark.

      Typically the strongest logos are developed in black without any kind of color or special effects, to make sure they will reproduce well. Color is added after the shape has been refined as far as possible.

      I’m interested to hear that you have trouble finding things on the site now, since I know you travel a lot and probably use sites like this all the time. My guess from a brief look was also that it would be more annoying for goal-oriented users, since the reasons I usually go to an airline site is to look up a flight or book a flight. Their first goal is to show you pretty pictures and to drive users to log in, as you can see from the login box being so brightly colored.

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