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.