Airline Branding’s Moving Story

NYC Based creative director Edmond Huot shares his thoughts and experiences of the behind-the-scenes world of airline livery design

As founding partner and chief creative officer of the Forward Group and its PR  and design division, Forward Studio, Edmond Huot leads global branding projects, with a focus in the airline and transportation space. Edmond and his team were asked to develop a comprehensive naming and branding solution for a planned low-cost start-up airline, Northern Pacific Airways, which involved the conception, design and production of the airline’s livery. We spoke with Edmond about the world of livery design to learn more about what a livery means and why it matters to both the airline and the traveling public.

From your perspective, what are airline liveries and why do they matter to people today?

Firstly, I would define a livery as a distinctive design or insignia that signifies ownership or affiliation, typically seen on vehicles or uniforms. It often incorporates heraldic elements related to the person or organisation it represents. Of course, in my opinion these markings or decals (as some people commonly refer to them as) are much more than tactical identifiers.

NYC Based creative director Edmond Huot shares his thoughts and experiences of the behind-the-scenes world of airline livery design

From the sweeping graphical striping and bold lettermarks to the striking colour and arresting iconography, liveries have endured as brand expressions that excite, celebrate, provoke and surprise. I believe that there is a bit of an escapist dreamer in all of us looking to be charmed and touched by something with greater meaning and purpose. Great livery design carefully balances the many considerations between commerce and art in order to deliver that indelible moment travellers secretly yearn for.

The work of airliner liveries first and foremost must serve a commercial purpose, as airlines look for ways to build and sustain customer awareness and affinity. Whether on the tarmac or in the sky above, the choices made by airlines in terms of where, how and why designs are produced are exacting and calculated.

Beyond the economics of executing on a specific livery, there are other, perhaps greater considerations that factor into a more artful point of view, adding a level of distinctiveness to the overall expression. I believe that good design considers and marries both art and tactics together, so that both my client – the airline, and the travelling public is pleased.

NYC Based creative director Edmond Huot shares his thoughts and experiences of the behind-the-scenes world of airline livery design

Help us understand how a liver designer approaches the challenge of applying a respective livery program onto an aircraft?

I would say that unlike traditional graphic design where the applied medium is on a digital screen or piece of paper, livery design demands a greater understanding and nuanced view of an aircraft’s particular concave shape and rounded surface. For me, being an aviation geek with deep knowledge and love for airliners, affords me the added benefit of knowing what particular parts or views of the plane best showcase certain design elements of an airline’s respective livery.

From the ground, looking up at a jet’s nose, there is a particular ‘hero shot’ vantage point where line motifs and colour blocking really shine. Of course, the side view of an aircraft invites a design solution that should play up the sweeping length of the plane’s body. Often graphic application from the front side to the back tail builds in directional play with the rear fuselage and tail being fully enveloped in a sort of expressive crescendo. I want the eye to naturally follow these markings in ways that compliment the specific shape and size of the aircraft.

Letterforms, which feature the airline’s name, have become popular targets for what I call the euro-white design trend. Here, the full body of the aircraft is white (which as a colour choice from a paint perspective mitigates inflight drag and friction) while the letterforms are exaggerated in size, affording the airline maximum legibility and awareness by travellers on the ground as well as in the air. Personally, I find this trend rather garish, overdone and heavy-handed, which ultimately results in a sea of sameness, as many different airline designs begin to look the same.

NYC Based creative director Edmond Huot shares his thoughts and experiences of the behind-the-scenes world of airline livery design

What are travellers today responding to when it comes to airline liveries?

I believe that, despite the mass democratisation of air travel, where the experience of flying can feel somewhat commodified and ubiquitous, travellers still hold near and dear to their hearts unexpected moments to be surprised. My mission as a creative who loves all-things-airliners is to look for ways to re-excite people with visual nuggets of inspired nostalgia and modern-day charm.

My work on Northern Pacific Airways was driven, in part, by the by-gone era of designers in the 50s and 60s like Saul Bass who gave us Continental’s jet stream logo or Alexander Girard, hired with Emilio Pucci to redesign every aspect of the iconic Braniff Airways livery.

With a deep strategic understanding of Northern Pacific’s business goals and target customer (both in Asia and in Alaska), I introduced and layered an additional style quotient as evidenced by the use of elegant and streamlined line motifs on the plane’s tail and clean, measured typography on its fuselage. I kept the colour story simple, working primarily with three colours: white, black and soft grey.

Despite the fact that Northern Pacific Airways is a low-cost carrier, I wanted to surprise passengers with a painted plane that looked sexy and esteemed rather than follow the typical design approach where airlines used ‘whacky’ colours and loud oversized type. Value doesn’t have to sacrifice reverence.

NYC Based creative director Edmond Huot shares his thoughts and experiences of the behind-the-scenes world of airline livery design

What goes into the actual symbols and icons that travellers see on the plane’s tail and fuselage?

Often the picture marks that make up the tail art stem from either abbreviated type solutions or cultural markings that signal the airline’s geographic base or indigenous roots. Another popular choice is for airlines to conceive of abstract motifs that interpretatively speak to desired celestial themes such as flow and movement or nature or animals. It’s important that these themes be both universally recognised while on the other hand inoffensive in terms of specific cultural meaning. Since airlines’ liveries are moving storyboards or billboards that export their brand presentation all over the world, I spend a great deal of time researching the cultural significance and meaning of symbols, shapes and colour.

For Northern Pacific Airways, I chose to play up the idea of wind and airflow with delicate flowing line patterning on the tail that symbolized Alaska’s pristine Mackenzie mountain ranges and Yukon river basins.

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About the Author

Staff Writer

The Art of Business Travel is Asia-Pacific's leading portal for corporate travel news and views. We cover everything from airline routes and airport developments, to new hotels, meeting venues, loyalty schemes, and entertaining.