The brand identity of an airline carrier is critical to its survival. Consumer belief in a carrier can be fragile and mishaps involving customer service or safety concerns have been known to swiftly tarnish years of goodwill and trust. Though businesses in any industry must be careful with their image, perceptions regarding air travel heavily influence the graphic and web design trends in aviation.
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Airline carriers their customers to see them as modern, forward moving, and focused on safety and comfort. This objective drove the recent rebranding of several airlines. Even airlines seeking to stand out, do so in similar ways. In this blog, we’ll pinpoint a few examples and summarize the latest trends.
GRAPHIC DESIGN TRENDS
You’ve seen it. In recent years many airlines redesigned their logos with bold, sleek typefaces and simple logos as part of their rebranding efforts. They chose elements to speak directly to the consumer. Think about it--nobody wants to ride in a plane from the 1950’s. Bold, sleek letters say, “We’re modern, and we get you to your destination with modern comforts.” Two of the industry leaders, United and Delta, recently adopted bold, all-caps typefaces to reflect the strength and power of their fleet.
Airline carriers around the world are rolling out more simplistic logos. Too many details can over complicate a message, and hearken back to the days where companies carried plaques garnished with every facet of their identity. It is much more practical to drop the busy details and buff the important elements. Not only does this freshen up the look and feel of a brand, but it is much cheaper to paint an airplane using simpler shapes and a smaller color pallet.
In fact, the latest trend for aircraft signage design, also known as livery design, includes simplification of a basic visual element of the brand. Paint adds weight to a plane and drives up fuel expenses. Therefore, most airlines fly predominately white planes.
The wordmark of the logo is usually placed on the fuselage near the nose of the plane, seated above the windows. This is one of the best positions for visual balance without having to address distortion caused by windows. To compensate for lack of variance from competitors, the tails of the planes are increasingly decorative and colorful. Pops of bright colors often adorn wing tips or plane engines.
The decorative airplane tails have in turn influenced another trend. Many logos have evolved to take the shape of airplane tails, including those of Quantas, Iberia, and Swiss International Air Lines. This decision allows for easy translation to the plane’s overall signage design. Unfortunately, competitors can easily replicate this design choice, resulting in some brands straying away from this trend to remain distinct.
The similarity of font, logo, and livery design treatments drives many airlines to embrace more creative elements to garner attention. One trend involves using bright, attractive pops of color. Spirit’s boisterous yellow, Latam’s energetic violet, and Southwest’s flashy striping all say the same thing: “Please look at me, not the guys in blue and red. We’re different. We’re better.” This is often paired with a marketing angle such as a more enjoyable experience, cheaper prices, or shared culture.
Another shift among the smaller, regional, trend-setting carriers is to express their playful differences by adding rounded corners to their wordmark, or using more stylistic fonts that carry a more contemporary feel.
WEB DESIGN TRENDS
Almost every airline website opens the same way: a few menu options along the top, a high-resolution photograph of a travel destination, and a form inside the image. The form usually has tabbed options that include booking a flight, checking-in, or checking a flight status.
Sometimes these elements appear with statements in large font promoting current offers or discounts. Presenting the user with one to three immediate options acknowledges airline customers' priorities, and provides the fastest path to common customer goals.
A strong trend in web design is constructing responsive, mobile-first layouts. The big players in aviation seem to buck this trend in favor of creating separate mobile sites that completely restructure the user’s experience. Of course, airlines keep consistent branding across these platforms, but they drop a large portion of the content shown on the desktop site to streamline the mobile version. These mobile pages cater exclusively to check-ins, status updates, viewing frequent flier mileage, etc. Some airlines even encourage the user to ditch the web browser and download their custom app.
Another notable airline web design trend is a return to modular design. Modular web design uses card-like elements that function to organize information into digestible chunks. Airlines create focal points by highlighting elements with different colored backgrounds, larger fonts, and distinctive shapes. Modular web design enjoyed a rebirth following the release of the “material design” standards from Google. Google defines material design as a "visual language for users that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science." While many airlines have not adopted the material design standards in full, many of the over-arching themes are apparent: bold colors, flat web elements, and the re-emergence of tasteful, realistic drop shadows.
Spirit recently unveiled a hand-drawn logo with “sketchy” design elements that speak to the company’s low fare, no frills air travel service and its back-to-basics branding. Although executed nicely, "sketchy" is not often a word people want to associate with an air carrier.
Some consumers expressed disinterest in flying Spirit because of these design choices. Though individuality is important to fold into any brand, it can be risky for an airline to separate themselves too far from the pack. With safety and comfort as a minimum requirement of consumers, along with the need to make air travel as simple and streamlined as much as possible, it could be risky to reinvent the wheel. Many graphic designers agree that sleek, modern design with just a touch of flair will be trendy in aviation for a long time to come.
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CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).