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A logo is more than just letters

Interview with Edwin Schmidheiny of Accent by Ajinkya Jayant Kawale, Business Standard, India

1. From a design view, what is the significance of an airline registering its own font and including it in its logo?

To create a custom-designed proprietary font is very often a part of a redesign program, but this is just one of many design elements. Beyond the logo design, which is often based on a unique letterform, a proprietary font can help enhance the character of all written communications. And since the company owns it, there are no additional license fees for the font.

It requires great skill to create such a font. Not only does it need to be unique, but it also must work across all applications (both in print and digital), for all type sizes, with different weights (i.e. boldness) and cuts, and in all kinds of designs and layout. Above all, it must be easy to read. It’s no small feat to balance all these requirements, and that is why good type design is a master craft. It is important to note that today, there are already so many excellent fonts commercially available, so, a custom font makes sense only if its character is truly unique.

2. How does the design process look when creative professionals undertake exercises involving the creation of a new typography altogether?

The journey from a designer’s mind to a customer’s screen is much the same for typography as it is for all other design elements in a brand. The design process usually follows a briefing that spells out the specific task to express a brand strategy and the positioning of a brand (the brand platform). Often several elements are already given or are to be retained (e.g., an existing logo), or they are to be modified to retain brand equity, or elements are added. If everything is open and is to be new, a team of designers initially explore a broad range of different design inspirations and directions that are then evaluated against the set criteria in joint sessions. Periodic reviews and iterations narrow the range until one or two directions are distilled for a final decision.

In addition to typography, this includes the logo, the color palette, imagery, and illustration style, as well as layout principles. Eventually, this leads to a conceptual design framework that serves as the basis for actual applications.

3. How do you also bridge the gap between a client’s demand in creating a new type, your own creative processes, and a projected audience perception while you work on creative projects like these? Also, if you could share details about how iterations work in design?

Brand design solutions are not so much what a client wants, or the designer likes, but what is the right or the best expression to achieve a certain perception—in other words, the brand’s strategic objective. This needs to be agreed in the brand strategy before the design commences, so all stakeholders align on the same goal: to create a brand that fulfills the criteria set, that projects the desired perception, and that appeals to the target customers, and hopefully also to the public at large.

4. Could you share anecdotes of your work that involved creating new typographies/ identities for airlines? Additionally, could you also share what are the core aspects that you looked at during the design process?

Airline identities, particularly for national carriers, are expectingly something everybody has an opinion about, because they play a crucial role as a country’s ambassador wherever they fly.

Very often, any change is perceived skeptically, and it takes time to get used to a new identity (this is true for many industries). For example, when we were creating a new identity concept for Lufthansa some years ago, Lufthansa was known as a technically perfect and efficient airline, and we had the task to create the perception of a friendlier and more caring carrier. Our idea was to define a color palette that would be warmer than the blue and silverlivery, and we proposed a yellow and white color scheme, retaining the blue for the crane symbol. The top management was convinced, and two planes were painted in the new livery and flew some scheduled destinations. But it turned out that the Lufthansa employees had a different interpretation of the color yellow; instead of “friendly”, they saw it as “yellow-belly”, “cowardly”. The pilots refused to fly yellow-belly planes, and the entire color concept had to be reversed: instead of yellow and white, we ended up with blue and white, with the crane in yellow. We still used yellow predominantly in the interior and other applications, so the original concept was not completely lost. Clearly, it is important to involve all stakeholders in a design process, to make sure everything is understood and agreed in intermediate steps, and to avoid such surprises.

Livery design can also help to create illusions. When we worked to rebrand a small Swiss airline with only four planes, we decided to create different color logos for the different planes to emphasize that there were several of them. But we did not just assign one color to each plane, but a different colored logo on each side of the plane, so it appeared that the fleet was twice as large as it actually was!

5. How do you think creating a new logotype helps a particular brand, an airline in this case? Moreover, what do you think about the latest Air India Sans font, and how will it help the airline?

The logotype is the most common identifier of an airline, it conveys the name and should always make a strong first impression. The old Air India logotype looked like it was from a different era altogether, very heavy and industrial, and hard to read particularly from far away (which is often the case with aircrafts on the tarmac). The new logotype is more mature, and it has a more distinctive character.

As far as the Air India Sans font, how it will be applied will determine its success. I have no doubt that the competent team that developed the font is well-versed in the technicalities of type design and understands the diverse applications required for a brand for India’s flag carrier.

6. How many airlines in the world have registered their own font/typography?

Most airlines (and companies in general) select a font family for their written communication that is already available on the market. Some choose to customize an existing font for their unique application requirements. Only a few use totally newly designed fonts.

One reason why international companies sometimes create their own typeface is to create a harmonious typeface across multiple scripts (e.g. Devanagari, Arabic, Roman). In such cases, the aim is to adjust one or multiple scripts to be compatible. It is not just about matching shapes and angles across different scripts, but equally, it is about matching the feeling that the scripts evoke.

For the logotype itself, the letterforms in most brands are usually customized to some degree, in order to create the best match for the specific combination of characters in the name.

7. Additionally, can you also share details about your projects about rebranding and creating a typeface for airlines globally? What kind of impact have you observed following such exercises? Moreover, how has it been perceived by the airline’s customers?

(Please see bio at the end for relevant experience)

Type design is a crucial part of a holistic brand development exercise, and therefore, must work in unison with all other brand elements. While type has the power to create distinctiveness and impact given its prolific use in communication, I would be lying if I said it can eclipse color, scent or audio branding when it comes to memorability. When done well, type design often goes unnoticed, but when done terribly, it stands out like a sore thumb.

8. What kind-of opportunities open up when brands create a custom-made font and do not rely on existing fonts?

A custom font helps to differentiate the brand from the competition, and to express the character of the brand or the specific culture.

In some cases, it also makes it harder to read if it is not professionally designed, considering the fine, and minute complex requirements of considering all possible letter combinations and visual effects, as well as the global integration in hard- and software of perhaps different generations and platforms.

Biography Edwin Schmidheiny

Edwin Schmidheiny is an award-winning designer behind some of the world’s most iconic airline brands including Thai Airways, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Korean Air and Royal Air Maroc.

Having nurtured his graphic design craft from a young age in his native Switzerland, Schmidheiny has raised the bar for global aviation design over his four-plus decade career. Beyond aviation, too, he has transformed numerous iconic brands that shape their respective categories, including Nespresso, T-Mobile, BMW, UBS, BASF, and Swiss Post.

Edwin Schmidheiny is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Zurich-based global brand consultancy, Accent.

About accent

Zurich-based global brand consultancy accent was founded in 2012 by award-winning Swiss designer Edwin Schmidheiny to create brands that move the world forward. Led by CEO Aneesh Sharma, accent works with ambitious global firms in Europe, the United States and India.

Read the full article on rebranding of AIR INDIA by Business Standard, August 20, 2023, here:

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