Like most major airlines this century, Delta Air Lines has had it rough: A number of restructurings, route changes, personnel cuts, the precipitous (and, I imagine, costly) rise and fall of its low-fare carrier Song, and eventually its filing for bankruptcy. But as has been apparent in the last two or three years people are back in the air and flying their butts off, crowding every possible plane at every possible hour, so it’s no surprise that Delta (and United before it) have been able to slowly exit from such sad, demoralizing state. On April 30, Delta emerged from bankruptcy protection as an independent carrier and what better way to celebrate than in style? With a new logo and new livery design, courtesy of New York-based Lippincott Mercer.
Delta’s Flip-Flop-Flippin’ Identity!
Much like its financial and structural state, Delta’s identity has been fleeting (pun intended) for the last decade or so — and, actually, throughout its history with a whopping 19 logos in 78 years — with two major identity changes, costing tons of money, I presume. But what makes these changes even more embarrassing, at least to my eyes, is that the changes were nothing more than flip-flop-…flip, with the “Widget” (yes, that’s what the triangle is officially called) going from pointy to round to pointy. How a blunder like that happened, I can only imagine. Unless I am mistaken, Landor held the account through these years. (Not that that explains anything… Or maybe it does.)
The “Flowing Fabric” Tail Design
One element, recently, that I thoroughly enjoyed was the floaty fabric Delta was using in their livery as well as their advertising and most other promotional materials. It was the one design element found throughout most of the airline industry that was able to capture the sense of flight. And do so on brand. Apparently though, that was somewhat costly, as the tail of the planes needed eight different colors (four shades of blue, two shades of red, one white and a clear coat) and plenty of man power to paint. The new design cuts back to four colors and — thank heavens — it cuts to the point with a clean, sharp, no-bullshit new logo.
New Livery, Nicknamed Onward and Upward.
There are three things I like about this new Widget: 1) It’s a triangle. No one was dumb enough to suggest or ask that it would be otherwise, and if so I’m glad someone was smart enough say no; with the propensity to change for change’s sake it is encouraging to see an organization and design firm acknowledge brand equity where there is one. 2) It’s red. Organizations, specially those coming out of the red numbers, are dead-afraid of red. This is red. And nothing else. I love that. 3) Isn’t it amazing just how much dimension you can achieve with a sophisticated change of shade of the same color? It goes to show that you don’t need all those extraneous shadows and highlights that are the biggest malady in branding today. One single design gesture completely changed the meaning of the Widget. To me, this new Widget means a stance. Delta is back and it’s solidly on the ground, ready for launch. There is one fourth thing I like: The typography. Sweet and simple. It complements the Widget without pretense and with plenty of confidence. One could label it as boring, but what else could this be? Yes, a hundred other things, but this one is as good as any. It has no useless elements, which is exactly what Delta needs to portray at the moment. A swift, agile and lean organization ready to take to the skies.
And considering that Lippincott reportedly showed around 100 logos and worked with a 78-Delta-employee committee — called the Delta Brand Council — it is a miracle that such a straightforward, on-target identity survived, with plenty of white space unscarred. Perhaps a reflection of Delta, as Connie Birdsall, Creative Director at Lippincott, shares with the timely Tony Spaeth, “The process was incredibly smooth and they have been just about the best people I have ever worked with.” Surely there were bumps in the road, but that won’t stop Delta from taking off with an incredibly concise and precise new identity.