Matthias Hühne unknowingly launched what would become a collection of over 500 pieces of aviation-related artwork with an Air France poster from the 1950s. “Its design was so magnificent I realized it was just one piece of a larger story,” says the Berlin-based author, who began to collect others to illuminate the period in his new book, Airline Visual Identity, 1945–1975, a pleasing and colorful assemblage of posters, logos, airline livery drawings and more from the golden age of flight.
In his research, Hühne discovered that many international design luminaries, such as Massimo Vignelli, Ivan Chermayeff, Otl Aicher and Saul Bass, were helping to drive the airlines’ cutting-edge designs and campaigns. “Print advertising was the most important way to reach customers, so the airlines used all sorts of fanciful colors and special effects within the posters,” he says. For the collector’s limited edition, available for $1,100 through Callisto Publishers, Hühne employed the same level of sophistication, with one-off colors, metallic surfaces and satin finishes. Here, the author describes some of his favorite examples.
Air France, 1952
“After World War II, Air France built one of the world’s largest international routes. By contracting Japanese painter Yasse Tabuchi, Air France ensured this poster conveyed an authentic visual characterization. The airline commissioned high-profile artists for decades, so that art and tasteful design became key to its identity.”
United Airlines, 1962
“In the early 1960s, graphic designers often condensed the intended marketing message into the most simplistic imagery possible, like this 1962 poster by an anonymous artist, so potential customers could grasp it with a passing glance.”
United Airlines, 1969
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, psychedelic graphics occasionally infiltrated airline advertisements, especially for vacation destinations in warm climates. This colorful piece was created in 1969, when Continental Airlines made its first flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu.”
“Graphic designer David Klein created a series of posters for TWA in the 1950s and 1960s, including this beautiful example from 1967. TWA was the creation of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, who was personally involved in major marketing decisions. After World War II, TWA became one of America’s preeminent international airlines.”
Pan Am, 1971
“Once considered the world’s most innovative airline, Pan Am’s fortunes had turned by the early 1970s. As part of an effort to revitalize it, Chermayeff & Geismar created a revised visual identity that included an update of the famous blue-globe logo, seen in this one from 1971.”
British West Indies Airways, 1953
“British West Indies Airways commissioned Italian graphic designer Aldo Cosomati to create a series of posters using an eccentric mix of neon colors that interpreted personality types or festivals of specific destinations in humorous ways.”
American Airlines, 1971
“Massimo Vignelli gave American Airlines a look that lasted four decades. While corporate design guidelines in the ’60s and ’70s were often rigid, this 1971 poster shows that they didn’t lessen the attractiveness of campaigns.”