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Thoughts on the Air India Rebrand

Hundreds of readers have written to ask for our view on the Air India rebrand. Here is why we think it was a missed opportunity.

Ar india plane logo and seats

Everyone has an opinion on the recent Air India rebrand by Future Brand, making this a tricky story to write.

The communication and design industry in particular, has been vocal in their criticism of the new design route. Even so, we decided to sidestep the typical format of asking brand identity gurus to weigh in. The Air India project was highly coveted and any negative opinions could easily be dismissed as sour grapes.

Instead, here’s what we hope is an objective and fair perspective on the situation.

The Rebrand Checks Boxes

The official press release from Air India states: “The new look reimagines the iconic Indian window shape, historically used by Air India, into a gold window frame that becomes central to the new brand design system, symbolising a Window of Possibilities.”

New air india logo
The new Air India logo has a visual device inspired by the legacy ‘jharoka’ design on the windows of the old aircrafts

In addition to red and gold, the new aircraft livery features aubergine. This, in our opinion, feels forced and is an unnecessary nod to Vistara. No one will remember the Vistara brand in a few years and the colours palette for Air India should have been developed solely to serve its best interest.

The rebrand tries to balance the development of a modern brand identity while honouring Air India’s legacy – a worthy objective, but one that it doesn’t quite deliver on. In an attempt to check the many boxes, the final creative expression of the identity falls short of what is deserving for such an iconic brand.

new air india planes with livery

Beyond the Logo

Given their diverse hard and soft applications, airlines present a unique opportunity to create rich, multi-faceted brand identities. This needs an integrated approach where each interface must be designed to its best advantage, making the final solution greater than the sum of its parts.

No one did this better than Indigo.

Crafted by Motherland, the Indigo branding created a hard-to-scale benchmark in Indian brand design, not just in aviation but across industries. The deceptively simple Indigo logo was just one element in a multi-layered but cohesive brand toolkit that configured every customer touchpoint into a fresh, memorable experience.

Indigo ad, banner and plane

Comparisons with Vistara

It is inevitable that the Air India visual identity will also be compared with that of Vistara, a brand that it will soon replace. THC founder, Meeta Malhotra was partner at Ray+Keshavan, the firm that crafted the Vistara brand – making this angle a hard one for us to pursue without seeming biased. Instead, take a look at what The Design Air, an industry site, has to say on the matter.

“ …there would have been significant learnings from Vistara’s short lived time in the skies. A contemporary Indian brand, with world-leading hard products, excellent livery and bold modern uniforms should have been the perfect template to build a new Air India from, however it seems that’s all been thrown out the window, quite literally.”

Images of Vistara brand collateralshowing use of logo on standee, seat covers, blankets and frequent flyer cards

As far as we can see, the Air India rebrand lacks sophisticated design exploration – where visual identity is extended in unexpected ways to create discovery and delight. At this time, we are basing our opinion on the handful of (not-so-great) images that have been released publicly. We hope the real life applications will prove us wrong.

air india seats new logo
The extension of the identity (based on the images released at this point) seems far from the design sophistication of an Indigo or Vistara

What Does the Air India Brand Stand For?

Brand identity is an expression of brand personality and positioning. As of now, however, it is not clear what direction the Air India brand is headed in. Words like ‘progressive‘ and ‘global’ in the press release have little meaning. The only thing that really comes to mind when you see the new identity is ‘colourful.’

What will the new Air India bring to us? That vision is currently shaped by a single fact – our unshakeable trust in the Tata ownership. The new identity has not added any additional layer of understanding to this vision. We are no closer to imagining the Air India experience today, than we were before the rebrand.

A Missed Opportunity

The Internet is a fickle place and rebrands are lightning rods, where reactions crackle and subside. Given the Tata’s track record with Vistara, Air India’s service standards will probably push all discussion of brand identity into the background, and we shall feel a sense of pride every time we take a flight.

We also have no doubt that the identity will be implemented in a competent fashion across interfaces. Future Brand is a respected firm and has created identities for several airlines before.

However, there may never be another branding project in which Indians are so emotionally vested.

And there lies the problem.

Indians are terribly proud of the Tatas

We want to be just as proud of Air India.

The new identity would have been the perfect start to restoring the groundswell of goodwill towards the former national carrier. But it has not succeeded in doing that yet.

Milton Glaser, most famously known for designing the ‘I Love NY logo’, said: “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

The Air India rebrand does not evoke Wow, and that makes it a regrettable, missed opportunity.

Poll showing reactions to Air India rebrand
An Instagram poll on our handle shows quick reactions from the brand and design community

Also read our story on How the Vistara brand identity was created, where we speak to Ray+Keshavan founder, Sujata Keshavan.

11 Comments

  1. The brand “TATA” should have been aesthetically added with “AIR INDIA” logo.
    Both the words has a very deep emotional connect with Indians, both within and outside our country.
    Sadly it’s a missed opportunity.

  2. So much diplomatic language for what is a Frankensteinian assembly of various parts. It’s terrible; don’t mince words.

  3. I hope their real-life implementation is much better and more consistent over time to create value from their visuals. After seeing what Futurebrands did for American Airlines and Fiji, I was pretty optimistic about this; even though I want to like it, I don’t. Maybe it’s because of Indigo, the benchmark of Indian aviation branding, or maybe that emotional connection to that old wordmark (not the symbol, the old symbol was bad, in my view). But in this era, one needs to accept that branding is not just a logo change; it is much more than just a symbol or a wordmark. The consistency, the implementation, and the experience all matter. Vistara did it quite well, and as you mentioned, they should have taken some points out of that journey. I hope in its implementation; they do justice to this legendary brand. Change is inevitable in this era of branding. Still a missed opportunity, in my opinion, and you never know; Air India did change their logo in the 90s within one year.

    1. Additionally, maybe the TATA group wants to move away from that old reputation of what that “Sarkari” Air India became. Perhaps they have some strategy here; maybe there’s more to the story. I must wait until November for Futurebrand to upload the complete case study.

  4. Completely agree that this lacks sophisticated design exploration. One was really looking forward to a brand new design keeping the subtle elements of legacy intact. Though window has been used in the commercial as window to the world but isn’t that done too many times by too many. Even the font of “Air India ” could be better. Well, hope the integration with other tools of this rebranding is seamless. All the best nonetheless.

    1. Tx for sharing the video. I think this is a fair and objective story. Btw. Even the few images that have been shared are damn disappointing- what are those pointy shapes anyway?

  5. So Indigo uses Indian studio, Vistara uses Indian studio but Air India goes to London firm? Wah, that’s called pride in India. No wonder work was crap

    1. Awful design concept. Designer made a mess of it. Livery not commensurate on the aircrafts. It’s too gaudy and neither reflects aesthetics nor ethos of as a flag carrier of the country. Suggest, drop Futurebrand and invite open offers.

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