Design: Alexander Girard (USA)
From its founding in 1928, Braniff International Airways (BI) was a modest airline with a steady and conservative rate of growth. This was all to change spectacularly in 1965 with the bold vision of the company’s new president, Harding Lawrence.
Lawrence appointed the New York advertising agency of Jack Tinker and Partners to transform the company’s image. Mary Wells, who managed the Braniff account, tapped into the talents of the renowned American graphic and interior designer Alexander Girard and the Florentine couturier Emilio Pucci. Wells’ aim was to reposition the company from a regional carrier into a truly international airline.
Alexander Girard’s design brief was vast. It included new schemes for the planes, uniforms, airport lounges, ticket offices and corporate logos. He also introduced, what remains to this day, a unique concept by having the fuselage of each aircraft painted in one of seven vibrant colours: powder blue, medium blue, orange, ochre, turquoise, lemon yellow and beige.
Just as striking was the typographic logo on the tail fins. Rather than employing one of the usual clichés associated with flight, such as winged mammals, flying birds and globes, Girard created the italicised initials ‘BI’. The bold letterforms were part of a proprietary typeface, created by John Neuhart and Karl Tani, that together with the bespoke fabrics and the moulded plastic furniture (prominent at ticket counters and lounges) achieved a consistent, integrated and compelling brand expression.
Overall, the brand makeover was a sensation. Braniff advertised that the new look in travel was literally taking off with “flying colours”, and proclaimed the “end of the plain plane”. The retooled image suggested a fun, sexy and modern approach to air travel. It made Braniff a household name and increased business by a stunning 40% in the first year.
In 1978, the ‘Girard look’ was deemed outdated. Company executives adopted an image that brought the airline into the Concorde Age – a mood that conveyed the urbane sophistication of the late 1970s. The ‘Ultra look’, as it was called, with its rich earth tones and sleek brown leather interiors was in stark contrast to Girard’s bold exuberant style. Sadly, the stylised ‘BI’ logo was also dropped, and replaced by a script wordmark. After years of losses, Braniff filed for bankruptcy in 1982.