Saturday, October 01, 2011

Airline livery design hits bottom

As if MAS doesn't have enough bad press on its share swap.
Now even the design "kena kutuk" by a top pilot like Patrick Smith.

 Ask the Pilot

Airline livery design hits bottom

OK, I can't stand it anymore. Has airline livery design at last hit rock bottom?
Yes, I think it has. Presenting the new look of Malaysia Airlines.
Hey, wow, a swooshy thing. How original. It's two swooshes, actually, squashed and scribbled together like tandem shark fins in a peculiar and wholly unattractive pattern.
When I say "swooshy thing" I am talking specifically about the "Generic Meaningless Swoosh Thing" or GMST, the concept that, over the past 10 years or so, has become the lowest common denominator of airline brand identity, seen worldwide from Aeromexico to El Al. The term was coined by Amanda Collier, a graphic design veteran, quoted in one of this column's earlier livery discussions. Said Collier, "the GMST is what happens when any corporation gathers senior management, their internal creative department, and a design agency in order to develop a new logo. The managers will talk about wanting something that shows their company is 'forward thinking' and 'in motion,' and no fewer than three of them will reference Nike, inventors of the original Swoosh. The creative types smile, nod, secretly stab themselves with their X-Acto knives, and shit out variations on a motion theme until everyone gets tired of arguing about it."
What makes Malaysia Airlines' swoosh so tragic is that it supersedes one of the classiest palettes out there. Malaysia is, or was, one of the few carriers to retain a classic "cheat line" -- the horizontal, nose-to-tail striping once very common on jetliners. The blue and red cheat, tapered at the stern, was handsome, distinctive and dignified -- exactly what a livery should be.
The only thing that saves the revised look from total abomination is the retention of the indigenous Wau kite on the tail. Few airline logos are as iconic and long-lasting.

True story:
In 1993 I was in the city of Kota Bahru, a conservative Islamic town in northern Malaysia close to the Thai border, when we saw a group of little kids flying Wau kites. At the time I didn't realize where the airline's logo had come from, but I recognized the pattern immediately. It was one of those airline/culture crossover moments that we aerophiles get all emotional over.
Indonesian carrier Garuda, on the other hand, has taken a tragic step backward by removing a similarly iconic logo from its tails. Gone is the abstract head of the Garuda eagle. Borrowed from ancient Sanskrit, the Garuda is common to Buddhist and Hindu mythology, and one of Hinduism's animal-god trinity. This was seen as too meaningful, apparently, and the airline switched instead to this idiotic blue blur.


Patrick SmithPatrick Smith's Ask the Pilot, a long-running feature on Salon, is the Web's most trenchant and insightful source for all things air travel, from safety and technology to airline culture and airport security. Send questions to and look for answers in a future column. 

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