The Brand Identity 100
No.98: Japan Airlines
In 1989 after Japan Airlines and Japan Air System merged, Landor Associates was hired to rebrand the airline. Landor’s efforts resulted in “grounding” the airline’s majestic red-crown crane livery, above, called tsurumaru (鶴丸) or “crane circle,” in favor of a drab-on-drab all-type treatment with decorative red box and complimentary gray rectangle. This visual travesty somehow managed to elude the brand authorities for nearly thirteen years. I know, I cringed every time I witnessed a JAL flight climbing out of SFO during this period; yes indeed, if getting stuck on the 101 freeway could be any worse, Landor’s design somehow managed to make it utterly unbearable. So when in 2002 JAL announced another rebranding campaign, you can imagine how excited I was; but that renewed sense of of hope quickly turned to horror when Landor was tasked — again — for the redesign. Needless to say, the ensuing nouveau drab-on-drab sans-serif all-type treatment with action swoosh de jour was no improvement.
Thankfully in January, 2011, following its corporate restructuring, Japan Airlines returned to the classic tsurumaru logo:
The Tsurumaru JAL logo was created in 1958 by Jerry Huff, the creative director at Botsford, Constantine and Gardner of San Francisco, which had been the advertising agency for Japan Airlines from its earliest days. JAL had used several logos up until 1958. When the airline arranged to buy new DC8, they decided to create a new official logo to announce the inauguration of their jet service world wide.
In the creation of the logo, Huff was inspired by the personal crests of Samurai families. In a book he’d been given, We Japanese, he found pages of crests, including the crane. On his choice of the crane, he writes: “I had faith that it was the perfect symbol for Japan Air Lines. I found that the Crane myth was all positive—it mates for life (loyalty), and flies high for miles without tiring (strength.)” (Wikipedia: Japan Airlines)
This harkens back to a bygone era in which a creative director could “have faith” that he had created the perfect design, without relying on market research, focus groups and quant maps to bleed the soul out of a design.