Lufthansa Corporate Design

June 14th 2018, 22:35 | Written by Konstantin Koll

It's February 21st as I begin to write this blog post, and I'm currently high over Russia on board of LH 718 on my way from MUC to ICN. What better place to start writing an in-depth review of the new Lufthansa corporate design, which got revealed just two weeks ago?

I was shocked at first when I learned that Lufthansa creating a new corporate design was, in fact, not an internet hoax. I really dig the current aircraft livery, and all to often rebrands and redesigns create atrocities these days (Instagram comes to my mind here).

Then again, a rebranding might be forced by some technical innovation. The large-scale introduction of carbon fiber components made it impossible for American Airlines to keep their bare-metal livery: what works great for aluminum was impossible to achieve with the new material.

It's mid-June right now, and with a bit of space I finally got around to write my take on the new Lufthansa corporate design. It's not as bad as some of the suggested design atrocities floating around the internet, but still mistakes were being made.

Rationale behind Lufthansa rebrand

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the iconic Lufthansa crane, hand-drawn in 1918 by Otto Firle and slightly modernized in 1962 by Otto Aicher. However, today's world is a whole lot different from the one in 1989 (when the current aircraft livery was introduced), 1962 and certainly 1918. Digitization is all the rage these days, and while nothing (like aircraft, seats or anything else) from 1989 is still in use today, the corporate design and aircraft livery have stayed basically the same. But how bad was it really?

Hands-on approach

When it comes to critique, I tend to be a force of nature worse than Steve Jobs. I've learned the hard way that it is wise to begin with something positive, so here it goes: I really like the hands-on approach of Lufthansa and their design agencies! The designer Sebastian Berbig went on a “customer journey” as Lufthansa passenger, from booking to the airport shuttle bus, checkin, gate and finally boarding the aircraft.

He discovered a design extravaganza, including more than 100 Lufthansa cranes a passenger is exposed to even before boarding the aircraft (many of them in contradicting colors and materials). So it was the right decision of Alexander Schlaubitz, Lufthansa's Vice President Marketing, to initiate a new, much cleaner corporate design that would be fit for the digital era.

The new corporate design

Ok, now lets dive right into it. Lufthansa's new corporate design rests on four main pillars, which I'm going to discuss in detail:

  • An improved crane icon
  • New typefaces
  • A new color scheme
  • A new aircraft livery, combining the former three elements

Crane icon

I didn't even notice that anything was changed until I browsed Lufthansa's #ExploreTheNew press material. Now, that's a good thing: you do not want any drastic changes in a 100 year old brand (Pepsi comes to my mind as negative example).

In the digital era, the Lufthansa crane has to cover an extremely wide variety of applications: from a website favicon (16×16 pixels) and the Apple Watch to a real-life Airbus A380 tail fin. This cannot be accounted for with a single design, so Lufthansa employs a “small” and “large” version now. That's a great idea, we also use special versions for our app icons in small sizes down to 16×16 pixels where details have been sufficiently enlarged. While at it, Lufthansa has also enlarged the gaps between the crane's tail feathers to give it a cleaner and more open look.

I've stared at the icon really hard after a bit of time, because something just doesn't seem right: it's the circle's stroke width! The circle in the 1989 iteration is too thick by far, representing the bold typography aesthetics of the 1980s—but the new one is too thin, even a tad thinner than 1962's original version. The stroke width of the circle should match the crane's feathers, so I suggest a slight increase in the 10% ballpark.

Fun facts: the crane is still hand-drawn for a human touch, and it has been banned from cleaning rags. You do not want your precious brand on certain items (before you ask: to my knowledge there's never been Lufthansa branded toilet paper).

Type system

The next big design element are the typefaces. Otto Aicher, professor at the Ulm School of Design, has introduced Helvetica in 1962 as corporate typeface, which was upgraded to the slightly improved Helvetica Neue in the 1980s. Helvetica was all the rage in the 1960s (anyone remember Swiss Design?), so it was adopted by many companies during the following decades; it is by no means unique to Lufthansa anymore. In addition, Helvetica requires hefty annual licensing fees for a company the size of Lufthansa.

Lufthansa's design team went over the top and did not just create one new typeface, but a whole type system with a multitude of typefaces (including an all-caps one just for aircraft registrations). The main typefaces are grouped into head and text fonts, offering “Bold”, “Light”, “Thin” and “Bold”, “Regular”, “Light” weights respectively. There's also a special typeface just for the logo (Lufthansa Logotype). The type system includes 5280 glyphs total across 126 languages.

The new fonts are certainly very legible, foremost at small sizes, but personally I'm not too happy with them. Though they clearly pay tribute the classic Helvetica Neue (especially the Logotype face), they are also very modern and too “round” for my taste.

The type system also includes “Light” and “Thin” weights, which have already been overused in the last annual financial report. I'm reminded again of iOS 7 and the San Francisco typeface introduced two years later-thin font weights are truely a plague these days! I conclude that even in 2018, it is almost impossible to surpass Max Miedinger's Helvetica.

Fun fact: truly hands-on, the lead designer Ronald Wild has “lived” with the font for a while, decorating his home walls with individual letters and glyphs to better find any flaws. Well done!

Color scheme

Lufthansa's old color scheme has put equal emphasis on both blue and yellow as primary colors. Alexander Schlaubitz's team conducted a survey among Lufthansa employees asking which color defines Lufthansa: about half were in the blue camp, with the other half answering yellow.

The new corporate design simplifies the color scheme: LH-WHITE (R9003) remains the base color, e.g. for the aircraft livery. LH-DEEP-BLUE (C20206) is now the primary accent color. This deep color embodies high value and clarity. It also offers a high contrast to white.

Lufthansa's classic LH-YELLOW (C04800) is used much less and only intentionally for activation, orientation and emotion, a good example being signs and boarding passes. And, yes, the flight attendant's scarf also remains yellow. Other defined colors are LH-LIGHT-GREY (C01577) and LH-DARK-GREY (C10002), which are rarely used only very sparingly.

I fully agree with the new color scheme, and really like the LH-DEEP-BLUE. I had the opportunity to see it personally at MUC while having a few spare hours before connecting to ICN. There's a picture of a speciman gate in the gallery below:

Aircraft livery

With the crane icon, typography and color scheme all in place, we're now ready to tackle the crown jewel of Lufthansa's corporate design: the aircraft livery.

In true hands-on fashion, Lufthansa discreetly rented a hangar in NWI in the United Kingdom to try the new livery on an old Boeing 737 tail purchased specifically for this purpose. Why NWI? There are a lot of weather changes, with sun, clouds and rain often occuring the same day—and almost no curious bloggers or pesky journalists which could lay an eye on things they're not supposed to see.

A total of 6 paint mixtures have been tried. The result is a specially created composite of two hues for a deep color, with reduced red parts and a high contrast to LH-WHITE for high value and clarity (a mistake often made is a color with too much white in it, which reduces the paint's vibrance).

Yellow and grey have been almost completely removed from the livery, with the exception of the “Welcome Panel” at the L1 door as the only yellow element. A total of 40 aircraft will be repainted this year, with the others following their maintenance cycles until 2025.

I'm sort of ambigious regarding the aircraft livery. It's certainly much better than some concepts Lufthansa has discussed (they're so atrocious I won't even put them up here). In my opinion, extending the tail paint works great, and I really like the small white front edge. It's a neat “trick” to give the tail fin more contrast against the background. I do not agree with removing all yellow, however. The crane icon on the tail find has to be painted yellow to give the livery more continuity with its predecessor!

To make matters worse, flights to JFK and HKG have uncovered lighting conditions where the new blue paint appears far too dark, almost black. Despite setting up shop at NWI, the paint mixtures have to be adjusted again, a very complex and time consuming process.

Fun fact: there are special paint mixtures for each aircraft type to achieve the same hue regardless of the hull's shape.

Conclusion

So what's my conclusion? I agree that a new, more strict corporate design was in order for Lufthansa. Using a deep blue as primary accent color is great, and reducing the choice of different colors and materials will give Lufthansa a more noble and premium identity. However, three mistakes have to be fixed:

  • Make the crane's circle 10% thicker.
  • I like Helvetica Neue better than Lufthansa's new type system. At least use the “Light” and “Thin” font weights very sparingly—or not at all!
  • The aircraft livery must have a yellow crane icon on the tail fin.

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