FRANKFURT — In February, Germany’s flag carrier, Lufthansa (LH), unveiled to the world a striking, all-new livery that created some commotion in the aviation enthusiast world.
Lufthansa has been one of commercial aviation’s most iconic brands, encompassed in the symbol of a flying crane.
This livery was created 100 years ago. But in February, the airline revealed its new image— the first significant revision since 1989.
In an exclusive interview, Lufthansa’s marketing chief Alexander Schlaubitz and designer Ronald Wild reveal to Airways why the airline dropped the iconic yellow from its new livery.
It came as a shock for many observers inside and outside of the aviation industry that the airline dropped its formerly iconic yellow sun from its tails, leaving the crane to fly in small white contours on an otherwise reasonably bland blue tailfin.
Even though It will take another seven years before the whole fleet will sport the new livery, so far less than a dozen aircraft had been painted.
Luckily for Lufthansa, as it turned out, the initially applied shade of blue was too dark and had to be modified.
Why did you take the yellow on Lufthansa aircraft from us?
Alexander Schlaubitz: It was our clear goal to reflect the current positioning of Lufthansa as a premium carrier also in our design.
For that, you need great clarity and a decisive application of colors. Yellow now plays as clear a role in the overall design system of Lufthansa as does blue.
Blue is our leading color as it primarily expresses “premium.” Yellow takes over very specific other functions – in interaction on board, at the airports or in the app.
On our tailfins, blue now consequently leads.
The contrast this creates to the glowing white of the crane is of higher quality and clearer than the livery used so far.
In defining our new color system, the use of colors in a more and more digital world plays a significant role.
Today customers interact with the brand at a much earlier point in the process, long before they get a glimpse of an aircraft.
Here, our colors have to transmit our premium position clearly, and with the right combination of yellow and blue that rarely worked.
Did the designers suffer from sleepless nights to let go of the yellow on the aircraft?
Ronald Wild: It was always present to us that we were working on an icon. You don’t change these without a valid reason, and of course, that includes sleepless nights.
Because everyone, of course, has this yellow disk on the Lufthansa tails in his mind as it was on our aircraft for 30 years. But now, when I drive around the ramp and see the new livery in context, I am very happy we took this step.
From now on, it’s no longer the yellow disk standing for Lufthansa, but clearly the crane.
Yellow and blue used in the same share come across as being too “loud” and not premium.
You wouldn’t buy a deep blue BMW and paint the rear mirrors and doors in yellow. It was our task as designers to separate these traditional Lufthansa colors in a way to assign them with new and clear tasks.
That’s what we achieved; we are now employing yellow in a more focused and worthy way.
Does this mean from the viewpoint of designers that Lufthansa hasn’t been a premium airline for decades?
Schlaubitz: Lufthansa has changed a lot over the last few years with new aircraft and new offerings on board and the ground. We have modernized the brand, and the adaptation of the design is part of this process.
The opponents of your new design now almost feel Schadenfreude as your first shade of blue didn’t work. Did that come as a surprise?
Schlaubitz: It was clear to us from the beginning that we wanted to create a very special blue, a unique color. That is not an easy process.
We knew there was a fair chance that we would have to adjust it. Our airline color designer David Hedley Noble from Aerobrand always reminded me of this, as it couldn’t really be simulated. That’s why we developed about 15 different shades of blue from the beginning.
Wild: As a designer I would have wished I could have taken an A380 and paint it, to test the different shades of blue also in open daylight and even fly it to judge the impact of the color under natural conditions.
Precisely what Lufthansa did in 1988 with a Boeing 737-200 painted in bright yellow!
Wild: We are living in different times today than in 1988, in a time of smartphones and connectivity. If we had painted a real aircraft and flown it, things would have become public too early which would have had disturbed the overall project.
That’s why we could always only test it under lab conditions. We were always in a hangar, also in different light conditions, but never 100% in reality.
Schlaubitz: We had the tailfin of an old Boeing 737 in a hangar in England that we painted over and over again in all 15 shades of blue to see the results.
But also because of the size of a tailfin, the impact of colors changes significantly when the aircraft is parked outside.
We realized quickly under normal operating conditions that the finish of the newly painted aircraft was coming across as too dark, especially in adverse weather conditions.
Now we have optimized this and reduced the amount of black in the finish. It was a question of nuances.
The final “Lufthansa Deep Blue” is our color, it belongs to us, and nobody else can use it.
In contrast to other recently updated brands such as Gulf Air or WestJet Lufthansa refrains from painting its name boldly onto the fuselage, why?
Wild: We tested it, but then decided against it.
The name Lufthansa covering the window line would be creating too much visual “noise.”
The strong contrast of blue and white and our crane are indicating our brand clearly enough.
Especially on wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 747 or the Airbus A380 a branding beyond the windows would have been too big for our understanding of premium.
How do you see your current design in the airline industry context and how long do you believe it will last?
Schlaubitz: The crane is a unique logo. It is as timeless as our entire design. It will be a unique feature for the next 20 years or longer, taking our premium concept to many countries around the world.
Currently, there are multiple trends in airline brand design: The trend towards simplicity and clarity on one side, which we are pursuing.
But also the attempt to score and create awareness with short-lived design gimmicks.
That wasn’t our aim, but we understand why various competitors might have taken that road.