Pradeep Debnath
Guest Article

Air India's redesign falls short of legacy expectations

The guest author expected a more culturally reflective emblem.

When it comes to rebranding a legacy, change is an emotion that’s put under the radar. Legacy brands are so-called because they represent a company, its ethos or a belief that people tend to follow, over generations. 

The brand then transforms into an experience or a feel and is no longer just a product. Brands then become integral to you, your family, friends and communities. Redesigning the identity of such brands therefore becomes challenging.

What do you retain and what do you change? You are dealing with emotions, in large numbers. There’s a visual familiarity the brand creates over time. Drastic deviations from assets, like primary colours, logotype, symbols or even the shape of holding devices (e.g. Harley Davidson, Budweiser, Batman, etc.) would mean taking risks, raising doubts & questions. Such changes need to be marketed and managed well, making complete sense.

While redesigning, one must be mindful of the audience at large, their literacy levels, demographics and challenges. Evolving to a refined design version thus makes for a better choice, addressing the right business objectives along with happier customers by your side.

Pradeep Debnath, Founder, CCO, Diagonal Brand Design
Pradeep Debnath, Founder, CCO, Diagonal Brand Design

In 2005, when we undertook the design project of Air India’s budget airline at DDB, the brief was simple. Make the airline look ‘Simply Priceless’. This promise led us to paint the livery richly, glorifying India’s culture and heritage. A graceful satin red stole flying across, leading your eyes to follow the tail graphics, depicting the states of India, broke the clutter in livery design.

With support from a wonderful team at both – our internal team and the client, we were happy to see the first delivery of the aircraft touch down on our Indian soil.

It's disappointing to see such an iconic brand, Air India, losing its grace, warmth & true ‘Indian-ness’ in a rebranding effort. One would have expected a more culturally reflective emblem, something more iconic and powerful from our history & civilization, given the fact that the airline doesn’t just represent a company but a country and its rich culture, globally. 

I was expecting some simplicity and elegance in their design system. One could have evolved the emblem from the existing design assets rather than reinventing it. Eg. The iconic Konark Wheel or even the dynamic Sagittarius against a deep red. Maybe I was expecting a Taj in the new Air India. Also, a wordmark in Gold Devanagari script along with English would have been unique to Air India. 

Whatever the reasons, the end result doesn’t seem right for such a legacy brand. People expect intelligence, appeal and sophistication when international design firms are invited. Surely it’s going to be more challenging as we move along. Ultimately, design must make you happy.

(Our guest author is Pradeep Debnath, Founder, CCO, Diagonal Brand Design)

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