The Air New Zealand logotype

The design process to create “a wordmark that reflects an innovative, modern company but projects our history, credibility and with a timeless elegance”.

994 words by Kris Sowersby

In late 2011 I was approached by Designworks to work on a new logotype for Air New Zealand. I was contracted to draw new letterforms to complement the iconic koru logo. Designworks had been working closely with Air New Zealand to smartly and iteratively re-brand and re-position the airline across all aspects of their business, from terminals to in-flight teacups. Their typographic palette now largely consists of Air New Zealand Sans (Söhne) with Newzald Black Italic functioning as a “hero” typeface across all communication channels, typically used for a single word or phrase.

Air New Zealand logotype sketches, Kris Sowersby, (2011).

The brief was to create “a wordmark that reflects an innovative, modern company but projects our history, credibility and with a timeless elegance.” Designworks identified three main directions which we would work towards. The first was an evolution of the existing logotype, which were essentially modified (Adobe) Trajan letterforms. The second was a contemporary evolution of the classic 60’s logo, and the third was to be an “engineered-but-approachable” style to complement the koru. I was also given the opportunity to come up with “wildcards” in the event that we had overlooked any other stylistic opportunities. Ultimately it was a very thorough process — I submitted about 45 concepts in all. As you’ll see below, some were on the mark, others were right off. The koru was — and still is — sacrosanct. It was not to change.

But, before I delve into the logotype development, a spot of history. Founded in 1949, Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL) was the forerunner of Air New Zealand.

Poster, “Winter holidays? Fly NAC”, attributed to Linwood Lipanovic, (ca. 1950). National Library (Eph-D-AVIATION-NAC-1950s-02)

Poster, “Fly to New Zealand”, Arthur Thompson, (ca. 1950). Te Papa (GH009295)

Poster, “Teal to Air New Zealand name change”, (1965). Via Webb’s, last accessed July, 2012.

“Air New Zealand originated in 1940 as Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), a flying boat company operating trans-Tasman flights between New Zealand and Australia. TEAL became wholly owned by the New Zealand government in 1965, whereupon it was renamed Air New Zealand.”

Tom Elliott’s logotype on “Air New Zealand Flight Bag”, (ca. 1980), Air New Zealand Ltd. Te Papa (GH009084)

According to Printing Types Tom Elliott designed the classic unicase Air New Zealand logotype in about 1968.¹ If the brisk trade of Air New Zealand memorabilia on Trade Me is any indication, this logotype is firmly etched into the minds of most New Zealanders, suggestive of our national pride in the golden age of air travel.

It’s interesting to observe that the TEAL logotype was condensed italic caps, and the name-change poster above has the same lettering style from TEAL to AIR NEW ZEALAND. I’m not sure whether Mr Elliott used this as a starting point for his unicase logo, but there is a lovely continuity regardless.

Jonty Valentine, “Printing Types: New Zealand Type Design Since 1870”, Objectspace Gallery, (2009).

Air New Zealand logotype, designer unknown, (ca. 2006).

Sometime in 1996 a new logo was introduced for Air New Zealand, largely based on modified (Adobe) Trajan letterforms. In 2006 it was altered slightly to the version above. Note that the “A” is larger than the other letters, and the positioning of the koru. The overall outline alludes to the side-profile of a jet, with the koru forming the tail.

So, with all that in mind I started drawing. The first all-caps versions I drew were derived from multiple sources, primarily exploring “serif-less” Trajan forms, lettering from 20th Century New Zealand tourism posters and the historic TEAL logotype.

After the first round of exploration, we agreed that italicising felt correct for the logotype. It simultaneously distanced itself enough from the 90’s logotype, but alluded to the 60’s one whilst conveying a sense of dynamism. The two above represent the two broad directions we headed in.

Typeface design and lettering is imbued with subtleties. During the process I drew many variations exploring different stroke finishes, joins, terminals, contrast and weight. A small detail in a single letterform can be nice, but collectively details can change the tone of the logotype and become distracting, so I had to be careful.

These are broadly indicative of the “engineered-but-approachable” direction we explored. Whilst they matched the koru almost literally, they weren’t nearly as strong as the other options.

A few of the “wildcard” options I proposed. These are largely inspired by Tschichold’s Transito and Stempel stencil typefaces. I really tried to push the boat out with these ones, but they were quietly — and rightly — scuppered! Still, with a bit of work I reckon they’d look pretty spectacular on the side of an Airbus — certainly different to anything else on the international runways.

In the end it was down to these two options. After a presentation by Designworks, the Air New Zealand team opted to run with the top version.

The final logotype. The team at Designworks made the finishing touches, including adjusting the inter-letter spacing and streamlining corners. The initial cap “A” and positioning of the koru aligns it with the previous logotype, retaining the familiar side-on jet profile.

The new livery on the plane.

At the time of writing, the new logotype is slowly starting to filter outwards. The comments on Air New Zealand’s The Flying Social Network are fairly typical for a change on this scale, following a similar pattern all over the “comment-sphere”. It’s most important, I think, to understand the scale that companies like Air New Zealand operate: change like this is not undertaken lightly. The black tail with white koru is particularly smart — it looks powerful on the runway.

Notes & references

Jonty Valentine, “Printing Types: New Zealand Type Design Since 1870”, Objectspace Gallery, (2009).

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