Chemistry, physics and mechanics
Rolf Bircher's 1958 logo design for Swissair
The following is from the article ‘The Swissair signet as defined by its creator’ written by designer Rolf Bircher for ‘Advertising Instructions Manual’. It beautifully articulates the logic behind the logo and offers an insight into Bircher’s logo design principles. To learn about Karl Gerstner’s update, designed in 1978, you can find that here.
The purpose of a signet is to provide a visual representation of the article or line of business which it typifies. It must be characteristic of what it is meant to illustrate. Its bias can, for example, be masculine or feminine, technical or artistic, dynamic or static, heavy or light, etc.
The less complex and the more simple its form, the easier it is to identify and interpret. The design of a signet for an airline is all the more important in that it does not refer to an article put up for sale but to the concept of flying.
Obviously, flying can be associated with the flight of a bird. This leads to the direct illustration of a bird or its wings as a symbol of aviation. Unfortunately, however, this is wrong thinking. It may be valid for a glider, but not for modern air travel. Railways, road transport companies, sewing machines, various makes of cars, motor cycles and bicycles, etc., all use the wings of a bird in a hundred variations as a symbol of speed. ( Does Swissair have to "go sentimental" and join them down on the ground to coast along at a speed of 100 km/h ?) Never.
Every illustration of a wing, whether easily recognizable or in the abstract, bears association with a bird. A bird, however, flies by mechanical up-and-down oscillations of its wings. (Ought Swissair to identify itself with Icarus who crashed in the sea, or with Hermes who pulled up at frontiers?)
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Modern flight has no connection with wing oscillations. It is not synthetic bird-flight. It is the creative product of chemistry, physics and mechanics: piston engines, jets and rockets. It need not be symbolized by an organic entity. Neither is it enough for the symbol to be elegant, neat or pretty. The styling of this symbol-form is bound to be imperfect if only the means and not the function is properly understood. The overall conception is decisive.
Aviation signifies the quickest connection between two points. Air communications are horizontal ones. The signet must neither be drawn vertically up nor down, not static but dynamic. It must seem to be in the act of flying These features must be represented clearly and specifically. Incorporation of the written word is of the utmost importance in designing a signet. For the customer it is essential. It is the company that is named, not the symbol. It is from these factors that the Swissair signet has been developed and fashioned.
1. First the word (Swissair flies)
2. The word has wings (Flying has a definite aim)
3. The tip indicates the direction
Compelling logic always derives from the fundamentally obvious. Anything obvious is also simple. Simplicity combined with creative energy produces a synthesis of Innate rightness and external beauty.
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