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Quick as an arrow and Swiss by nature: Swissair skilfully combined comfort, style and luxury and made flying an experience: a contribution to the design that made Swissair take off.

By Thomas Wagner.

DC-10-30 HB-IHA in flight over Yavapai County, Arizona
DC-10-30 HB-IHA in flight over Yavapai County, Arizona. Photo: Swissair. Published by Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Swissair logo from the 50s to the 70s.
Swissair logo from the 50s to the 70s. © Swissair. Pubished by Wikimedia Commons. (Source)

The Swissair design still stands for a lifestyle of comfort, reliability, style and luxury. It was 1951 when the Zurich graphic designer Rudolf Bircher won first prize with his design in a competition to create a signet for the up-and-coming airline. Of all the airline’s lettering and logos, Bircher’s pictogram-style aircraft is probably the most striking. The horizontal arrow with stylised wings and the lettering “Swissair” in grotesque script conveys dynamism and stability at the same time. Air traffic connections, Bircher wrote, are horizontal, which is why the signet should be drawn neither vertically upwards nor downwards, not static but dynamic – “as if it were flying straight”. Bircher’s logo remained almost unchanged until the airline refreshed its logo for its 50th birthday in 1981. Then the Basel graphic artist Karl Gerstner put on a sloping vermilion surface what most people in Switzerland associated with the airline anyway: a Swiss cross.

In a contribution for SRF Kultur, Noëmi Gradwohl vividly tells the story of the airline’s design using six examples. For example, René Hubert, a costume designer from eastern Switzerland who was successful in Hollywood, first gave the airline’s uniforms an unmistakable look in Swissair blue. Hubert also designed the Swissair interior of the DC-8 passenger aircraft, using “Swiss red”, “cloud white” and “sky blue” as his inspiration. Parts of the costumes worn from 1978 onwards were realised by the fashion label Akris from St. Gallen. The last Swissair uniform was designed by the German industrial designer Luigi Colani in 1990.

The author also presents the multifunctional and modular trolley invented in the 1970s, Langenthal porcelain tableware for business and first class, first-class menus printed on fabric napkins and stylish menus (from petit déjeuner consisting of fruit juice and omelette with lamb shavings to “Repas Jet” with champagne) as other defining design elements of the brand, and stylishly designed menus (from the petit déjeuner of fruit juice and omelette with lamb cutlets to the noble “Repas Jet” with Champagne Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge as an aperitif and a “Plat de Viande Chaude”), and advertising posters designed by Emil Schulthess and Hans Frei in 1971. Swissair as an airline has been history since 2001, but its design remains groundbreaking in many respects. Design memorabilia are therefore in great demand.

More on this topic

Das Design, das die Swissair abheben liess by Noëmi Gradwohl (in German) on www.srf.ch.

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