Logo Legend


In the 1950’s I was the Creative Director for Bots­ford, Constan­tine and Gardner, San Fran­cisco office. My favorite account was Japan Air Lines. We had a very sound creative strategy to market the airline to Amer­i­cans, based on research from Doctor Dichtor (an early social researcher). Simply put: don’t talk about equip­ment, even though it was from Boeing and McDonald Douglas); don’t talk about the cockpit crew (even though they were mostly Amer­i­cans); don’t talk about Japanese effi­ciency. Do talk about Japanese arts, crafts and culture. And by all means, remind the Amer­i­cans that Japanese women were the most charming, well mannered and helpful in the world.

Japan Air Lines, through the influ­ence of Mike Sloan (the Bots­ford Japan Air Lines Account Super­visor), sent me on an Arts and Culture tour of their (then) desti­na­tions including Hong Kong, Singa­pore, Thai­land and Japan. I concen­trated on Kyoto, Nara and Nikko – three cities that did not suffer too much bombing that also are impor­tant reli­gious and cultural centers in Japan. What I learned on this trip had every­thing to do with my design of the Japan Air Lines logo.

In 1957. Japan Air Lines asked Bots­ford, Constan­tine and Gardner to create a new logo and livery. It was unusual that a large corpo­ra­tion would go to their adver­tising agency for this kind of design work. This type of assign­ment was usually the purview of design firms like Raymond Lowey or Walter Landor. Many airplane manu­fac­turers offered logo deign as part of their contracts (Japan Air Lines used MacDonald Douglas as well). I was doubly pleased that it landed in my lap because I had a design in mind.

When I trav­elled in Japan I was impressed that the branding busi­ness had been going on there for hundreds of years, espe­cially for the Samurai fami­lies, whose crests adorned prac­ti­cally every­thing the family owned. The one I chose for Japan Air Lines was a crane attrib­uted to the Mori family. Working with my designer, Reg Jones, we modern­ized it and created a hand­some presen­ta­tion book with hard cover and French paper. The content of the book was the art of the logo and its appli­ca­tion to aircraft, ground equip­ment, stationery, docu­ments, point-of-purchase, etc. – twenty-four pages in all.

A meeting was sched­uled to show our stuff. I wish I could remember the month and day – all I recall is that it was very hot and humid in Tokyo. The meeting place was on the fifth floor in a rather dingy office building. The confer­ence room was in a corner of a large room packed with people, many women. When the door was opened, we saw a 12’ x 16’ room domi­nated by a long table at which sat about a dozen men who looked at us as if we had inter­rupted them. I remember there was a group hiss. The most striking feature, though, was the mass of logo sketches, draw­ings, paint­ings and even some plaster bas reliefs covering the walls and table, ending instantly our belief that ours was the only logo being consid­ered.

Seats were found for us as the discus­sion continued, giving us a chance to study the designs. None of them were in any way outstanding. They mostly seemed to be versions of the Lufthansa speed bird. Finally the Japanese conver­sa­tion ceased and our contact asked us to show what we had done. It took about ten minutes. It all had to be inter­preted and I didn’t know anybody in the audi­ence or what their interest in the project was. Their expres­sions were, of course — inscrutable. Mike Sloan finished with thanks. We sat down — I was soaked!

The discus­sion continued for the rest of the that day into the late after­noon of a second day when the Japan Air Lines Pres­i­dent came into the room with a small entourage. There was much bowing. He seated himself and our book was laid before him and the inter­preter turned the pages for him and rendered the expla­na­tion. It took about eight minutes though by then I was unable to measure time. When the Pres­i­dent finished he said some­thing, stood up — more bowing — and walked out. The meeting was over. Everyone gath­ered their papers to leave.

Mike asked the inter­preter what the pres­i­dent had said. It was some­thing like, “America is our most impor­tant market. Amer­i­cans know best what Amer­i­cans like, so tell the men from our Amer­ican adver­tising agency we accept their design”.

The crane (Tsuru­maru in Japanese) flew for over forty years — almost a record. It was replaced in 1989 by a Walter Landor design, modi­fied radi­cally in 2002, again by Landor.

The big news was announced by Japan Air Lines’ pres­i­dent on January 19,2011, “ The JAL Group today will adopt a new corpo­rate policy and announces its deci­sion to change its logo from April 1, 2011” going on to say, “The motif that will be used is of a soaring red crowned crane with its wings extended in full flight, an auspi­cious icon repre­senting the high spirits of the Japanese people and their sensi­tive atten­tion to detail.”

Funny thing. The date they said the crane/logo returns would start on April 1st, 2011, my 84th birthday.

Jerry Phillip Huff
August 25, 2011

Illus­tra­tion from The Way of the Samurai. Note the Crane design.

The original Mori Samari family creast the inspiration

The orig­inal Mori Samari family creast the inspi­ra­tion

The original Mori Samari family creast the inspiration

The Japan Air Lines Logo design presented by Mike Sloan & Jerry Huff in Tokyo in 1957.

The final version used for 40 years -dropped for 13 and reintroduced in 2011

The final version used for 40 years ‑dropped for 13 and rein­tro­duced in 2011

A double page magazine ad appeared in Look, Life, Time, Newsweek and featured a real hostess in full kimono

A double page maga­zine ad appeared in Look, Life, Time, Newsweek and featured a real hostess in full Kimona.