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.