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 252011

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.