When did you first see the Alitalia livery?

A group of planes wearing the Alitalia livery

It was designed by Walter Landor in 1967, working from his original headquarters, a retired ferryboat moored in San Francisco called The Klamath. He had already gained a strong reputation for original ideas about designing brands with just the right visual qualities, and his persuasive pitch gained him the opportunity to create a new identity system for the aircraft of the Italian carrier. What a classic design! It still looks good forty three years later.

I was in Switzerland the week before last to participate in a panel about designing digital art at Design Miami/Basel, an event that has been admirably crafted by Ambra Medda in recent years. Landing in Zurich, I was comparing Alitalia with the Swissair livery, and thinking how much I liked the simple Swiss graphics, leaving the fuselage in uninterrupted white and applying the bold red cross to the tail and wingtips, with a few extra splashes of red typography on engines and body.

A Swissair plane takes off

There were lots of other examples of restrained Swiss modernism in and around the airport, as for example this hotel and the simply elegant departure gates, making me feel that the livery of Switzerland is truly rectilinear.

Zurich airport hotel

Imagine my surprise when I encountered the new Swissair plane, destination San Francisco, embellished with a tortured cacophony of type and color. They describe it as “Groovy,” but to me it seems like “Oops.” I was in San Francisco in the summer of 1967, at the same time that Walter was working on the Alitalia livery, and there were a lot of truly groovy concerts happening, advertised by psychedelic posters and accompanied by mind-expanding substances.

The new Swissair service from Zurich to San Francisco

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