"The End of the Plain Plane"
Remembering Alexander Girard's revolutionary rebrand and how hospitality played an important role.
In the mid-20th century, Braniff International Airways brought in Alexander Girard, an American designer renowned for his bold use of color and pattern, to help rebrand the entire experience. Girard's vision revolutionized the airline industry with design elements that eventually entered the hospitality and furniture industries. From playing cards and matchbooks to baggage tags and tickets, to the airport lounges and planes (which included the creation of the iconic Girard Throw), his ideas campaigned for “the end of the plain plane.”
Girard's rebranding of the airline included a complete overhaul of Braniff's visual identity, from its logo to the uniforms worn by the crew. He used bright, bold colors to create a sense of excitement and fun, in contrast to the more traditional and conservative aesthetics of other airlines at the time. One of the most important parts of the project was Girard’s design of the planes' interiors, using bright, contrasting colors and playful textiles to create a sense of whimsical delight for passengers – and it worked. As one witty television ad for the airline stated, “We won’t get you where you’re going any faster, but it’ll seem that way.”
Girard made 17,543 design changes that included 56 textiles for use in the interiors of Braniff planes.
The influence of Girard's iconic rebrand extended beyond the airline industry, as his use of bold colors and patterns became a hallmark of his design work. Girard's designs for Herman Miller, including his famous “Conversation” seating group, incorporated vibrant colors and geometric patterns that echoed his work for Braniff.
Girard's work - with Braniff and beyond - impacted not only the furniture industry but also the hospitality industry. His use of color and pattern in the plane interiors inspired hotel designers to incorporate these elements into their own projects. Today, many hotels feature brightly colored furniture, bold wallpaper patterns, and playful accessories that are reminiscent of Girard's designs.
There’s no question that Alexander Girard's rebrand of Braniff International Airways revolutionized the airline industry and had a lasting impact on design in both furniture and hospitality. The groundbreaking project and his unapologetic use of bold colors and patterns inspire designers today, reminding us that good design should be functional and delightful.