As the Goose Flies

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Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2014

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These days, in English Canada, we tend to look to America and Europe for examples of “best practices” in branding. Rare is the time when we consider what’s happening right here at home. And if we do look at home, it’s generally to places like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. It’s never north of 60°.

So it was with great interest that I encountered a post from someone whom I have never met except in the social channels — Winnipeg-based designer Robert Peters, one of Canada’s most respected practitioners of visual communications design. Robert called my attention to the recent rebranding and redesign of Air Inuit. The visual branding was executed by Montreal-based Feed, in collaboration with brand strategist Marc-André Chaput. I checked it out immediately and was very pleased to see what a wonderful piece of work it is.

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Air Inuit started back in 1978 with a single De Havilland Beaver aircraft. It was and is collectively owned by Inuit and is the sole provider of passenger traffic to the remote communities of Northern Quebec, an area now called Nunavik. The online design blog Brand New noted that though the airline has no competitors, it is undergoing a “modernization” program in response to the rapid growth of mining and infrastructure projects now underway in Nunavik.

The branding and design of airlines is one of those niche verticals (please forgive the pun) that have been traditionally dominated by a handful of global firms. Landor tops the list with literally dozens of airlines in its portfolio (including the 2001 version of now-defunct Canadian Airlines), sharing the podium with firms like Interbrand and Lippincott.

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Whenever an airline brand in Canada comes up for redesign, it almost never gets done by a Canadian. Porter Airlines is the work of UK-based Winkreative; Air Canada’s 2004 redesign was done by Futurebrand. So it is refreshing to see that Air Inuit avoided the knee-jerk of most of its Canadian cohort and decided to use local talent.

The imagery, based on a flock of geese in flight, is masterfully but simply executed in one colour. It’s more a reflection of Inuit art than of anything from the corporate archives of modernist airline iconography. It’s fluid and alive and joyfully orange — a welcome hue against the backdrop of the polar landscape. It just pops.

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Feed enlisted French typographic designer Jean Baptiste-Levée to create a typeface that would work equally well in English, French and Inuktitut. Its clean presentation feels as appropriate in a boardroom as it does against the snowy expanses of the Great White North.

It’s not often in this country that we are given the opportunity to demonstrate homegrown visual branding and strategic talent. This is one that should be celebrated, which begs the question: how did this rebrand manage to “fly under the radar” (in the words of Brand New) for so long? The livery began appearing in the sky over a year ago. Is this another example of the classic Canadian inferiority complex?

When asked, Feed’s Raphael Baudelin explains that the rebrand has unfolded in phases. There was no grand public launch, and the process of converting the livery of the entire fleet is a slow one. The rest of the program has been incrementally revealed in print and online over the last 18 months. To call this a soft launch would be an understatement.

The launch may have been soft, but it was not soft on good design. We have the talent, but don’t seem to like to tell the world about it. Long live Air Inuit. And well done, Feed! wn