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Michael Bierut on United Airlines

Posted on January 12 2011

Last night I attended Spark's speak event with Michael Bierut on the Value of Great Client Relationships. Bierut discusses Pentagram's 12-year-long relationship with United Airlines, which recently came to an end with the purchase (or merger) of Continental Airlines. Bierut began his discussion with the actually presentation Pentagram used for United's low-cost carrier, Ted, from 2003. The concept for Ted was that it was the last three letters of United as if the low-cost carrier would still maintain the reliability of United Airlines but didn't provide all the perks and whistles as the high-end planes.  Bierut presented various names for the carrier such as Loop and Flyer. Yet, Ted was hip, catchy, human and presented a great set up for an advertising campaign. He also sampled colors schemes for plane exteriors, logotypes and taglines such as resTED, tasTED. The actual launch of the teaser campaign was a huge hit leaving people in question, who was Ted? Ted did all sorts of charitable things for publicity and ads read, "Have you met Ted?" I found the most interesting part to be that Pentagram really set up the presentation to have the client agree with their favorite name. The pitch even included fake newspaper headlines and stories, as to predict negative feedback if the client should go with so and so direction. Secondly, Bierut shared his final presentation with United for the new  identity for the merger of United and Continental. Starting simply with logotypes and introducing new globes (Continental's icon). The ideas to were for a new look yet still similar to what both United and Continental designs had. The concepts to me seemed strong and modern. In the end, United went with another design firm and by the looks of it they didn't seem to have much creative room with the client. United basically wanted the existing Continental globe with the name United spelled out with the same typeface that Continental used in the past, with some tweaks. A safe and happy medium for the United businessmen but not for the rest of the us who see it as same old, same old. I think as designers we can all agree that United may have missed a great opportunity to reinvent themselves. Lastly, one thing I took most from this talk was Beirut's story of when he worked for Massimo Vignelli and his tale of servicing the client. Beirut told the story that after presenting a logo to a client, the client returned back with comments like tweak this and move that. As soon as Vignelli came to see what Bierut had revised, Vingnelli told him that the logo was now terrible. In Beirut's defense he explained that he did what the client had told him to do. Vignelli replied with his years of experience that in the end no one knows what you originally presented, no one knows how much the client paid and no one knows what was changed. The world only sees the final product and that this final piece was terrible. He explained that Beirut had let the client erase everything he had done. So, I'm not sure what the moral of the story is because I think we all know that clients will always want to change things. I think what Vingelli and Bierut mean with this story is to listen to your client in terms of direction and concept to fill the clients needs and when it comes to tweaks make sure the adjustments are something we all can agree upon and with good reason.

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