AirSerbia: What Does it Take to Brand a New Airline?

Serbia’s only airline carrier, Jat Airways, underwent a major rebrand, including name-changing and a new branding strategy. JAT will now be known as AirSerbia, after a strategic partnership agreement between Etihad Airways and Jat Airways, in which Etihad now owns 49% of the company as well as management rights over the carrier for an initial five year period.

A part of the new identity was revealed in the beginning of August, designed by Tamara Maksimovic. The design caused a lot of buzz in the country, so we wanted to talk to Tamara and see just what it took to design the new brand as well as what will the new brand mean for the country.

AirSerbia’s new identity. Image: flyflyacademy

How did you get the opportunity to brand AirSerbia?

That’s a very interesting story and a turn of events that amazingly coincided, so much that it sounded “too good to be true”. It sounded like that to me as well, until I actually stepped into the Etihad’s visual communications office and actually started working on the project.

The story begins back in 2011 when I started my final design project at Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. The project was to rebrand any company we choose. I thought a lot about what I would choose and after a week I decided to rebrand an airline. Knowing that I have absolute freedom in choosing, I chose Jat Airways, primarily because it’s a Serbian airline but also because I thought it really needed a redesign, a refresh. After that, more than a year passed until I featured the project on my Behance profile.

In the beginning of July this year, I received an email from Mr. Dane Kondic, now the director of AirSerbia. He wanted to offer me the opportunity to brand AirSerbia, because their wish in Etihad was to find a young designer from Serbia that will join the team in Abu Dhabi and work on the project. In other words, they were looking for designers and portfolios on the internet and stumbled upon my JAT rebrand project – which they really liked – therefore offering me the task of branding the new airline. A week passed after our first meeting and I traveled to Abu Dhabi and started working on the project. That’s how it all started.

The look of former Serbian airline, Jat Airways. Image: flyflytravel

How did the design process look?

As for the design process, I traveled to Abu Dhabi thinking that I will join a team and that we will all work together. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that they wanted me to develop and design the brand because they wanted it to be my project. A few people from their visual communications department helped me and were with me through the process, helping me with technicalities and teaching me about the process. Therefore, the ideas were mine, but together we decided on the design solutions, presentations, and everything that was done up until now. The person who was mostly beside me and helped me most was Sawsan Sultan. Sawsan is a very talented designer, working for Etihad for years now, designing much of their material, planes and uniforms. I am so glad that I got to meet her because she was an excellent collaborator, but also a friend.

SEE ALSO: American Airlines First Major Rebranding in 40 Years

An airline is a representative of the country it comes from. How did you want to represent the country of Serbia through the new identity? What are the main characteristics of Serbia shown in it?

Having in mind that AirSerbia is a completely new airline, the idea was to make something that will become a trademark of Serbia in the future and show Serbia in a new light. Dane Kondic had the idea to represent the two headed eagle (our national symbol)  in a new, modern way. The identity is based on the history of Serbia in the middle ages, firstly the Nemanjic dynasty and Tzar Dusan, when Serbia was one of the most powerful and most developed forces in Europe. This was a time when the country was developing very fast in every way – politically, socially, economically and religiously. With all of this, an amazing flourish of arts happened at the time – there was a lot of art from this period that, to this day, stands as a big treasure and pride of Serbian art history.

The idea was to create a design that will represent Serbia as a modern country which relies on its national symbols and rich history.

Looking at it chronologically, I realized that this was the period when our country was at its peak and that AirSerbia should somehow be based on this period, reflecting the kingdom and prestige that we once had. The experience I gained at Etihad and the UAE helped in developing the ideology of the AirSerbia brand, especially when I realized how much they (the UAE) are developing their culture and history, transferring it to modern design and architecture, leading me to believe that Serbia needs just the same. We need to finally make a visual identity for our country that will be recognizable everywhere in the world. I realized that the ideas I came up with should be used to the maximum and that we should start building an identity for our country like a lot of countries already have.

How complex was it to represent a whole country through an identity?

I have to admit that it wasn’t at all easy. I had 3 main tasks that had to be merged into one perfect result: First to create the two-headed eagle that will represent the story and history behind Serbia, then to present it in a modern symbol that will today, as well as in the future, represent a version of a modern crest; and in the end to make all of that look good when featured on the airplanes, as well as when used for the company.

For days I made sketches and different variations and I wasn’t really pleased with the solutions. After a few days I sat at my desk and started examining various details from Serbian culture which I then printed out and started to sketch. On one of those printed out papers I saw one of the details from the famous Dusanov Zakonik (Dusan’s Code, an early Serbian constitution from 1349). Some of the details, when rotated or moved, resembled the wings and tail of an eagle. I used that detail, sketched some more, added the eagle’s heads…and when I looked at it, i thought – that’s it!

What was the main inspiration for the new logo?

As I said before, the inspiration was drawn from Serbian art in the Middle Ages, later resembled into a modern two-headed eagle.

I was mostly inspired by very interesting graphical elements and details from the art of Dusanov Zakonik and Miroslavljevo Jevandjelje. One of the details was used for stylizing the new logo, and a lot others were used in creating patterns and backgrounds that will later be used for the brand, mostly in airplane interiors. Economy and business class are, for example, divided and separately branded, both of them in their own style, together making a combination of two types of elements from Serbian art history and a modern interior with an exceptional visual effect. All of this will soon be seen in the airplanes, where passengers will be able to enjoy them while traveling with AirSerbia.

AirSerbia’s new logo. Image:

I was very pleased that there was not a lot of obstacles that were in the way. When I made the final version of the logo, everyone in Etihad agreed that it looked great, so the design pleased everyone’s tastes and we all thought “this is it!”, the same as I did the first time I developed the mark. The only thing that maybe made the project a bit harder was the very short deadline. The good thing was that we all had the same idea so everything went on smoothly, almost perfectly.

What are the advantages of the new identity?

Knowing how much buzz the revealing of the identity made in Serbia, I think that that’s one of the first advantages. It doesn’t matter if someone really liked it or not, all of Serbia still talks about it and the design left a very strong impression on the people. As I said on a forum, the fact that it made such a buzz shows that the design succeed; it was noticed and it made a big reaction, and it doesn’t matter if it was positive or negative. The final product certainly drew attention to itself.

There will always be both positive and negative aspects of creating a new brand, but the most important thing is to generate a buzz.

The other, maybe most important advantage is that we started a new identity process, not only for an airplane company, but for the whole country. Because of its concept, the identity now offers a lot of different possibilities on how to represent our country and our culture throughout the world and to gradually make something recognizable and unique, something that dates far back into the past and something that we can all be proud of.

What was the mostly important aspect you wanted to feature in the new identity?

The most important thing for me was to create something that will be able to give endless possibilities in visual branding, a lot of details and options that will in the end create a strong brand that will be recognized, proudly reflecting our past; a past in which we were a very developed and powerful country. One of the most important goals was to show that Serbia can be “born” again through the new identity and start to progress again in every way as it did before. We wanted to revive Serbia through modern art with roots in Serbian art history.

What does the new identity now tell us about Serbia as a country? How is Serbia reflected in the new identity?

Serbia needs to be proud of its history, especially the Middle Age, the period before the wars and bad times, and only that way it can look into the future. Serbia should try and proudly familiarize the world with itself and its rich culture through the new identity. The new identity should reflect Serbia as a contemporary, modern, strong country, with a unique and rich history.

Do you think that the new identity to fulfill its obligation as a representative of Serbia?

I honestly believe that it will show our country in a new light – I will of course try my best to make that happen the best I can, but the first thing’s first, and that is an exceptional service and comfortable traveling. For example, from my own experience from the past month traveling with Etihad Airways, I must say that I think our people will be more than pleased with the service and comfort that AirSerbia will offer, the same that Etihad offers for years now.

How would you describe the new identity?

I would describe the identity as something completely new and totally unexpected, because it was developed in a unique way, a way that hasn’t been used much in airline design. The composition and layout will differ from other airplanes on airports. I think this will highlight and draw attention to AirSerbia when it begins to show up on airport docks as a new company.

Having a unique layout which draws attention is what matters the most.

Do you think that AirSerbia, through its new identity, has the potential to become a strong brand? Why?

Of course I do, that was the goal when i started working on the project; it’s the goal of every project I work on, to be innovative and unique and make a strong and recognizable brand. I answered why in the answer above, and I hope it will be that way.

People have seen the new identity throughout Serbia and the UAE, and I cant wait to see what will the reaction be when it starts flying throughout the world. For now, people have been able to see just a tiny bit, the essence of the new brand, and I think the experience will be different when AirSerbia starts working. The design is translated on tapestry, curtains, seats, pillows and every detail seen will be designed in the spirit of the new brand. I think all of this combined will contribute for AirSerbia and give it the opportunity to be at the top when it comes to airline visual identity.

What are your thoughts about the new brand? Is looking into the past to go forward an adequate strategy, is there potential for AirSerbia to become a strong brand and does the identity represent the country as it should? Tell us your thoughts.

  • Ljubljana

    In my opinion the design is just fine, but the whole idea of a brand “Air Serbia” is a total failure. We don´t have to put here out some abstract philosophy, but branding should be made on a solid advertising and sociological base and not on some cheap (and really problematic) insights into the “art history”. Just to put it in short:

    – We are not talking about the Scandinavia or United States and Canada. We have to deal here with a Balkan and Southeast-Europe market which is highly nationally sensitive. A direct national brand such as “Air Serbia” may only narrow the company´s actions and market and provoke some rivalizing investments in the neighboring countries. There are plenty of Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians, Montenegrins, even Hungarians and Bulgarians who will never fly an airliner called “Air Serbia” except if there is a huge difference between the ticket prices in favor of Air Serbia. But even then, the company called “Air Serbia” may just dream to open the bases in the neighboring country with that kind of archaic-national branding. Regarding the fact that Serbia has only 1 (2) airports and the whole region more than 30, it is an obvious failing to adjust to the local business possibilities.

    – The name JAT is recognizable in the aviation industry, and could easily gain the old respect with a good service introduced by Etihad. It could be also easily deconstructed as Juznoevropski aerotransort (South European) or Jugoistocnoevropski aetoransport (Southeast European), and apparently become the leader of the whole region.

    – Finally, the name JAT is a big deal, since it was identical with the company´s international abbreviation (very rare case and privilege) and it is written in the same manner in Cyrillic and Latin script of the region, the first one being in use in
    Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

    Once again, very fair design, but horrible rebranding strategy which will bring a lot of trouble to the company in extremely nationalistic environment of Southeastern Europe.

  • Petric

    I don´t see any win to base an airliner´s brand on Middle ages, when the whole civilization
    was suffering under wars, hungers, fear, plague! The story about Nemanici and some glorious Serbian peaceful time even doesn´t fit the reality. Nemanici multiplied their territory something like 20 times not because people were
    willing to give them land and mountains, but because they have conducted very sever wars. They also richly supplied the Western Crusades armies with food, bed and transit on their way to fight Muslim Arabs in the Middle East, so it seems to me to be a kind of a disgusting manner to choose Nemanici history for a new Serbian-Arabian brand.

    I remember, back in the 1980s there were different posters and airlines manuals including the trademarks/logos of all major airlines in the world. It was a commonly shared opinion that JAT´s oval logo from the 80s was the absolute Nr. 1
    eye-catcher on the whole list. A fact surely owned to an ingenious proportion of the logo space and letters that made JAT´s trade mark always look double as large as the others. Now, that JAT logo, always recognizable at the airports,
    very catchy and easy to remember, was something that was ”envied” by far more serious aviation industry players around the world than JAT ever used to be. And that is what a successful branding is about, not some “buzzing” on
    professional or newspaper forums.

    Excuse me if I´m being naïve, but what´s the catch with the rebranding an airlines on the bases of mediaeval gospel
    manuscripts and legislation? Let´s put the things straight: if one opens or rebrands a pastry shop or a shipping company or a hospital, there is always that option to put some “history” into the brand and design or, in opposite, just to make some contemporary/future story out of it. To use history it makes sense – if you study old pastry recipes and
    backing equipment (pastry shop), if you study old boats and ships, old maritime maps and routs, portraits of famous captains or historical harbours (shipping company), or if you study antic medical philosophy, mediaeval pharmacy, anatomy books from the 15th or 16th century (hospital). But if you rebrand a pastry shop, a shipping company, a hospital or an airliner on the ground of mediaeval gospels and legislation books than it is what people in arts commonly refer to as the “pure Kitsch”! On the one side there was a decision made just to go over the 90 years of JAT´s history as it is a totally obsolete trash for the rebranding. And there is a new brand explained and argued with company´s and designer´s deeply feeling for the history!