Reawakening the original Middle Eastern airline


Our work for Gulf Air was awarded a Design Air Award for Most Improved Brand.

In the early 1950’s, Gulf Air premiered as the first commercial airline in the Middle East. The legacy carrier revolutionised travel in the Gulf region and quickly became synonymous with Bahrain.

An innovative trendsetter, Gulf Air spearheaded Bahrain’s transformation into a hub for travel and set the bar high for luxury and glamour, establishing itself firmly as the first-choice airline in the Middle East and beyond.

Our job was to guide Gulf Air into rediscovering its magic, to adapt the brand to its modern reality, and to raise the quality of its customer experience.

Reawakening the falcon

Gulf Air’s iconic falcon has accompanied the airline from its very beginnings and is rooted in the Middle East’s psyche. A symbol of courage, perseverance and freedom, the falcon embodies the pristine and innovative service with the emotion and raw beauty that make Gulf Air more than just an airline.

We embarked on an exploration of the anatomy and movements of falcons in their natural environment. By studying the grace and elegance of the falcon in its natural environment, we were able to truly capture the essence of this iconic bird. We then commissioned experienced illustrator Martijn Rijven, whose considered craft and understanding of natural form helped to bring this vision to life. The logo’s features run through the entire identity.

Smart with heart

As the flag carrier of Bahrain, Gulf Air is a source of national pride and an ambassador to the Kingdom. We captured the warmth and friendliness of its people and trailblazing attitude through the brand idea “smart with heart”, which guides every touchpoint of the Gulf Air experience.

The delicate balance of warmth and modernity is seen in the fleet’s new livery, which celebrates the airline’s impressive heritage.

We have put more focus on the falcon and created a timeless look that, on closer inspection, reveals intricate feather details, creating shading and nuance. The new livery also provides a more cost-effective solution for maintenance and upkeep, all while keeping the high impact of its predecessor. The small touches of gold have helped reclaim the colour’s rare and precious quality.

Pre-flight magic

It was crucial that the customer’s Gulf Air experience began as soon as they set foot in the new lounge space. To achieve this, we used screens to divide the vast space into intimate areas designed for different uses, from a family space to a dedicated resting area.

The furniture and materials were inspired by Bahraini culture and modern style. Wood, leather and warm accents of copper and gold create an inviting space which creates a unique VIP experience within the airport. The result is a completely updated look and feel that is elegant, sophisticated and quintessentially Bahraini.

The Gulf Air Business Lounge created by Saffron in collaboration with architecture partner M+P Architects successfully launched in 2021 in the new Bahrain International Airport terminal.

Change felt inside and out

The fusion of heritage and the spirit of Bahrain today is also expressed in the design of the aircraft’s interior. Working in partnership with international design consultancy Tangerine, we transformed the customer experience inside Gulf Air’s aircraft, across the business and economy class cabins.

Every touch point in the cabin is carefully considered and detailed in order to express opulence in a highly sophisticated way. Raised privacy panels were added to the suites to divide the business class cabin on the B787, creating more private, intimate zones. These panels feature a 3D sculpted surface, inspired by the iterative geometric forms found in Bahraini architecture.

The suites are defined by a sweeping almond gold trim that draws the eye, and subtly echoes the falcon wing tip developed in the branding. As you get closer, the finer details catch your attention, with repeating visual elements tying everything together.

Small strategic modifications allowed us to make large improvements to the seat, without compromising the delivery schedule. The entrance way to the window seat was made more accessible by incorporating a flip-down foot rest, which also makes the bed space a better experience for the window side passenger. Stacking the armrest and central console, as well as modifying the shape of the back-shell significantly improved the arm rest space compared to competitor airlines using the same standard seating product.

The cabin interior colour and material palette is inspired by the fine materials and craftsmanship of Bahrain’s artisans and the traditional sport of falconry, as well as reflecting the modern elements of Bahrain, its sights and culture. Rich brown leathers, evocative of a falconry glove, a distinctive feather pattern and elegant gold accents reinterpret Bharani tradition in a contemporary fashion.

The result is a completely updated look and feel that is elegant, sophisticated and quintessentially Bahrain.

A new visual language

As with the rest of the identity, the design language is infused with the symbolism of the falcon.

At the heart of the new visual language is Gulf Air Sans, a distinct and ownable typeface which echoes the shape of the falcons claws, beak and wings. To add depth and texture, we also incorporated shading which evokes finer details of the feather. The typeface is designed for Arabic and Latin scripts and comes in three different weights, which was achieved using the experience of type foundry Letterjuice.

The iconography relates back to the curves and lines of the falcon logo. Each icon is itself a skilfully designed illustration, adding a layer of richness to the normally mundane act of wayfinding.

The illustration style is colourful and modern, with warm details that highlight Gulf Air’s welcoming nature while capturing the adventure and excitement of travelling.

There is a certain realism to the illustration and a simplicity to the photography that perfectly complement each other to champion Gulf Air’s various destinations and help put the sense of wonder and magic back into flight.

Towards new horizons

Our work has given Gulf Air the stylish, modern update it needed to communicate its bold ambitions to the world. The new identity is rooted in the airline’s impressive heritage, while also creating an aesthetic that is distinctively Bahraini. Through this combination of legacy and modernity, we have given Gulf Air the tools it needs to usher in a new era.