- Edmond Huot is a 63-year-old aircraft livery designer who was obsessed with airplanes as a child.
- He now works on projects with budgets up to $1 million at his company Forward Media.
- This is what her work looks like, as writer Kaila Yu said.
This essay is based on a conversation with Edmond Huot, a 63-year-old aircraft livery designer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, about his work. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve always been obsessed with airplanes. Growing up on a rural farm, we didn’t even have cable TV, so I used my imagination to entertain myself. I spent hours drawing planes and building models, but I never thought I would do it for a living.
I studied English and History at the University of Manitoba, and one of my first jobs out of college was handling reservations for Air Canada in 1989. I worked there for nine years and was able to travel the world on employee passes, which opened me up to the world of travel.
In 1992, my friend Peter Clarke, an account manager and entrepreneur, had the idea of starting a graphic design business together called ClarkHuot. I had no formal training, but I had a talent for drawing and an innate artistic ability.
I trained and learned to program independently
I briefly studied architecture in college and learned about depth of field, scale, and graphic design, which helped prepare me for a future in graphic design. My technical skills as a graphic designer have been mostly self-taught by tinkering with Mac-based creative design platforms like QuarkXPress and the Adobe suite. Also, drawing airplanes as a kid helped me develop a talent for illustration, which came in handy when sketching out concepts and models for clients.
I left Air Canada once my brand design agency allowed me to support myself financially.
In 2019 we started Transfer media to move our positioning from a Canadian graphic design agency to a digital media company for Canada and the United States, as our airline clients also needed public relations and digital media services as well as branding and design services we offered at ClarkHuot. I am now the creative director and co-owner of the company.
I am directly in charge of our aircraft livery design projects
Airline livery design is a creative process that uses branding elements, specific paint schemes, and decal design that are then produced and then applied to an aircraft. There’s something quite unusual about painting a canvas 155 feet long. It’s comprehensive, but clients want someone who will drill down and flesh out every possible direction and concept to come up with the one we show the client.
Most of my clients are referrals, and we had to start by networking and finding our own business. One of our first projects was a former client who found a new job with an airline.
Additionally, my partners and I will attend after-work cocktails and dinners with stakeholders including potential customers, key suppliers, potential new hires, connected friends, and influential colleagues. We will also attend conferences and trade shows such as the InteliSys Aviation Airlines Growth Summit, Independent Accommodation Conference (ILC)and the The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival to network and meet potential clients.
Airline livery projects vary a bit in cost
We started small, working on projects with budgets from $25,000 to $100,000, and now we work in the $500,000 to $1 million range. These projects not only include livery design, but also encompass brand consulting, campaign initiatives, and more. In addition to Clarke and I, our team includes a PR person and a UX designer. I will also bring in specialists such as developers, renderers, designers and media buyers on a case-by-case basis.
Deadlines can be extremely short. Our first livery project was for Island Air – a small Honolulu-based inter-island carrier – in 2012, and I got the call on a Friday. The client told me they would need initial concepts and design guidelines by Wednesday, and that I could only complete the project if I worked quickly and efficiently.
My last project was intense but rewarding
My design continues on the exterior and interior of the aircraft for a new airline slated to launch in fall 2022 called Northern Pacific Airways. The project was born because the CEO, Rob McKinney, was a former client. He called us and told us that he had a top secret project: brand development for a new airline.
We worked on everything related to branding, from the production of the airline name and logo to the accompanying ancillary design, including the livery. One of the airline’s selling points is that it offers low-cost flights to Asia that stop in Alaska, so Northern Pacific Airways made sense. The airline wanted to highlight Asian culture and local indigenous communities in Alaska. So we had to dig deeper into cultural sensitivity and analyze customer segments before we started working on the creative aspect.
The development process for the aircraft model was intense. A typical day would include research and then we would turn those concepts into graphic elements. Later in the day, we were whittling down hundreds of different ideas to a handful that were really profitable. I could say to the team “Explore the concept of mountains”, and they will come back with hundreds of visuals of mountains, or “Explore the concept of flight with graphics and patterns”. My inspiration for design is usually not driven by my understanding of airlines, but rather by my interest in learning broader, more abstract themes and notions.
We bring all ideas into the studio and review them together in what we call a critique – pinning everything on a wall and talking. It’s super fun, and we edit hundreds of different directions and ideas down to a handful that we think will really pay off.
After that, we present a mood board to the client. My job is to put what might look like an abstract collage of colors, images and fonts into context and explain how everything on the board can tell the story of the brand. We executed the research, design and branding of this project in approximately two and a half months.
One of the challenging aspects of my job is the rigorous travel schedule
For Island Air’s design, I had to hop on a 13-hour bi-weekly flight from New York to Hawaii with designers, photographers, and videographers in tow. Working in Hawaii sounds glamorous, but I rarely left the office in reality.
Time zones can also be a stressor. Often when our working day is over, a client’s day in another country is just beginning. But everything is worth it. I am lucky to have the opportunity to work on livery designs because these projects, often based on references, are rare. Basically, I am an artist. Now I can live my dreams of designing real planes for real people.
To break into the industry, research and apply to creative consulting or design agencies that have done livery designs, which are usually part of overall branding assignments. The more knowledge you have of aircraft, even for recreational purposes, the better your designs will be, as understanding the scale and physical dimensions of the aircraft makes a difference in the final execution.
Want to share your career story? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected]