Inspiration: Aircraft Identification Cards


Physical deck of cards, or a pamphlet, which aid in identifying aircraft (usually enemy aircraft), for use by both civilian and military users. Often uses a mnemonic to make recall easier, for example: the US military uses “WEFT” as a mnemonic for the major features of an aircraft: Wings or rotors to provide lift, Engines to provide power, a Fuselage to carry the payload and pilot, and a Tail.


I’ve had some form of these identification cards saved on my hard drive for, well it feels like forever. There is something beautiful about abstracting something so complex into a simpler version in order to identify it. 

Normally I give a large side eye ? to those who appropriate martial iconography and forms. It both feels like cosplay, and an easy way to slide into some form of design Godwin’s law. That being said, to me these are formally beautiful and a snapshot in time where clear identification of fried or foe meant the difference between Hitler on your doorstep, or overcoming fascists. 

Also note: there are versions which are actual playing cards. I’m not sure the provenance of these cards. My guess is that they were remanufactured, but I’m not sure. What they certainly are not are the gauche target cards from the ill-fate Iraq war. 

Inspiration Points

  • Not relying on the coloration of the specimen, but rather the shape, characteristics, and what the specimen does.
  • Simple line drawings, in black and white, eventuates the specimen shape, parts, and characteristics over color.
  • Black and white photography equalizes individual style, or even age of photo, in order to focus on the specimen. It also allows me to use historical photographs without them looking dated or out of place.
  • Just look at that typography! It is certainly not Futura (close, but should be). I would love to consider Futura as the main typeface: isn’t as overused as Helvetica or Gotham (both faces are quite nice). Futura is a nice sans serif with a point of view. Wes Anderson surely understands what I call Nostalgia Adjacent by his ubiquitous use of color palettes, locations, and typefaces to evoke nostalgia, and how this is a great artistic tool. Certainly the nostalgia that the typeface brings (at least to me) can help set an “always been there” feeling I want for the Field Guide.
  • Use both sides: while initially I was considering a form factor analogous to a card deck with consistent back and unique face, this set of cards really opened by eyes for me to ask myself why I couldn’t use both sides for informational purposes.

Further reading

More Inspiration

Rooftop Catalogue by MVRDV

MVRDV releases new book outlining possible typological interventions on the rooftops of Rotterdam: a solution for the scarcity of space in the city

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