Subtle and spectacular: two words that describe the colors of the Arizona landscape. The daytime palette is dominated by blue skies and red earth, punctuated by the soft green of cacti and desert scrub and the mellow beige, gold, and brown of dry grass.

As evening approaches, the blues transition to lavender and purple; the reds shift to crimson and maroon. The once-saturated colors wash together to produce a gradient of extreme subtlety.

Somehow, Southwest Airlines has managed to capture that palette in their livery. The airline’s palette isn’t subtle or sophisticated, mind you. In fact, until I visited Arizona, I thought of Southwest’s as one of the uglier liveries on the nation’s runways.

But now I understand that it works. They’ve managed to evoke a palette that would be impossible to replicate on aluminum (and, indeed, is impossible to replicate photographically.)

Now, when I see their planes, I’m reminded of, and transported to the transcendent moments of extreme beauty we experienced driving and hiking through the Arizona landscape. Their brand uses color as a reference or reminder of something much more powerful than could ever be designed or distributed.

Southwest (their aircraft and their brand) becomes both the literal and metaphorical connection between customer and place.