Aishwarya Ramesh

BMW changes logo after 23 years; sees mixed reactions

It was last changed in in 1997. BMW’s first logo was spotted on aircraft and automobiles in 1917. The logo has been changed regularly since then.

The truth about some brands is that they speak for themselves without having to say a word. Lamborghini’s raging bull, Ferrari’s prancing horse, and Audi’s four rings – these logos are recognised globally, even when there is no text to support the imagery. Companies spend years building loyalty and trust, and they select their logos to reflect these values. BMW’s new logo was recently unveiled and it caused ripples – people either loved it or hated it. BMW’s first logo was spotted on aircraft and automobiles in 1917. Since then, it has regularly been making minor changes to the logo. What shocked the world with the recent logo change was the decision to leave out the black elements of the design.

The evolution of BMW's logos over the years
The evolution of BMW's logos over the years
BMW Website

According to The Verge, there have been two major changes to the updated logo. “The first is largely positive: BMW is reverting back to a flatter design that ditches the very dated 3D effects and shading that were introduced in 1997 with a design that resembles the simpler logo the company has been using since 1963. The second change is the removal of the black outer ring in favour of a transparent background, which just looks plain bad.”

The Verge report points out that BMW is not the only company in recent years that has traded in a familiar logo for a more minimalist aesthetic. Other such companies include Google, Facebook, GoDaddy, and Volkswagen.

Facebook's old and new logo
Facebook's old and new logo
Facebook website
Google's logo change in 2015
Google's logo change in 2015
Google website

Reviews of the new logo and design change

Kunel Gaur, founder & creative director at Animal, prays that this is an early April Fool’s joke by the brand’s team. He highlights that as per the company, the new logo is only for communication on digital (and social media) and not for the product – the cars themselves. This is a bid to make the brand more ‘transparent’ to customers.

Kunel Gaur
Kunel Gaur

“I don't know if being transparent was a real brand challenge in their case, but still, I miss the black. That black ring is what gave it power and gravitas. The new logo feels incomplete and soft; which would work if they said they're diversifying into making other, more human-centred products. If you see the scrolling images underneath the logo on the UK website you would see how it only works when the image is dark or black. The cover image of their announcement post is also with the logo on black. The black just works,” Gaur opines.

He highlights how the colour white is used in the logo. The typeface and outline retain the distinct white colour that BMW’s logo has had in the past. “On the ring, the white is taken from the older version of the logo, which is possibly to compensate for the loss of contrast once Black is removed. There's also a non-transparent version with grey outlines, which looks like something that came straight out of the 'don't' section of the usage guidelines in their brand manual,” says Gaur.

Additionally, Gaur mentioned that he would prefer the solid logo to the minimalistic new logo any day. “The flat design approach could have worked well even while retaining the black. We're in the digital age - where all possible communication is dynamic (except print - which is not the reason for the change). Which means this could have been cleverly done by creating work that shape shifts between opaque and transparent versions of the logo embedded into the content itself. The logo need not be 'static' every time. Audi is a luxury car brand that does this very well. The impact of the colour black in the new logo is that it simply isn’t BMW anymore,” he explains.

He points out that BMW’s cars are powerful and look the part too – and that the older logo complements that. “It’s probably why they’re retaining it on their cars – it adds to the brand perception almost intuitively. In my opinion, the new logo and their cars are a mismatch,” he says.

Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder, director at Elephant, a design and strategy-led agency, says that as a user and a designer, she’s quite cool with the new BMW logo. “I know it’s growing on me as I write this and I like it already,” she declares.

Deshpande explains that the brand equity of BMW is spread across the product experience (driving pleasure), iconic front grilles, online & offline communication, showroom experience and touch-points like the emergency service on call.

Ashwini Deshpande
Ashwini Deshpande

“Going minimal on visual identity is one of the many smart decisions a leading global brand like BMW would initiate. It is as obvious and inevitable as any other sustainable step taken by the leader in any domain, be it development of EV or use of circular design principles,” she says.

She adds that in a world where 'digital first' exposure is a given for any brand, there is no other way than to go minimal, open and transparent. “It makes sense to be digitally optimised and pixel perfect. It also helps to be flexible and light rather than confined with a thick black ring," she says.

Additionally, Deshpande enumerates what she believes are three basic tenets of good visual identity.

1. Balance, which is achieved through the blue and white quadrants already.

2. Detailing, which can be seen in typography and spacing of letters, as well as the weight of rings.

3. Restraint - This is where the biggest decision of removing black ring, shadows & highlights happened, Deshpande says.

She opines that the time has come for brands to start reducing visual pollution that consumers face. To make her point, Deshpande quoted French author Saint Exupery from over a 100 years ago - “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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