BMW revs up minimalism in new logo, but was the change needed?


German automotive company BMW has introduced a new logo, that comes with a transparent and hollow interior. The old logo (pictured left) was three dimensional and included the three iconic colours black, white and blue with the brand name in silver. The new one (pictured right) is two dimensional, with a white font colour for its brand name, giving off a more minimalist look.

bmw old new logo

The new look has been adapted on its latest BMW Concept i4 model. The car comes in a copper shade, and evidently shows off the new logo against the bronze colour. However, there has been mixed reviews from netizens and fans of the luxury car brand. While several laud the new look for its minimalistic and futuristic approach, some netizens preferred the iconic logo which was launched in 1997. The iconic logo was introduced in 1997, as BMW was evolving into a “relationship” brand.

Jens Thiemer, senior vice president customer & brand BMW said that the logo then was aimed at radiating openness and clarity.

However, with the new transparent variant, he added that the brand looks to invite customers into the BMW world and become one with the brand. “With visual restraint and graphic, we are equipping ourselves flexibly for the wide variety of contact points in communication at which BMW will show its presence online and offline in the future."

The logo symbolises the significance and relevance of the brand for mobility and driving pleasure in the future, he explained.

Marketing spoke to industry players in the branding space on their thoughts around the modern look taken by BMW.

According to Jacqueline Thng, partner at Prophet, the latest BMW logo redesign is a case of “let’s modernise and update” for the sake of change. “As the saying goes, ‘don’t fix what’s not broken’,” she said, adding that any redesign of an iconic brand such as BMW, must first understand and research the visual equities of a brand built over decades.

Apart from the iconic quadrants and typeface, an important equity is the unmistakable colour combination of blue, white and black.

“A simple blind test with any consumers - car enthusiast or not, will tell you that they can, not only draw the logo, but point out the iconic blue, white and black colours. That’s the test of how distinctive and memorable the old logo is,” Thng explained. To Thng, the old logo signalled strength, confidence, precision and consistency of German engineering. But, the new design is “uncertain, weak and inconsistent”.

The bold original identity that shouts confidence of “choose me”, “show me off” is now replaced by “don’t look at me, I am quietly sitting in the background”.

While Thng understands the vision for the new logo to identify BMW as a “transparent” company, she explained that being transparent and clear can however, be activated via the company values and brand engagement approach instead.

Meanwhile, Simon Bell, managing director at FITCH called the change in logo a smart move. Agreeing that it was indeed an evolution of the iconic logo, he questioned the intention still. According to Bell, the change in logo could be from the result of functionality across the ever increasing channels that brands must communicate and compete on, consistently.

"Perhaps some of the style of the former identity has been lost in the process, but in an ever more complicated world, many brands are and have simplified themselves," he said. Nonetheless, he added that the logo subtly shows a glimmer of a contemporary future which will eventually appeal to many audiences. 

Nafe Tong, creative director at Adwright said the new logo looks “incomplete”, adding that the removal of the black circumference is a little drastic for the brand. For a prestigious brand such as BMW, Tong added that it should have tied a reason to its brand identity. “Is the brand heading towards a milestone to signify a new era? Is there a shift of brand positioning and company direction, such as expansion into more sectors or product range? With a more definite purpose, the brand refresh is easier to communicate and hence be accepted more readily,” he explained.

Adding on more context to the logo change, Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer at Bonsey Design said that the less favourable reaction is due to an inevitable resistance to change among many BMW fans.

According to Hitchmough, some technical flaws in the eyes of the global design community, a widespread misunderstanding of how and where the new logo will be applied and the lack of a more substantial new BMW visual identity system to place the new logo in context are other reasons he can name. Following Mercedes-Benz in 2008, Audi in 2017 and Volkswagen in 2019, BMW is the latest of the Big Four German car manufacturers to update its logo to a more modern, minimalistic aesthetic.

However, he explained that while there is a sound rationale in simplifying and decluttering brands, it should not have to mean a loss of brand character and distinction. “And it seems counter-intuitive that with all of the technical capabilities inherent within digital channels, so many brands default to reductive treatments that would be equally at home in the world of print media,” he added.

The move towards simplifying logos and taking a modern approach is one that is not uncommon. Last year, German automaker Volkswagen sport a new brand logo, that was reduced to a flat and two-dimensional design. Similar to BMW, Volkswagen swapped out its silver plated brand name for a white font instead. 

According to the automotive company, this allows for a more flexible use while also being recognisable in digital media. Reebok too was one of the brands that unveiled an "updated, subtle modern evolution" of the original logo. In addition, early last year, Mastercard dropped its name from its iconic brand logo of the interlocking red and yellow circles for a modern take on design. The company said then that reinvention in the digital age calls for modern simplicity, eventually leading to Mastercard following suit. 

Don't do it because you have to

As brands move towards taking a minimalist approach and simplifying logos, Prophet's Thng said it is important to be mindful of what needs to be retained in a logo before it is redesigned. "All brand logo designs – from its typeface to colours – have an art and science rationale. There’s an art of looking distinctive, unique and a science of understanding how the human mind works. We look at things that stand out, we retain in our memory a bolder, more unique impression because it exudes personality," she added, explaining:

The best logo design out there actually tells a story. Just ask Apple and Hermes.

Thng was of the view that the minimalist approach in design are usually led by a generation of digital graphic designers, many of which, are unlikely to have crafted a logo by hand. 

"Many of these minimalist brands now lack personality. Instead of exuding its brand confidence with its unique personality, brands want blend in, look 'clean and minimalist'. Often there’s no real rationale in the minimalist approach except to 'clean up' and keep it simple," she added. 

"A logo design should and must reflect the brand’s personality. Not all brands are the same, so why should it all look the same? Imagine an iconic brand such as Coca-cola throwing away its curves and looking minimalistic. It would simply say, 'don’t look at me, I am like everybody else'", Thng said.

Group creative director, Mohammad Fauzi, Sedgwick Richardson shared with Marketing that he is in disbelief that a premium or luxury automotive brand such as BMW has now joined the flat design movement. Fauzi, who prefers the iconic 1997 logo, added that brands have to remember that not everything minimalist equates to modern.