Here’s How BMW Screwed Up Its Logo Redesign

Here’s How BMW Screwed Up Its Logo Redesign

As you may have heard, BMW updated its logo for the first time in over two decades, and, since it’s a thing that happened in the world, some people are not happy about it. I can see both sides here; BMW’s logo was due for an update. And while I like some of what’s been done, there’s validity to the criticisms too.

As you know, my job is to solve humanity’s problems, usually via writing crap about cars, but, if called on to take a crack at a logo, I’m ready. So, relax, humanity, I’ve got this. BMW, pay attention.

First, let’s go over what the logo’s changes were. Here’s a graphic from BMW showing the logo’s evolution:

BMW’s logo has been fundamentally consistent for over a century; we’re not talking a major redesign here, just periodic updates. The most recent version, from 1997, took the standard 1963-introduced logo and gave it a sort of faux-dimensional/3D representation that was popular at the time, but now looks quite dated.

Oh and it’s not actually a propeller, by the way.

I’m a fan of the current trend towards more flat logo designs. The simplest possible logo will always be better, so it can be recognisably reproduced in as many different media as possible. A good logo works if it’s spray-painted with a stencil on a rough wooden palette or professionally full-colour printed on glossy cardstock—a dimensional logo with gradient shading and fine detail doesn’t pass that test.

So, in that sense, I’m very pleased with the update. What’s bothering people is how BMW has eliminated the black from the outer ring with the BMW letters and made it transparent.

While the car company’s taking pains to say this transparent logo won’t be for car badging, just for “brand communication,” it’s been shown used on a car at least once:

While I don’t think it necessarily looks bad, legibility does suffer, and it all feels a bit busier than it needs to be. Even if BMW is walking back its use on actual, physical badges, I’m still not convinced it’s the solution the company needs. Having one logo for “brand communication” and another for badges feels like somebody just didn’t get the basic logo right.

Sure, BMW has some PR-talk to justify the change:

“BMW is becoming a relationship brand. The old black ring was replaced, letting the new logo radiate more openness and clarity. We want to use this new transparent version to invite our customers, more than ever, to become part of the world of BMW.”

Once you read “relationship brand” you know you can ignore the rest.

OK, so back to designing. I think the flatness works, but the transparent, bordered ring and lettering doesn’t, especially without the unifying black ring. Luckily, the solution is simple and obvious: Lose the letters.

It’s been over a century. Everyone sees the blue-and-white roundel and already thinks “BMW.” The symbol no longer needs the crutch of the letters, and, without them, the roundel is distilled down to its essence, and it works.

I have that version with the black border, but I’m not even sure that’s necessary if BMW wants to get away from that:

It’s pretty powerful without the border, though on a white or blue background, you would lose the overall shape. I think as a badge on a car, though, the dimensionality of a physical badge would still allow it to work even on white or blue cars:

I wouldn’t use that for online or print use, of course, I’m just trying to show how a physical borderless badge could look. I’m torn if I prefer the borderless one or the black border one, though.

That’s it! That’s all BMW has to do to make this really work: give up the three letters. The company has grown enough and is iconic enough that there’s no need for the B, M, and W on every badge. Set the roundel free.

BMW, you know how to contact me: just set a stack of tires on fire, and I’ll be there.