“Think about the Instagram-ability” – BMW’s new logo has caused quite the stir


Picture this, I’m social-distancing, working from home, fully clothed of course, scrolling through my feed, packed full of the latest design and technology news. Still with me? Some trendy illustrations I bookmark for another time, another colour palette generator I open in a new tab, then I see the BMW logo. Well, a weirdly modern and flat version of it anyway. I suddenly feel off, it gives me the sweats. I tentatively make the click of no return and check out the new BMW logo.

Let’s makes things clear, I’m not what you’d call a car person (ask Richard), a few series of Top Gear in my locker and the know-how to top up my screen-wash and call the garage. I have nothing against BMW, what they stand for, or their cars (in fact I quite like the i8 Coupe), but I draw the line at the logo. While to the average-Joe the new logo doesn’t look drastically different, it’s an insult to the design community and BMW have faced quite the backlash (check out some BMW Facebook posts, people absolutely hate it). So what’s the point of this blog? It’s a very good question. Simply I’m going to be assessing the new logo, letting you know what I think is wrong with it and the way it was released and explaining why logo changes don’t always work.

Thankfully I don’t need to source every BMW logo there has ever been. Following the release of their new logo, BMW provided that along with a history of the changes. It’s an interesting read. As you can see, the changes aren’t exactly signifiant at each stage of the development. Ideally, this is how it should be, while it is absolutely fine to update your logo, complete brand refreshes don’t always do the trick and aren’t always recommended. In this scenario, I salute BMW, they recognise how well established their brand is and have retained the circular quadratic structure. While often mistaken as a propeller, the blue and white squares of the Bavarian Motor Works logo reflects the colours of Bavaria (check out the FC Bayern logo also). It’s a neat tie-in and no matter how global BMW have become, they remember their roots.

Anyway, from 1953 to 2020 the changes to the BMW logo have only been slight with the 1997 being the version you’ll associate with being the badge on their cars. This version is bang on for car manufacturers, it’s suited to the industry. The slight shiny metallic edge feels at home on a car, just look at any competitor.

The new BMW logo doesn’t sit right with these. It’s good that it is different but it feels too different, almost not on-brand and I’d be confident saying not right for the industry.

When BMW first released their new logo, they displayed it all on manner of materials with different versions for different instances. Not uncommon, in fact that’s exactly what we do here at WDL. Transparent versions, coloured versions, mockups on stationery and other materials. It gives you a good idea of how it should and will be used.

Aesthetically, I approve of the new standard (transparent logo), I just don’t think it’s very BMW. It works really nice on black. It’s modern and clean, but put it over a grey like they have done, it starts to look messy and the lack of contrast optically affects spacing. It doesn’t look like a strong piece of branding. But on black, it’s almost the 1963 version and simply just works.

The problem lies with its uses. Say the logo is on white, you’ll need a non-transparent, darker or outlined version. Take a look below.

It just puts me on edge. The 1963 and even 1997 versions worked because they had a black fill, and areas were clearly defined. But stick a white logo on a white background, you’ll need to invert or provide some outlines. You can’t invert the colours of Bavaria, if it’s black and blue you lose the identity. Logically, you add an outline. In any piece of design software you can add a stroke (outline) to the inside, centre or outside of a shape’s edge. The latter should’ve been used here. An outline around the blue and white quadrants (a full circle) would make more sense, both in theory and visually. What they have done makes it uneven. I look at that and think they’ve forgotten to bring that outline forward in the layers panel. It’s adding unwanted attention to it and doesn’t follow best practice.

Now let’s look at the new logo in-situ, on a car. The white text and outer border is now metallic (make up your mind, BMW, are we going flat colours or not?!) Then there is the Bavarian flag centre-piece. Many have said it looks like a poker chip, and I’d be inclined to agree. Maybe they’re adding a casino to BMW Welt in Munich (absolute class by the way), but on a car? Modern and flat, sure, they’ve got that right. It just doesn’t look like a car manufacturers badge. Bucking the trend isn’t always a bad thing, but changing your logo in the hope of starting a new trend is risky business.

Following the release of their new logo and the resulting ‘BMW fan-boy backlash’ (it was like watching moody fans get angry with Rian Johnson for Star Wars not going in the direction they wanted, just accept, enjoy, continue), they released an update on the direction their branding is going. Apparently it had been misinterpreted by everyone… not great branding or PR in that case. Apparently the new logo is just for brand communication and they were quick to update any of their documentation that said otherwise ( a ‘+’ between 1997 and 2020, rather than a line of progression). Marc Mielau, BMW’s vice president of brand and marketing believes they’ve helped to future-proof the brand, which is hard to disagree with, it is modern and simple, the transparent version should stand the test of time for a while. He also encouraged us to “Think about the Instagram-ability of it” in an interview with Design Week last month. It might sound like marketing waffle, but it does make sense, I can see the logo working well on trendy social channels. Anything for the ‘gram’, hey?

But is that enough? Is it really worth having a logo just for brand communication and awareness and then one for everything else. Where do you draw the line? They’ve obviously thought about putting the new logo on cars, hence the image they provided with the release. I’m of the opinion that this brand addition hasn’t been thoroughly considered.

The likes of Audi and VW both have started using new flat logos that fit the times. Why am I not ranting about those? They feel deliberate and the brands are moving in a clear direction. They’ve kept the metallic logos on their cars as their badge or manufacturers stamp if you will. The new logos are exactly that, they’re the brand logos, used everywhere other than on the car. The badge and everything that the badge represents is retained on the product. Basically, BMW just need to be clearer with their branding, set out guidelines and make it clear to customers what they’re doing. The mismatch of communication is unclear and confusing, I’m all for modernised logos, if done and released right.

One thing this unclear brand addition has definitely done though is give BMW publicity in the design community and got people talking about it, although not necessarily for all the right reasons. The new logo isn’t going to stop a customer from buying a new BMW (although the saying ‘you’re buying the badge’ or a ‘badge-snob’ might disagree), a BMW is still a BMW no matter the style of the badge slapped on the front.   


Imagery courtesy of BMW