There are few brands more iconic than BMW - the blue and white marque with the simple grotesque lettering stands for quality, value, and German precision. For over three decades BMW has employed a visual identity that has barely changed. It is signified by a minimum use of colours, a light and bold font, and clean, practical imagery, reflecting the company's ethos.
Interbrand, BMW's brand guardian, approached us in 1999 with the view to designing a new suite of grotesque fonts to replace Helvetica, which had been the brand font since the 1970s. It was felt that Helvetica had become slightly antiquated and was no longer in line with the basic brand values of modernity, precision and quality. A new font design would help address these issues by clarifying the identity and making it less generic. Creating their own font also allowed BMW to resolve the logistic and licensing problems that they had been facing, particularly when it came to distributing the fonts within the organization and to suppliers. The investment clearly paid off for BMW as they have been able to expand the font family into different script systems and onto various devices without having to resort to lengthy contractual negotiations.
Anyone who has ever tried to draw a cube knows that it is a difficult thing to do well – the simplicity of form is deceptive, and there are no ornaments or flourishes to hide behind. This is also true when designing grotesque fonts; the simplicity of the letter shapes demands the highest drawing skills from the type designer. Our design team started the font project by submitting a range of design concepts to explore how far from the traditional model we could stray. Once the concept was approved we concentrated on the design details.
The font family consisted of Light, Regular, and Bold, plus a range of Condensed styles in the same weights. All fonts were fully-hinted for the best quality screen display. When BMW decided to apply the fonts to its in-car displays and satellite navigation systems, they again turned to us for assistance. As their in-car systems did not support hinting, our design team needed to adapt the design of the fonts to suit specific display sizes. We also had to modify the widths of the characters to be metrically compatible with the previous font that BMW used, to avoid layout changes in any of the satnav's standard screens. Working closely with BMW's engineering team we created a font suite that retained BMW's brand values, but also fulfilled all their functional requirements.