running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Audi Sans Charm

Sunday, 29 November 2009

We all know what Hollywood does when it gets its hands on a classic, and logos are no different. An organisation with a world-famous logo is always going to tread carefully when it comes to upgrading or reworking any part of its Corporate ID.

But with design trends so sensitive to what's happening in the global economy at the moment, many well-known logos have undergone makeovers this year. Two emerging trends seem to have been a return to minimalism, and a flirtation with chrome effects.

A good example of each comes from Hertz and Apple respectively -

Hertz have gambled on going upmarket by ditching their clumsy stroked italics, and have succeeded by playing it safe with a bit of minimal modernism. The new yellow box is clean, with a slick sans serif type treatment that retains the italic stance but looks classy and very European.

Hertz Logos

Apple Quicktime.
With Microsoft finally releasing a decent OS with Windows 7, Steve Jobs et al have realised that Apple need to keep on reminding people of how efficient, usable and pleasurable their products are. So the new Quicktime logo sees Apple ditching the blue livery and opting instead for chrome and purple, with a sleek, dark, energetic feel that captures the times really well.

Quicktime Logo

So when one of the world's best-known marques decided upon a logo change this year, it was no surprise that they chose to combine both aforementioned trends without shifting too far from their comfort zone. I'm talking about Audi, who announced a revamped logo to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The new marque features a chrome effect on the four rings, and a smaller and less fussy sans typeface.

The famous linked rings date back to 1935, when Audi merged with three other German automobile manufacturers - Horch, DKW and Wanderer. The badge itself was 'inspired' by the Olympic logo - the Berlin Games were held in Berlin in 1936. As recently as 1995 the International Olympic Committee were trying to sue Audi over the similarity.

The 'old' logo featured the rings plus Audi's name in Audi Sans (a modification of Univers Extended), which they started using in the late 1990's. Audi Sans features an angled flourish on the ascenders and a flattened shape that rounds out the letters. This gives the lowercase letters a flat, broad modern look, and is instantly unique and recognisable.

Audi Logo with Audi Sans Typeface.

For the new logo, the rings have a sharper, more definitive quality with a chromed, three dimensional look, which works great.

The typography has also had a makeover, and is now set using Audi Type, a new typeface designed by Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen of Dutch foundry 'Bold Monday'. Not only have the flourishes gone, but by dropping the pointsize, tweaking the kerning and left-aligning the word, the effect is one of controlled minimalism.

Audi Logo with Audi Type Typeface.

And that's exactly what I'm not that keen on. Audi Type just looks too much like Helvetica for me, which gives it a sort of neutral, matter-of-fact, bland feel - not qualities you'd associate with a car famous for its progressive technology, daring design, sleek looks, and that famous corporate tagline that embodies it all, 'Vorsprung durch Technik' (advantage in technology). Maybe I'm partial because I used to own (and love) an Audi 80, and I know that driving one is anything but bland.

Audi Type is very business-like and it does work well on their corporate literature and website, but for the logotype it lacks the charm of Audi Sans. The whitespace to the right of the lettering makes everything look unfinished, as if some other word should go there.

It may not damage Audi's brand image, but the new emphasis on order and reliability is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. And it's the end of a classic.