Which Story Do You Believe About BMW's Logo "The Roundel"?
What is a Roundel?
A roundel, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is defined simply as "a circular architectural or decorative element, such as a painted panel or a stained glass window."
To fans of BMW, a roundel is more than just a decorative disk. It is the definition of the brand. Though it may be found in a variety of renditions, it has remained true through BMW's 99 year history.
What is the origin of the BMW Roundel?
If you ask someone as to the origin of the BMW Roundel, or hood ornament, design you may hear two different stories. One story pays homage to the brand's manufacturing origins. The other story is that the logo is simply based on the flag of Bavaria since BMW is Bavarian Motor Works.
When people say that BMW's roots are in aircraft engine manufacturing and that is why the logo looks like a white propeller against a blue sky, they are only partly right. BMW originated from Rapp Motors a German aircraft engine manufacturer on July 21st, 1917. It was important to BMW that its origin from Rapp be apparent in its logo which is the basis for the black ring with B M W written similarly to R A P P.
So that explains the black ring and lettering, now what about the blue and white center? That's what is in question. After emphasizing its evolution from Rapp, it was just as important for BMW to highlight it's Bavarian heritage since it is headquartered in Munich located in the Bavarian region of Germany. But why blue and white?
Interestingly, there are two official flags of Bavaria both with only the colors blue and white. Depicted below is the first official Bavarian flag that is typically used by the state for primary use.
And below is the second official Bavarian flag that is for more colloquial use. And upon further research it is noted the importance that only 21 "lozenges", or diamonds, on this flag be displayed and in particular the top right corner white lozenge be partially exposed. The flag orientation is very specific.
Since restrictions limit the application of the Bavarian flag, either one, it appears that BMW chose to allude to the blue and white represented in both. One might interpret that the center of the roundel has the 1st official flag as a mirror image to itself. Another may interpret four lozenges arranged at right angles to one another inside the roundel. Most if not everyone who now sees the Bavarian official flags and the roundel together can see its origin very clearly.
There is yet another link to the sky, though quite unofficial. The Bavarian anthem includes the line, 'die Farben Seines Himmels, Weiß und Blau' or 'the colors of His sky/heaven, white and blue'. Now this may be a stretch and may be hard to prove, but this quote does tie everything together back to BMW's origins in the sky.
One Of The Most Recognized Brand Images
Regardless of where the BMW Roundel origins are based, it is one of the most recognized brand images in history for one of the most admired brands in the world. The consistent use of the roundel spans just shy of a century.
A sign of a great logo is one that is easily remembered or one that is a clear indication of what it represents to the brand. For BMW, the roundel is quite successful at both goals in a simple and timeless design. Once someone learns of its true origins and references the Bavarian flags, it is easy to remember and ties the brand to its Bavarian heritage instantly. Furthermore, the logo as simple as it is has a special symbolism that makes for a great discussion which is ultimately what every logo design strives to achieve.
I happen to like both stories, on the one hand orienting the viewer to its German locale while on the other hand having a symbolic interpretation to its manufacturing history.
But don't take our word from it, you can hear it explained by a BMW Historian in the video below.
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Thanks for reading,
Jared & Jim