Designing for a transport future

Recent rebrands from VW, BMW, Nissan and Uber have at times proved controversial, but they reflect the flexibility required by a transport sector that’s in serious flux, says Wolff Olins’ Forest Young

We are continually rethinking the role of the car in the modern world. From a privately owned transport, to an on-demand vehicle, to the promise of a self-driving lounge, the notion of ‘car’ is evolving. Identity systems for automotive brands reflect these shifting ideas. They push brand teams to chase a specific fluidity — moving swiftly between online and offline worlds, the now and the future.

In today’s digital landscape, automotive branding embraces a more fundamental shift: the transition from a focus on a specific product to a focus on advancing a set of broader, integrative ideas, goods, and services. Brands are now selling an ecosystem beyond the car. These are the de facto considerations for the contemporary transport brand.

Our collective attention in automotive rebranding efforts is drawn first to the logo. In the latest slate of refreshes, like the recently announced efforts from Nissan, VW and BMW, for example, a narrow conversation has emerged on how these brands are embracing flat design and simplification.

But, more interestingly, as we look at brand building in the transport space, we’re seeing a race to own the mobility ‘operating system’ (OS) — the interface layer that governs our experiences in and around the car. This space is where the driver is able to perform a host of functionally diverse things beyond driving — managing entertainment, mapping, making parking reservations — all en route to autonomous (self-driving). For mobility brands, this kind of association is the Holy Grail. Technology-based mobility brands like Uber, however, threaten car ownership altogether.