As you likely have heard from your valet shouting it at you, General Motors has updated its logo for the first time since 1964. This new logo modernizes the typographic elements, rounds some corners and, at least in some forms we’ve seen online, features some mildly dated and maybe even a bit embarrassing gradient and embossing effects. But, if we’re being totally honest, it’s not like GM’s old logo was anything special, either. So let’s dig into this a bit.
Here’s the new GM logo that was unveiled to the world today:
The gradient is likely the most jarring element, as we’ve been in a cross-industry-wide switch from faux 3d/gradient intensive logos to flatter, simpler logos for a while now, with little signs of that changing.
Personally, I’ve always felt flat color logos are stronger anyway, as they can remain legible and identifiable no matter the method used to display them, from a spray-painted stencil to a letterhead to an illuminated plastic sign to an LCD screen — a good logo works no matter the context or medium.
It’s also worth remembering that even the old GM logo wasn’t free of the influence of gradients and false dimensionality, so remember this before you get too worked up:
Luckily, it seems that GM is not absolutely married to that gradient/embossed look, as it is showing flat-color examples of the new logo, as well:
In this context, I don’t think the new logo is all that bad, though it’s not particularly memorable, and, visually, it brings up some strong associations with another logo that I’m pretty sure GM has no desire to be associated with:
I have trouble not being reminded of the Goodwill Industries lowercase-g/face shape when I see the new GM logo; perhaps it’s just me?
I’m also a bit surprised that a solid block/white letters version hasn’t been used, too:
The elimination of the border I think cleans the logo up as well, and the knocked-out letterforms tie it back to the previous logo, too. I have no evidence GM is considering a variant like this, but if it wants to, it has my permission.
Speaking of the outgoing logo, I think it’s worth discussing in more detail, because for a company that was once America’s largest, the logo sure feels like something that was knocked out in the elevator ride to the conference room as the designers realized what day it was.
You could look at it as a testimony to simplicity: two letters, on a square, with an underline. That’s pretty much it. Earlier versions of this logo were similar, but with serifed letters, and the text GENERAL MOTORS spelled out in the block under the initials.
You could also look at it as a testimony to who-gives-a-shittery: while we’re so familiar with it that it has earned a good bit of respect, the truth is it has always been a sort of uninspired, minimal effort sort of thing.
And that was part of the point; it was always intended as a logo for the overarching holding company for GM’s brands and didn’t need to elicit the emotional appeal of, say, Oldsmobile’s rocket or Cadillac’s coat-of-arms, with its not-ducks.
General Motors was incorporated as a holding company in 1908, and the name was inspired by other large companies of the era, specifically General Electric. This naming convention of “general” was quite a thing in the late 1800s — that’s why we have General Electric and General Mills with their more ornate, script-inspired late 1800s logos that still persist today, and a bit later get other batches of “general” companies like General Motors, General Telephone & Electronics (GTE), General Instruments, General Foods, and so on that have logotypes with cleaner, more 20th-century typographic elements.
For some reason, lots of these “General” companies seem to favor blue for their logo color, though I’m not entirely certain why. The idea behind the “general” thing was a sort of power through deliberate vagueness — the idea that the company covered everything in their given market, and as such could do anything. It’s a similar mentality that gave us company names with “standard” in them, like Standard Oil or American Standard.
Really, though, what’s more interesting is just how little GM actually used their corporate logo. On most advertising materials from the ’50s and ’60s and on, if GM was mentioned by name at all — instead of the much more recognizable names of their individual brands — its name would just be spelled out or the initials written in whatever typography fit with that particular application.
The GM logo itself has never really been all that important to GM, at least not compared to the branding and badging of Chevrolet or Cadillac or Pontiac or whatever.
I believe the GM logo as a featured, right-on-the-nose badge has only very rarely been actually used on their cars — the only example I can think of is the experimental electric EV-1:
GM did decide to incorporate the GM logo as a badge in the late 2000s, usually as a small brushed-metal badge on the lower fenders, as you can see on this 2009 Chevrolet Impala:
That’s about as bold as GM got, though. The GM corporate logo simply has never been an important part of any of its cars’ branding.
That’s why I don’t necessarily think anyone should get too worked up or precious about the loss of the old GM logo; it was never that great, and it was never really used on their cars, anyway.
The logo redesign reminds me a bit of how Paul Rand attempted to update Ford’s extremely dated (but now so dated and effectively unchanged it’s become timeless) logo in 1966. I actually really like the result, and were I an art director at Ford in 1966, would absolutely have rather seen new Falcons come off the line with that badge as opposed to the same typography Model Ts had in 1912.
But that’s also the very reason that it would have been a mistake to change the logo; Ford had stuck with it for so long, it transcended its dated, early 1900s look and become something that wasn’t part of a long-gone era, but instead was something that was Ford’s.
Ford’s badge was designed around the same era and with generally the same aesthetics as the Coca-Cola script. It’s dated as hell, but they’ve both hung on so long you’d be a fool to change it. They’ve also been used as the prominent face of both brands, which further makes them untouchable.
GM’s logo is not like that. It’s from the mid-1960s, it was rarely used as a public-facing identifier, and it’s not like it’s got a lot of compelling imagery or symbolism. It’s a box, two letters, and a line. It can be changed.
So, the new logo feels at least a bit more contemporary, and the negative space in the “m” suggests an electrical plug, and that’s what GM wants, so let them have it. Unless it is planning on using it as primary branding for new cars, I think it’ll do its job at least as well as the old one.
So, in that sense, the new GM logo is keeping a decades-long tradition of the old one: good enough.