Rolls-Royce redesign by Pentagram’s Marina Willer reimagines the brand for a younger, contemporary audience
The overhauled identity features a redrawn word mark, a digital-friendly icon based on the car’s statuette, modern colours and typography, and a computer-generated set of patterns.
- Jenny Brewer
- 25 August 2020
Pentagram partner Marina Willer and her team have worked with British luxury brand Rolls-Royce to redesign its visual identity for a younger, contemporary audience and increased digital presence. The rebrand sees the company overhaul its stuffy image while staying true to its heritage and affluent customer base, with a fresh approach to typography and colour palette, a new icon inspired by its famous figurine, and a computer-generated pattern that can be applied in the digital and physical worlds. This comes courtesy of Willer, who professes: “I’m not a car person and I don’t come from an automotive background. I’m also a female designer. So I come with a different take. It helps the brand move away from stereotypes and become something different.”
Rolls-Royce is still deemed the epitome of luxury as far as cars are concerned, with each one handmade in Goodwood, West Sussex; but it’s not just a car brand. In recent years the company has expanded its offering to products such as handbags, luggage, headphones, and plenty of high-end accessories to kit out your car, from portable champagne chests to glove box humidors. The company wanted to reshape its identity to suit all this, not just its automobile side, and needed to adapt to an increased digital presence, with its customer base getting younger (apparently the average customer age is 46) and the app for its members’ club, Whispers, gaining traction.
Willer and her team started by exploring Rolls-Royce’s trademarks and assessing what could be evolved and brought into the modern day. Some core details of the brand remain unchanged, such as the double ‘R’ monogram badge, which the designer didn’t touch “because of the incredible value it carries”. But the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars word mark has been redrawn to “express more a lifestyle brand than a corporate brand” while staying coherent with the original monogram. To do so, the design team has drawn inspiration from the company’s 1930s word mark, which has art deco stylings, and created a refined, contemporary iteration. Notably, the ‘L’s of the name have a slight angle, to “indicate movement,” Willer says.
“We spent a long time looking at the slight chamfer in the ‘L’s and how fast we wanted them to look!” says Richard Carter, director of global communications for the company. “We also wanted a strong set of ‘R’s so the word mark was standing very firmly on two well-planted legs. There were hours spent discussing the proportions of those letters.”
Willer adds that the visual concept hinged on the phrase ‘quiet power’ – “it’s not shouty. It simulates the silence you experience in a Rolls-Royce”. This word mark is backed up by a new typeface called Riviera Nights, adapted with similarly bevelled letterforms, that replaces an old-fashioned and corporate brand font. “We looked at 50 or so typefaces to find one that depicted luxury without being overtly decorative,” she says. “It also needed to be simple enough to work with all the other elements, orchestrated together, and modern.” In marketing material for specific cars, the car names are given widely spaced type, “to add importance”.
Another major change for the brand is the introduction of a new icon, a graphic version of the famous figurine that stands atop the cars’ hood, named The Spirit of Ecstasy. While the statuette (originally drawn and sculpted by artist Charles Sykes) is iconic, as a drawing “it wasn’t quite so well resolved,” Willer says. So Pentagram enlisted illustrator Chris Mitchell, an expert in brand icons, to redraw the figure in a simplified, modern form to be used as a graphic symbol. Close attention was paid to its proportions, which the brand says show “strength and power,” and its direction – previously the illustrated Spirit of Ecstasy faced backwards, and now it faces forwards.
Looking to other luxury brands such as Hermès for inspiration, Willer found they often used pattern as a key part of their identities, which is something she envisioned could tie together the expanding Rolls-Royce range in a subtle and adaptable way. Hence the so-called Spirit of Ecstasy expression was born: a pattern design that draws from the curves of the statuette, existing as a ribbon of parallel lines that undulates and changes according to its setting. Designers applying the pattern can choose the size and format of the image, then the pattern is computer-generated, with the program deciding the frequency and weight of the lines. It is designed to feel like silk in the way it moves, a fluid form that drapes over surfaces – physical and digital – to add flourish to anything from a projection to embroidery. “This is when science meets art, a bit like the brand,” Willer adds.
In the pattern, Pentagram has made boldly modern choices of colour, with accent tones in fluoro orange and pink. The brand’s core colour has also shifted from black to a deep purple, a colour long associated with luxury because it was always scarce and hard to make, so only royalty and the church could afford it. While it still denotes grandeur, Willer says it is “softer, less masculine and harsh” than black. “It still has authority and elegance, but yet it’s broader not just to gender but culture.”