Think big letters
BHP (formerly BHP Billiton) is among the world’s top producers of major commodities including iron ore, metallurgical coal, copper and uranium, with further substantial interests in oil, gas and energy coal. At the time of posting, it is the world’s third largest mining company by revenue, and has previously been Australia’s largest company by the same measure. The company was founded in the isolated mining town of Broken Hill, New South Wales as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd, and was incorporated in 1885. In 2001, it merged with the Anglo–Dutch mining company Billiton plc to form BHP Billiton. Its global headquarters are in Melbourne, Australia and it has a team of more than 65,000 employees and contractors. (Wikipedia, BHP website)
The new logo is backed by the company’s first consumer marketing campaign in more than 30 years, “Think Big”, which is designed to demonstrate the “important role” BHP plays in the Australian economy and community and more broadly in global economic growth and development. It is an attempt to rekindle the national pride that the company garnered in the 1980s, when it became known as “The Big Australian” because of its significant role in job and wealth creation for the country.
The dropping of “Billiton” from the name comes two years after most of the assets inherited from Billiton were demerged.
“In launching Think Big, we will take the opportunity to change our logo and move to a brand that Australians have known us by for generations – BHP. This abbreviated simple expression of our organisation is used colloquially around the world.”BHP news release
At the heart of the old BHP Billiton logo – by FHA Image Design in Melbourne – were those “blobs”, a prominent and recognisable symbol of the company. It has been suggested that the progressive merging of the blobs were a metaphor for the merging of the two companies into a single entity, but they represented more than that. The shapes were beautifully rendered; the orange hues reflected the hot and arid Australian outback where BHP was established, and symbolised the earth which has served the company’s mining operations for many years. I would also suggest that the fluid look of the blobs took on the appearance of molten metal – I really can’t take my eyes off them.
Below the blobs, the typography was in all-lowercase, which worked well as it didn’t compete with the blobs for attention. It appears to me that the typeface had been customised for this piece; firstly, the corners of the h and n had been rounded off, perhaps to mimic the curves in the tails of the l’s and t. It’s a subtle edit, but had those l’s and t not had tails, I would have deemed it out of place. Secondly, the b’s have been stripped of a terminal, that is to say the vertical strokes (or stems) continue through the bowl rather than terminate at the baseline. I like it as it felt quite unique to BHP Billiton’s identity. But compare this to the p whose stem remains intact. There is a quote attributed to the French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry that goes, “It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” It’s not a rule of design, but I feel that if there had been effort in shaving the b’s, then the p should also have received a similar treatment, if only for the sake of consistency.
Overall, the old logo felt appropriate for the company. The blobs spoke to transformation and growth at a turning point in the company’s history. The logo was a brave and purposeful statement that reflected a bold global vision. Put simply, it had personality.
With “Billiton” and the blobs gone, the new logo reverts to three uppercase letters, akin to the logo of the company’s pre-merger days. It’s set in Graphik Bold without any surgery and rendered in a single orange tone. A side note about orange: it also brings to mind safety signs and high-visibility clothing, both of which can be associated with a mining company, so it’s sensible that they’ve kept that.
As far as the new campaign is concerned, there is nothing forward thinking about the new logo in the way the previous one was. Although if “Think Big” was only meant to be applied literally, then the new logo fulfils the brief. The bold, capital letters impose rather than inspire, but I suppose when you only have three letters to work with, you want to bolster their presence. It does, however, feel more affiliated with an industry or government body than a brand, in the same space as something like England’s National Health Service (NHS) and its three-letter logo, devoid of personality. To be fair, BHP has said that the new logo would be deployed overseas, which reveals the challenge faced in designing a distinct visual identity that is embraced across international markets.
Yes, the logo exemplifies simplicity and will produce well in applications, but it feels like a cop-out, a step backwards that tries to evoke the “good old days” of the mining industry. By clinging to the past, Big Red (coincidental partnership?) missed an opportunity to produce a more intelligent solution that reflects the dynamics of BHP as a modern global brand that aspires to leadership in future solutions. Next time, think bigger.