I love logo design. Before I was America’s eighth-least tolerable Automobile Dipshit, I was a graphic designer, and I really got excited by logos. Good logos are all about reduction and recognizability. They should be as legible when rendered in full-color on a Jumbotron as they are when stencil spray-painted on a wooden shipping crate. They’re design distilled to its absolute bare essentials, which can also mean that when they go wrong, they tend to go really wrong. Like Kia’s new logo, introduced in 2021, which seems to be so confusing to understand that 30,000 people every month Google “KN car,” because Kia’s new logo looks more like that than it looks like KIA. Luckily, it’s easy to fix, as we’ll show here with our official Autopian Technical Service Bulletin.
This eye-rolling and hilarious fact has been reported on by a number of outlets, but I think I first saw the number of confused searches in this tweet:
the new kia logo is so unreadable that at least 30k people a month search for the "KN car" ever since its debut pic.twitter.com/jRj25JoAPp
— Ashwinn (@Shwinnabego) November 17, 2022
I remember when Kias with the new logo started to appear, and I think the only positive thing I heard was that the new look reminded people of fond memories of Nine Inch Nails:
So, there’s that. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kia’s new logo absolutely reads like “K-backwards-N.” I mean, I get that it’s fun to eliminate the crossbar of the A so it looks like a lambda, but in the context of this design vocabulary it just doesn’t work.
That’s not to say it’s not an improvement in some ways; the old Kia logo was, at best, boring. Here, let’s look at the history of Kia logos:
Man, what a journey! I kind of like the happy flag-waving of the 1986 logo, and that inverted-Q thing is pleasingly simple and cryptic. I think the real mystery here is why Kia didn’t just adopt the Korean “flying K” logo for global markets, since that is abstracted enough to not suffer from alphanumeric legibility problems. And it looks good, sort of evoking lightning strikes or knees bent mid-run or a pair of bird profiles in flight. It’s not bad!
Of course, a logo does not need to spell out a carmaker’s name; plenty of logos don’t, but we equate them with the brand just fine. Think about Mercedes’ tri-point star or Subaru’s stylized Pleiades or Peugeot’s lion or Audi’s four rings of the old Auto Union or a leaping jaguar, and so on. But what makes those logos different is that they’re not actively confusing. This isn’t about a non-wordmark logo, it’s a problem of a logo made of letters looking like the wrong fucking letters. If the Mercedes-Benz star looked like a P or something, it’d be weird, for example.
But, no, that’s not the path Kia chose. Instead it went with the confusing not-KN logo, and here we are. But you know me, I’m the kind of guy who’s going to change the 1157s in your taillight rather than curse your darkness. So, with that in mind, I think I have an easy solution to Kia’s logo problem. Just this minor tweak:
See? Easy! Now it reads like KIA again! And you don’t lose the stylized look or anything, it just breaks up the ᴎ-shape in the logo so it can read like two separate, recognizable glyphs. Even better, this change was specifically designed to be able to be retrofitted to all affected Kias on the road! In fact, our very own crazy designer of things, The Bishop, spent some crucial procrastinating time mocking up the packaging for this service part and the required technical service bulletin and inevitable recall notice:
Look at that, Kia! We got your back! Now go call your supplier of adhesive-backed-chrome-look things and tell them you need a little hyphen-shaped deal and get the ball rolling.
wow. good thing you didn’t become a graphic artist. you just ruined the logo. What’s important is NOT what people think when they FIRST see a logo (especially when it’s pervasive, which KIA cars are), but what they think after they become familiar with it. Case in point … did anyone realize that toyota’s emblem actually spelled out toyota … would it have mattered if it did? No.
Which is why Honda, despite making some of the best cars, still has the ugliest and most stupid looking emblem of all time. Big fat bottom heavy (makes me think “slow” and “sluggish”) ‘H’. Why they haven’t fixed that atrocity is beyond me. Maybe you could’ve worked there had you stayed a graphic artist, but then they’ve already done what you would have done.
I dunno. I’ve been seeing the new logo around Seattle for a time now and was never stumped. It seemed obvious to me. But, I’ve also seen the “Korean market” ones here on some fairly recent models. So, what’s up with that?
I always thought they went with that design because it has both KIA and KM (for Kia Motors) in the logo depending on how you look at it. Anyone else?
Yeah, never confused me, and if I think about it I also think it looks more like KM, since an M ends in a downward stroke. Maybe that’s what their thinking was.
I literally had this conversation with my GF three days ago. And I suggested the same solution – almost. We’re both designers so this was a fairly normal type of topic for us. Anyway, the issue with adding the crossbar to the A is that it fills up the negative space too much and no longer mimics the negative space above the K. At larger sizes the crossbar works, but smaller sizes it fills in and throws the balance off. Anyway here was my one minute solution:
Ok, I like this one better, though I’m not sure it’s much more readable than the original:
I’m adding the crossbar, or at least implying it, but outside the negative area. Def works better at smaller sizes.
You are quite skilled … achieving that balance between formalism and functionalism is an art that is not easily taught.
Now this I could go for! I guess I’m a formalist, Jason Torchinsky is clearly a functionalist. Your solution is the perfect compromize.
If I get a new Kia I’m definitely trimming out the bottom right leg of the K so the whole thing looks like a bad-ass squiggle, and by now everyone would know what it stands for. Which is what the purpose of a logo is for.
I like it and I like the new EV with that on it. It’s like an 80’s sci fi movie car with a dystopian logo. I love it.
What is more interesting to me is that when transliterating Korean to English there is no clear distinction between K and G, or B and P. For example, the automobile company name could be KIA or GIA.
Type KIA into Google translate to get the Korean. At the bottom of the translated box, you will see the Google transliteration of the Korean as ‘gia.’ You can also listen and hear the subtle mixture of K and G.
As far as I recall, there isn’t a hard rule for official transliteration. For this reason, I worked in either Kyeonggi-do or Gyeonggi-do. Google maps prefers the latter. I lived in Bundang-shi, but it could have easily been Pundang-shi. However, I did not often see that version, since someone may have recognized that it might be confused with poontang. 😉
Adding a new line thickness to the logo seems like a poor choice… why not just use the downward stroke of the K?
Love the technical service bulletin and the recall notice!!!!!!!
Terrible logo, but I withdraw all complaints if they do an advertising tie in with Nine Inch Nails. They could use “wish” as the theme song. I mean, it already talks about the torment of not having a Soul. dub in “this truck” for “fist fuck” and it practically writes itself.
Torch- any chance you can tell the story of designing the Autopian logo?
That Korean market logo isn’t the Korean market logo anymore. I saw it used for a few years in the first decade of the 2000s, but other than that they use the same logo as the US. Some Koreans do buy alternate logos to put on their cars though (such as Brenthon, https://jalopnik.com/this-korean-company-you-never-heard-of-has-revolutioniz-1821271336).
(source: I’ve been living in South Korea since 2004).
I first noticed it projected on the floor of NCAA hoops tournament games last spring. I couldn’t figure out WTF it was until I stayed in my seat during a commercial break and saw the cars it was on.
Yeah, that works.