Because of all the recent buzz & criticism of the design and the approach, I've edited the post to hopefully create a more clear understanding of what I was attempting to do:
Note to all those that may miss the point. The idea of this was to take the exact same elements the current BMW site has and add a more appealing design around them to match their existing brand. There was no intention of recreating the BMW brand, nor making any drastic improvements to the information architecture or flow of the site.
This is simply my take on a new BMW website using a more modern style of web design.
BMW does not just make great cars. BMW provides an entirely unique experience. As stated in your marketing material, "we're not the typical car company". Although I have never purchased a BMW before, but I have friends that have and they have undoubtedly told me that the experience they received was second to none. BMW prides itself on this experience; knowing that there is no other competitor that can deliver the same type of unmistakable experience. It is truly "Uniquely BMW".
Unfortunately for BMW, the web presence across the board does not tell the same story. Let me start by first saying the photographs and animation on the sites are brilliant. Whoever has overseen the creative process behind this is truly remarkable, as I believe these photographs certainly portray the professionalism and uniqueness that comes with every BMW.
For starters, the BMW.com site is very misleading. If I had never heard of BMW before (and didn't know their core competency was building automobiles), I would have no idea from first visiting this site. The clouds in no way tell me that BMW is offering luxury cars. If a person were to make it past this first page, they would find each of the country/regional websites to be equally as disappointing.
As I explore the BMWUSA.com website, it becomes ever apparent to me that the website has definitely been put on the back burner to building exceptional automobiles. The attention to detail is minimal, and is an overall brand mismatch.
Below, I've outlined a few key improvements that I believe could help sync the BMW brand and the online presence.
The logo should be one of the focal points of the website. Unconventionally, the BMW logo is placed to the right of the page and given a minimal size (which is portrayed as downplaying it's importance). The "BMW USA" section almost seems as if it's missing an image for the American flag. The text's left top alignment doesn't seem to fit the containing box that surrounds it.
Although the navigation has many options, it is actually quite easy to navigate. You can simply drill down to the exact series of cars you prefer. The issue here is that the navigation does not match the style of the cars. The navigation sits on a flat gray background, with an active blue color for the link that doesn't even match the BMW blue of the logo. The Search box doesn't even match the rest of the style of the existing website. The Search box has a thick black border, which is not seen on any other part of the site.
I actually believe this is the one area of the site that is done well. Although there are a few adjustments that should be made to ensure that button styles and fonts match all of the areas; the photographs are once again, brilliant.
I believe BMW had the right idea with this space, however it was poorly executed. This is certainly a great way to promote new products, sweepstakes or just get people to browse around the site. The text that explains each of these sections is actually hidden behind a mouse over event that is unnecessary. The descriptive copy should be front and center within each section.
The Member Sign in does not do anything to urge me to sign up. It does not give a compelling story on what the benefits are to doing so, and therefore I completely glazed over when I looked at it. All I saw was another way for me to receive e-mails I may not want.
At this point, you may be asking yourself what could possibly be done to remedy this inconsistency with the brand. Fortunately for BMW, it's not the end of the world. Changing a design of a website is actually the easiest part of retooling a brand; the hard part is actually creating it, which I believe BMW has already done. Redesigning a website is also the cheapest change that can be made, which may deliver the highest impact.
To illustrate my comments, I've included a redesign of the BMWUSA.com homepage. Although this design is just a concept, I believe it portrays the BMW brand much more effectively than the existing website.
As you can see from the concept, the navigation was left unchanged. The only addition was that it was split in two to separate the different aspects of the site: informational sections on the left, and all other elements on the right. You may have also noticed that the "Build Your Own" BMW has become a call-to-action button in the top right, to ensure that your visitors will jump right in and build their dream car. The navigation also has more depth. The two horizontal gray sections replicate the look of many of the BMW's interiors, with clean lines and colors that are not too obtrusive. When you look at the navigation, you have the perception that you are looking at something 3-dimensional, just as you would explore the inside of a car.
The logo has also been increased in size, and centered on the page. Just as you look at the front of any BMW, the logo sits front and center. It is one of the first things you notice when you see a beautiful car parked next to you. Having the logo in this spot is natural for cars, so it makes a great position for our website.
The smooth lines of the logo are also carried in to the search box, which instead of being the eyesore of the navigation, is now an attractive element sitting on the right.
The main image animation has generally remained untouched. As I stated above, the photographs are the most remarkable piece of the online experience, therefore it doesn't make any sense to change them. The slight change here is to the navigation between different images, which now has five navigating dots, with the active image being highlighted in blue. A "Next" button provides an easy way to cycle through the images and advertisements.
Since it is important to get visitors to create Member Accounts, Request Quotes and register for sweepstakes; I felt it was important to draw more attention to these areas. As I mentioned above, I felt that the descriptive text for the four main promotional areas should be visible at all times for easy scanning, instead of after an action on the image. I've reused the crisp images from before, while just adding a bit of depth to them to ensure everything isn't look too flat.
It is also important to invite visitors to interact with your website, and essentially become members. I've cleaned up the Sign In process, thus making it so a visitor does not have to click to a new page to fill in the form with their information, they can simply get there from the start page. I've also provided a descriptive paragraph of some of the benefits of becoming a member. We need to let the visitors know the exact value that is delivered by becoming a member. They can "Learn More", or immediately get started.
The new sleek website is encompassed by tons of leather, wood and plastic textures. The entire background is a leather texture, while the outer trim of the inside of the website will has wood grain insets, just as the interior of most of the cars have. It provides a nice frame for the site, as well as carries on the great custom look of a BMW.
BMW builds exceptional cars; therefore their website should also be exceptional and have the same level of detail that is put in to every single car. Where are the smooth curves, wood grains, leather and shiny metal that is expected of cars?
The quality of the BMW website should match the quality of the cars.
What I am proposing is not a company wide shift to embracing a new style. I am proposing that BMW devotes the necessary time to their website to match the design to what BMW is saying in the marketing materials. The changes would be relatively easy to implement, and I believe would help you to not only catch up to the competition, but leap frog them in process (in terms of the online presence).
Obviously this concept is just one of many ideas, however I would hope you take some of these minor tweaks into consideration as you are thinking about the overall BMW brand.
All concept images are copyright © 2009 Ryan Scherf, with the exception of any BMW intellectual property. All Rights Reserved.
BMW, the original BMW website, layout, photography and logo are registered trademarks of BMW.