How four companies became four rings — and, ultimately, the global brand AUDI AG – and why sand painting is so important in the process of logo design.

25 August, 2020


A good logo is one that can be scratched in the sand with your big toe

“A good logo is one that can be scratched in the sand with your big toe.” So said famous graphic designer and typographer Kurt Weidemann (1922–2011). Straightforward and simple, but still memorable and ingenious. That pretty much sums up the famous Audi four rings, which, aside from the Olympic rings which were designed in 1913, are the most famous rings in the world.

A logo should be memorable and easily recognisable, and with the amalgamation of four companies – Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer – in 1932, the idea of four interlocking rings seemed to be the perfect way to symbolically join the four to create a new entity.

That coming together resulted in the formation of Auto Union AG, which would later become AUDI AG.

Of course the foundations of today’s AUDI AG began right back in 1899 when mechanical engineer August Horch founded his own business – August Horch & Cie. He initially built two-cylinder and, later, four-cylinder cars. In 1909, after a difference of opinions with the board of directors, he left the company. 

Horch went on to found a new car company in the same year, but as the name Horch was already taken, and he was prohibited from using it, he translated his family name into Latin – Audi. 

In 1910, the new brand’s first car entered the market and Audi garnered attention with its three consecutive victories at the International Austrian Alpine Rally between 1912 and 1914 — one of the most challenging rallies of its time.

The company Wanderer originated as a bicycle repair shop and later on started building bicycles, then motorcycles. In 1913, the company produced its first small car, which was known as ‘Puppchen’ — roughly translated as ‘moppet’ in English. 

The fourth company was DKW, one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers of its time. The Danish founder, Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen, began experimenting with a steam-powered automobile (Dampfkraftwagen - DKW) in 1916. His attempts were fruitless, however, and Rasmussen began developing two-stroke engines. A few years later, DKW was one of the most important motorcycle manufacturers of the pre-war years. DKW started building cars in 1928.

Due to the global recession in 1929, demand plummeted. The four car companies, who had been successful up until that point, ran into financial difficulties. The solution was the union of the four brands, which was initiated by the state bank of Saxony. 

Due to the global recession in 1929, the four car companies, who had been successful up until that point, ran into financial difficulties

The logo has endured, though subtle changes have been made along the way so that it would transcend time, trends and technology

The Auto Union AG was born — the second-largest car manufacturer in Germany, according to the number of vehicles produced. And from Auto Union AG, the predecessor of today’s AUDI AG came into existence.

When the Auto Union was formed, the four rings appeared as a symbol for the first time. Later, the brand name Audi took centre stage: first in brown, then in red. Starting in 1978, a black oval with white lettering characterised the brand identity. Since 1985, the company and its product have once again shared the same name, Audi. In the 90s, the Ingolstadt company once again concentrated on the rings, this time with a three-dimensional look. 

The logo has endured, though subtle changes have been made along the way so that it would transcend time, trends and technology. As recently as 2016 the previously three-dimensional rout rings became two-dimensional so that they would still work and be instantly recognisable whether they be on paper, online or of course on an Audi vehicle.

No matter where they appear, even nearly 90 years after they first came into being, there is no mistaking Audi’s four rings or what they stand for – even if they are ‘scratched into the sand with a big toe’.