by Aarthi MohanSep 22, 2023
While the world has eased back to a sense of normalcy, the country often referred to as 'the last Shangri-La' only recently reopened its borders. Over two years since the first travel restrictions and lockdowns came into play, Bhutan, on September 23, 2022, welcomed tourists back to the Buddhist kingdom. For a country that prioritises its GNH (Gross National Happiness) over GDP (Gross Domestic Product), this reopening is not just a recommencement but a reintroduction and reinvention of Bhutan’s rich cultural and geographical character. London and Seoul-based MMBP & Associates was commissioned to capture this initiative and concept in a visual form. Following the months-long process of studies, analysis, understanding and various sessions of brainstorming, the rebranding of Bhutan was conceived. This new identity explores notions of evolution and a spirit of optimism aimed to inspire the pride and imagination of both its citizens and visitors.
Attempting to encompass the essence of the country, MMBP & Associates' co-founder Julien Beaupre Ste-Marie and his team spent as much time possible in the rich cultural and geographical setting of Bhutan. While observing and indulging in the life of the mountainous country, the team spoke to hundreds of people from Thimphu, Lunana, Punakha, Bumthang and Radi. It was from the many stories and analyses that the new identity of Bhutan took shape. "Conveying the rich tapestry of Bhutan's living culture, which seamlessly weaves together the ancient, the contemporary and the visionary, quickly became a priority for the new brand," shares MMBP in an official release. Along with that, the team also strove to bring the younger generation of Bhutan into the spotlight through brand development, to reflect on their role as key stakeholders in the future of Bhutan.
Throughout the process of rebranding the world’s first carbon-negative country, priority was placed on creating a new graphical identity for Bhutan. The visuals materialise through a colour palette that draws inspiration from the colours of Bhutan’s natural wealth and national flag. The colour palette’s primary colours are in five main shades. Borrowed from the colours of the flag, the yellow signifies action and the secular authority of the king; orange represents the spiritual powers of Buddhism. Adding to this vibrancy is cypress green, from the forests that cover 70 per cent of the country’s land, the blue of Bhutan’s national flower—the Himalayan blue poppy, and a soft black which is a direct reference to the natural soot from the fires burning in the country’s hearths. From mineral vermilion and conch shell to sandalwood and lotus pigment, the secondary shades draw inspiration from the natural dyes used for traditional Bhutanese architectural ornamentation. The tertiary palette contrasts and complements these grounded tones.
Visible in the graphics are the hand-painted decorative illustrations that adorn the traditional architecture in Bhutan. It is one of the 13 crafts, or zorig chusum, that represent the Bhutanese cultural identity. They also feature dynamic new icons borrowed from traditional motifs and a series of auspicious symbols. Bringing in mythical animals from Buddhist mythology that carry powerful symbolism, the visuals from the identity also imbibe four auspicious beasts, invoking stories of the past, present and the future. Marrying the colour palette and the graphical elements are patterns of contemporary constellations and future-leaning folklore. “The complete iteration seen here is primarily used on the inside of applications: hidden at first, but revealed when you take a closer look. We imagine it as an interpretation of the clear night sky filled with mesmerising constellations. Using an imagined telescope to gaze at our constellation, this extreme close-up creates an appealing abstraction that’s thoroughly modern. A progressive reimagining of folkloric motifs in vivid, optimistic hues, this evolution plays with the contrasts alluded to in our brand narrative,” shares the designer about the evolution of the patterns.
With the new tagline ‘Believe,’ the nation embarks on a renewed sense of possibility and belief in the future. “Far from the humdrum and the hectic, removed from hollow luxury and high pressure, Bhutan is proof that happiness, connection, respite and revelation are our birthright,” reads the official release on the philosophy behind the tagline. Balancing the visual aesthetics are the logotypes that revolve around these core concepts: bold and confident, contemporary and clear, traditional and warm, legible and scalable, and responsive and functional.
Bridging the past, present and future of the country together, MMBP created a contemporary design, that reimagines hand-painted architectural decoration, mythical animals, folklore and symbolism through the gaze of contemporary graphic design and embraces boldness, sharpness and dynamism. “The result reflects Bhutan’s character and landscapes, history and ambitions: bold, vivid, richly storied and utterly distinctive – rebranding it for a new future, both for its people and its guests who are seeking a different travel experience,” mentions the official statement. As the nation optimistically looks at the future while respecting and prioritising its long-standing cultural traditions, the rebranding only highlights the country's long-held values with a futuristic backdrop.
Narrating the creative process behind the rebranding of Bhutan, Managing Director of MMBP & Associates, Julien Beaupre Ste-Marie shares, “Working closely with the Kingdom of Bhutan to create its new national brand has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and for our team. We are one piece of the puzzle in a much larger era of transformation—it truly feels like history in the making. The learnings we made working alongside such an inspired group of Bhutanese people and international stakeholders will influence how we work for years to come. Similarly, as the world wakes up to the damaging effects of unrestricted mass tourism and tries to find ways to mitigate climate change, this small and mighty country has many lessons to share with the world. Our hope is that our work and our brand help to carry this vision forward.”
The new graphical identity is being acclaimed by the tourism sector and will now be featured across government organisations, official websites, national day celebrations and the new postage stamp. The identity is not only a way of creating tourism opportunities and building a public image for Bhutan but also a powerful attempt at creating a new direction and opening up a world of possibilities for future generations. "Bhutan is already an incredibly alluring destination, yet it has so much more potential beyond its obvious appeal and attributes. So it’s an honour and a pleasure to be part of this transformation, and to help facilitate tourism as a strategic driver of positive change and growth across the country. The new Bhutan brand is exciting – it’s so different from anything else. It’s so vibrant and fun, yet also captures the inspiration, mystique, spirituality, adventure and energy of Bhutanese culture. I look forward to promoting the new brand and tourism strategy globally,” says Carissa Nimah, Chief Marketing Officer, Tourism Council of Bhutan.
For a country that has made a significant mark in world history for its efforts towards sustainable practices and nature-centric lifestyle as well as its emphasis on the happiness of its citizens, rebranding itself as a global platform is a rather radical step. Bhutan has always been at the forefront of climate action to protect the earth and preserve natural resources, its new identity, too, is an extension of this ideology and its principles. In the current world, where most nations imagine a future with floating cities and urban villages guided by advanced technologies, Bhutan seeks to address the most important yet less spoken phase of the future. The different visuals of their rebranded graphic identity offer a glimpse into this future where the protagonist remains to be nature, the people and culture.