There have been only a few moments in my career as a designer when I have stumbled upon great TV identities. Granted, I don’t own a TV set nor have I watched television in almost 5 years. However, I still keep myself up-to-date with the wonderful world of TV identities thanks to the internet and idents.tv
The channel that stands out the most for me hails from the UK and it’s not BBC. If you’re ever assigned to design an identity for a TV network, this channel should be your go-to reference point.
Channel 4, one of Britain’s biggest television channels, has always raised the bar when it comes to beautiful and iconic broadcast graphic design. I hadn’t heard of this channel at all since it’s not available in the US. It was until I took a motion graphics class during college that I stumbled upon one of their amazing TV bumpers. Ever since then, my interest in this channel’s identity began to grow exponentially over the years.
First things first, their logo has the inadvertent quality of being able to translate itself in so many different levels that the possibilities on how to use it are endless. Much like the work from Wolff Olins for the New Museum, Bruce Mau for OCAD, and Sagmeister for Casa de Musica, Channel 4 speaks a language it can call its own. Every iteration of the logo seems to have its own personality and that’s how this identity leaves a strong mark behind.
The brand identity is beautifully carried across all of its sister channels. The obvious relationship they all have with each other is the number 4, which ties them all together through a literal message. However, it’s not just the number that connects them all, but the way the brand itself is treated in different contexts. In other words, all brands that live under the Channel 4 umbrella have their own distinct voice; they all, however, retain the same bold and astute graphic language that is spoken by the main brand. Shown below are the 5 sister channels that embrace this visual language (including More 4′s new and old logo)
It is needless to say that one of the main reasons why Channel 4 has succeeded in its visual identity is partly due to their partnership with great design studios such as Spin and Rudd Studio, amongst others. They also run their own in-house creative agency, 4Creative, which is responsible for most of their branding efforts.
Let me start out by focusing on Channel 4′s main brand.
What makes Channel 4′s brand so great is the flexibility it imposes in every iteration. One of their most basic executions uses a familiar texture-driven approach to broaden the brand’s interaction with any given context. We all have seen similar cases where “living identities” use texture for the added benefit to adapt to any situation (ie: City of Melbourne rebrand). However, this is just a small piece of Channel 4′s larger on-screen branding treatments.
As it is to be expected from any great branding project, all details are flawlessly covered, including its typography. I remember wanting to snatch their typeface the first time I saw it. Channel 4′s personality is perfectly captured in the letterforms; not too bland but not too flashy. It looks great on screen and it looks great on print. And last but not least, this bespoke typeface was designed by one of most respected type foundries in the UK, FontSmith. Pictured below are all of the different type weights.
As mentioned earlier, much of the consistent look and feel of Channel 4′s brand extensions is achieved through contextual visual cues, such as textures, that tie the brand together. However, there is a more interesting approach that the Channel has adopted in its “bumpers” through perspective-based optical illusions. The real beauty of these idents is that they carry the brand across without waving the logo before one’s eyes; the execution is subtle but the outcome is memorable and has an added element of surprise.
The work pretty much speaks for itself as each bumper is masterfully crafted. I’m sure each bumper must have cost a small fortune to produce but I believe it was worth every penny.
Note at 0:37 how all of the neon signs align to create Channel 4′s logo
Channel 4′s original ident circa 1982
A real-world installation of their perspective-based branding
More 4 has recently uncovered a rebrand that uses a flip-book metaphor as its flagship theme across all bumpers. In my humble opinion, they did not need a rebrand as the previous identity created by Spin was already solid. However, I can’t complain as ManVSMachine has done a fine job re-imagining the More 4 brand for a new generation.
A genius execution of the “Film 4″ sub-brand, connecting the logo in an appropriate context (movie set). Once again, a similar perspective-based optical illusion is used for this instance, tying this bumper to Channel 4′s branded motion.
4seven’s idents are similar in nature to the ones previously shown but with a different “edge”.
USA Today’s new logo is somewhat of a bitter sweet redesign for me. At first, I didn’t like it. But now it has grown on me. I’m really digging it a little bit better than before after looking at the brand extensions and how everything is working organically.
I do have to say that the site is looking pretty good.
Maybe the reason why I was bummed that they decided to replace the old logo was due to my emotional attachment to it from a very young age. It reminded me of the first time I ever stole something.
Back when I was in the 3rd grade, my class had access to issues of USA Today that were freely available for students to glance over. I remember picking up an issue and being fascinated by the way the layouts were displayed with big and bold type and not to mention the heavily-kerned logotype set in Futura. You know when you see a pair of sneakers and you’re like, “oh man… those kicks are the shit”, or when you see a big juicy burger and you’re like, “mmmmmm, delicious murder”… Well, in this case, I was drooling all over the place with type, graphics and that fat, juicy logo. It was weird because I was only about 12-13 years old when I began to become obsessed with graphic design. Back in those days, good design was really hard to find (especially when you’re a kid during the pre-internet days). This newspaper became like my Ffffound.
Not to divert too much off the subject, but one of the best things about each issue was the infographics section (snapshots) at the bottom left of the front page. I was so amazed by all of these graphic treatments made for this newspaper that it inspired me to create my own using my shitty computer and Aldus Superpaint. In reality, this is how I taught myself how to design back then, by copying USA Today layouts. I was a master plagiarizer.
Anyway, I really wanted to take the issue home with me but we were told that all issues were to be returned to the “library corner” of our class by the end of the day. You can pretty much tell what happened next. I waited till the teacher left to have lunch and I remember snatching the paper into my book bag. Looking back at things, it doesn’t look like a big deal… I mean, it’s a newspaper that probably cost a dollar or so… but I felt so ashamed and guilty since it was the first time I ever stole something.
Label me a thief. I don’t care. The guilt is still somewhat there, but I’m grateful that it gave me some sort of direction early on for what I wanted to do with my life.
The reason for this post isn’t to criticize their new logo; it’s decent. I just want to bring back some of the memories I had with their old logo and to showcase some of those “snapshots” that I found to be so interesting. I’m sure they won’t get rid of the snapshots section, but I figured this would be a good time to share with people those bits of illustrated trivia from the old (print) days. They even decided to put a book about it.
While these infographics aren’t the best examples of illustrated data, they were one of the very first attempts to make information more interesting.
Who knew that 41% of people are afraid to shake my sweaty hands?
…Haiku “cuts” explanation: this is haiku. Haiku “cuts”: scenes, actions, everything, and cuts time and language. So, though it is said that “cutting” is really omission, I think that “cutting” is at the same time the essential proposition of haiku.4
The graphic language evokes a “cut” through a long vertical stroke of the “i” letterforms. The typography is set vertically to resemble traditional Japanese script.