Saul Bass (Part 1)

Every now and then I look back at designers from yesteryear and wonder how they used to execute designs without computers or with the aid of technology. Saul Bass, one of the greatest designers to have ever lived, is one of them. He is one of my favorite designers that I constantly reference when I need inspiration. Some of the best work from Bass is this series of book covers for Harper Collins. The covers are surreal in nature and are perfect depictions of the subject at hand.

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Form Follows Motion

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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 was unaware of Channel 4’s existence until I took a motion graphics class during college. I stumbled upon one of their amazing TV bumpers and, 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 da 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)

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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 mask-driven approach to broaden the brand’s interaction in any given context. We all have seen similar cases where “living identities” use masks 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.

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As it is to be expected from any great branding project, all details are flawlessly covered, including its typography. Channel 4′s personality is perfectly captured in the letterforms; not too bland but not too flashy. It looks great on screen and 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.

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Perspective-based Channel Idents and Branding

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 and scenes living behind masks. However, there is a more interesting approach that the channel has adopted through its “bumpers” by using perspective. 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.

Each bumper is masterfully crafted. I’m sure they must have cost a small fortune to produce but I believe they were worth every penny.

Note at 0:37 how all of the neon signs align to create Channel 4′s logo

…and here at 0:27

This one’s a bit trickier to see, but you can see the Channel 4 logo on the runway, starting at 0:25

Here you can see it at 0:16

…and last but not least, this one at 0:29

You’d think the Channel 4 logo was created within the last 10 years or so… but I was surprised to find out that it had been around since 1982:

1637674142_0a2c07da99_b (1)A real-world example of the perspective-based branding approach

Sister Channels

One of Channel 4’s strongest points when it comes to a holistic branding approach is its sheer sense of consistency without constraints. The sub-brands under Channel 4’s umbrella are all meticulously designed to be on par with the main brand’s design sensibilities. This proves to be a huge positive note on Channel 4’s overall branding efforts as it allows them to be flexible with their sub-brands tone and style while retaining the main brand’s spirit.

More 4 (new)

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.

More 4 Rebrand from Adam Heslop on Vimeo

More 4 (old)

The following screens are from More 4’s previous branding effort by Spin. I personally prefer this identity instead as it reflects a simpler and cleaner aesthetic. The only downside that I can think of is the restricted green color palette. However, the way motion graphics were designed in these commercial-break segments were elegant and modern without leaning too much on the bland side.

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Film 4

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 framing

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4seven’s idents are similar in nature to the ones previously shown but with a different “edge”

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The (Former) Typographic Language of IKEA

IKEA’s brand identity took a left turn ever since it adopted Verdana as their main corporate typeface. Don’t get me wrong, Verdana is a great font and is one of the most legible screen fonts available. And maybe this is just a sign of the times, as embracing Verdana mirrors IKEA’s intentions of transitioning from a brick and mortar storefront to a digital warehouse of cheap yet stylish furniture. But Futura’s presence in all things IKEA was the perfect choice and typographic anchor that gave their products a clean and modernist aesthetic without taking itself too seriously. Hence, this post is a reminder that if something isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.

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I really miss seeing the proprietary Futura variant in brochures (Below: IKEA Sans — Redesigned / Digitized by Stockholm Design Lab.) Take a look at the x-height. It’s perfectly designed, makes me want to use this version of Futura instead of the original.

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Interfaces (Part 1): The Art of Screen Design

In the real world, Graphic User Interfaces (GUI) are meant to be simple, usable, and intuitive. However, GUIs on the silver screen are often made to depict an exaggerated view of the action and are usually designed to thrill the audience with suspense.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Screenshot from the Jurassic Park DVD (Universal)

For some strange reason, interfaces have always fascinated me, especially the ones I see in movies… and I always wondered who the hell was responsible for them in all of the movies I’d watch. Thus, the main reason for this post is to uncover the obscure art of making interfaces for film. I’ve included only a couple of movies from the past and present of which I thought had strong screen design but I have also included some links at the end of the article for you to learn more on the subject.

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Screen capture from the Jurassic Park DVD displaying a weather tracking system

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Dennis Nedry’s sabotage being executed

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“It’s a UNIX system… I know this!”

I always thought that the 3D UNIX interface depicted in the final minutes of the movie was a fake one (refer to the picture above). However, upon doing some research, I stumbled upon a nice little discovery; apparently, the GUI was a real one. The file system interface, File System Navigator (FSN), was an actual demo that had been released by Silicon Graphics back in the early 90s and it ran under SGi’s IRIX platform:

What’s interesting about watching movies while having obsessions with GUIs is that sometimes I often catch little mistakes here and there (and I’m sure we all do). There is a scene where Dennis Nedry (the chubby guy from Seinfeld) is talking to someone near the dock during a thunderstorm. I could clearly see that it wasn’t a live feed but a .mov QuickTime movie being played back.

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Here you can clearly see that the movie is a Quicktime .mov being played and synched with the dialogue from Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight)

Avatar (2009)

I should say that I haven’t really gone out to the movies lately, probably due to the fact that Hollywood movies don’t really entice me all that much anymore. However, Avatar was a must see for me because I’m a self-proclaimed 3D whore. The movie itself was not horrible but I didn’t really care much on the storyline; the interfaces (and 3D) were the real attraction for me.

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Screenshot of the Blu-ray edition of Avatar (20th Century Fox)

After the half-hour mark, I was in heaven; watching how the interfaces worked in true 3D was mind-blowing. Everything was beautifully executed, from the graphics placed in 3D space on the webcam to the tablets and rotating computer workstations.

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Avatar: Webcam transmission — Note: The typography and graphic elements of the webcam transmission live on 3D space.

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Avatar: I was in awe after drooling over this 3D holographic interface

The genius behind all of the work done for Avatar is Neil Huxley, an art director from the visual effects house known as Prime Focus.

The overall art direction for this movie is obvious. Since most screen designs in this movie are within the context of a military operation, they were rendered to resemble military interfaces such as Heads Up Displays (HUD) and Digital Display Indicators (DDI) found in modern military aircraft.

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Real-world: DDI displays showing the avionics of an F/A-18 under various functions

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Real-world: Heads Up Display (HUD) from an F/A-18C Hornet

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Avatar: DDI displays of the “Scorpion” VTOL aircraft

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Avatar: HUD inside main aircraft

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Avatar: Rotating HUD workstation

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Avatar: Computer interface

There’s a great interview on Neil Huxley over at Inventing Interactive explaining the rationale and process. You can read more about him here:
Neil Huxley Interview

Additional notes

There’s a lot of great interface designers out there and I might as well point out some of the most recognized faces out there.

Imaginary Forces was responsible for the “Machine Vision” interface design seen in Terminator: Salvation. While I haven’t seen this movie yet, I can tell that a great amount of detail and effort was put into the screen design of this movie.

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Machine Vision in Terminator: Salvation

I remember when Mark Coleran’s reel appeared for the first time in Motionographer, it spread like wildfire across social networks. Coleran is a celebrity figure when it comes to screen design. His interfaces are extremely intricate and detailed and it’s a shame that they usually show them for a couple of seconds in the movies they appear in.

Coleran Reel 2008.06 HD from Mark Coleran on Vimeo.

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You can read an interview of Coleran’s process and techniques here:
http://motion.tv/2009/04/11/mark-coleran-on-screen-design/

I hope you enjoyed this article. I will be writing another article concerning other types of interfaces soon. Stay tuned.

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