Branding Socialist Republics

Just as a disclaimer, this post is not intended to push a stance on a particular political ideology, but rather focus purely on its aesthetic qualities. You could say this post is as superficial as it gets and I’m totally OK with that since you and I both know that we are graphic-driven whores.

Growing up, I remember being fascinated by military paraphernalia (now… whether I support the military, that’s a separate discussion). There was a specific article in a military magazine covering the Warsaw Pact that had all of the emblems of its affiliated nations neatly laid out on a map. Each emblem was manicured with lavish decorations and illustrations that caught my attention for hours. And I never really cared for what the emblems stood for, until now.

Even though the Cold War is long gone, one of its most distinguishable remnants is the design system for socialist emblems. Part of the reason why I thought they were so fascinating is that they didn’t follow traditional heraldic rules. However, as it is to be expected with any other design system, they seemed to follow a very specific set of guidelines.

Other than the ubiquitous motifs for the proletarian intelligentsia such as sickles and hammers, the emblems also implemented sheaves of wheat, mechanized objects/parts, red stars, and interwoven ribbons in order to mark a strong cultural connection with the working class.

In terms of color, red is the defining hue. Its symbolism goes all the way back to the French Revolution (from Red Flag wiki article):

The red cap was a symbol of popular revolt in France going back to the Jacquerie of 1358. The color red become associated with patriotism early in the French Revolution due to the popularity of the Tricolour cockade, introduced in July 1789, and the Phrygian cap, introduced in May 1790. A red flag was raised over the Champ-de-Mars in Paris on July 17, 1791 by Lafayette, commander of the National Guard, as a symbol of martial law, warning rioters to disperse. As many as fifty anti-royalist protesters were killed in the fighting that followed.

Inverting the original symbolism, the Jacobins protested this action by flying a red flag to honor the “martyrs’ blood” of those who had been killed.

The Russians subsequently adopted the red flag during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and has since then become the norm for symbolizing socialist ideals.


Armenian SSR

Azerbaijan SSR

Byelorussian SSR

Estonian SSR

Georgian SSR

Kazakh SSR

Kirghiz SSR

Latvian SSR

Lithuania SSR

Moldavian SSR

Russian SFSR

Tajik SSR

Turkmen SSR

Ukrainian SSR

Uzbek SSR

Karlo-Finnish SSR

Transcaucasian SSR

East Germany

People’s Republic of China

North Korea

For more examples of socialist heraldry, check out this Wikipedia article.

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Form Follows Motion


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

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)


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.


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.


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.






MotionScreensCommercial break on-air segment

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



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

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Addison London — Shell’s RVI system

Totally forgot about these images I had scanned a while ago. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of oil companies, especially Shell (their environmental record is fucking embarrassing). Having said that, there’s something incredibly interesting about the way gas stations are designed. I’ve always been fascinated by the RVI system (RVI — Retail Visual Identity) developed by Addison London for Shell. Not only was this an identity system that would tackle all printed mediums, but it was an impressive convergence of architecture, graphic, industrial, and brand design. And let’s not forget about the tasty use of Futura…

Concept sketch

Final concept

Old retail identity being removed

Modular paneling system for the main canopy

Modular paneling system in construction

Directional wayfinding being assembled

Directional wayfinding at night

The modularity of which the buildings consist of was a great way to unify all gas stations regardless of their location. Not only were the storefronts conveying the same type and color treatments, but share the same architecture as well. It’s interesting to see how even architecture can become part of a larger identity through the use of a simple portico system.

Modular architecture

Main elements of a building. Note the portico comparison at the bottom left corner.



Buildings showcasing the prominent portico system

Select retail store configuration:



Aquavalet-branded signage using the unified portico system:



Main gas pump signage and graphics:






Assembling a prime sign



The modularity of the RVI prime signs allow different configurations


Canopy details:



Inner lighting (yellow paneling)

RVI system around the globe:


Hong Kong


I have no idea where these scanned images came from as these images were recovered from an old repository. If you happen to know where they came from, please let me know!

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