Last week Creative Review reported on what I think is one of the biggest brand stories of the year: The new look for MTV International headed by Universal Everything. It would be bigger than big had this new look also applied to MTV in the U.S. but, unless I got my 60-plus MTV channels confused, this change only applies to the MTV International Network, which is still a hell of a lot of channels for a hell of a lot of people. What makes this big, and at the core of this identity change, is that the MTV logo will no longer mutate to the whims of every and any designer and animator that gets his or her hands on it. No, the logo will now only appear in its original, black and white wordmark designed back in 1981. What’s funny though is that the designers never really intended for the MTV logo to be used as is, from the beginning it was seen as point of departure rather than a destination.
Working with John Lack, the executive vice president of Warner Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC), Robert Pittman, a successful radio programmer, helped establish a groundbreaking cable television channel: MTV, the music channel. Fred Seibert, a former jazz record producer and radio station promotion coordinator, was hired by Pittman to oversee the identity of the channel. Seibert turned to his lifelong friend Frank Olinsky, who had just established Manhattan Design with two partners, Pat Gorman and Patty Rogoff, to create the logo. The process was remarkably collaborative: Rogoff first drew the big M and worked with Gorman to determine its perspective; then Gorman suggested a pointy TV to its side, which Olinsky took and spray-painted it. Meanwhile, the M was subjected to productive tomfoolery, with the partners rendering it in bricks, polka dots, and zebra stripes, and suggesting the logo could be all these things.
Seibert presented the mutating logo to Pittman and Lack, and met resistance to both the solution and the firm behind it. Seibert was asked to hire a big-name designer like Push Pin Studios or Lou Dorfsman to do the logo. He did, but as the process extended and time became a problem, Manhattan Design’s was approved. Seibert next focused on the station identifications for broadcast, which Pittman equaled to radio jingles, instantly recognizable and memorable. The first pool of collaborators comprised production houses like Broadcast Arts, Colossal Pictures, and Perpetual Motion Pictures, who created surreal ten-second animations that gave life to the MTV logo. For MTV’s top-of-the-hour identification, illustrator Candy Kugel at Perpetual took the still images of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (available in the public domain) and colorized the MTV logo on top of the American flag. On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., to the unmistakable sound of MTV’s guitar riff, this image launched a new generation of viewers, artists, designers, and citizens.
— From our own Graphic Design, Referenced
The new look can certainly be seen as more of a philosophical change than an actual redesign, since the design elements remain the same: MTV logo plus of-the-moment-cool imagery and animation around it. But as CR logo reports, the logo is now “sacred” according to MTV International’s Vicepresident of Creative. What has been fun about the MTV identity over the years has been the complete opposite, the lack of sacredness of a logo that without its creative skins is really not that great. We assume it’s great because of its association with a revolutionary brand — regardless of what you think of MTV’s programming at the moment — but if this logo had been introduced for the first time today, it would get butchered. Why does the TV not match the dimensional angle of the M? Why the thin strokes to define the dimension? Why the droopy TV treatment? Etc.
Turning the logo into something sacred just seems unnecessary but when a brand is reaching nearly 30 years of reproduction, drastic measures must be taken to breath new life into it and, despite all of my previous reservations about the change, I do feel this is the punch-in-the-groin change the MTV brand needed, simply to try and take it into a new direction.
Below are a few images of the new design but I highly recommend that for the full details, more images and a few spanky animations you visit Creative Review.