Launched in 1982, Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster and the flagship channel of Channel Four Television Corporation, a publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster that manages four other “4”-related channels. Unlike its main competitors, the BBC and ITV, Channel 4 does not have in-house production so all of its programming comes from outside production companies with the goal to be “innovative, experimental and distinctive”. Its programming ranges from sitcoms to documentaries to reality TV (they launched Big Brother UK) to scripted dramas. At the end of September, Channel 4 introduced a new on-air identity led by its in-house team, 4creative, in collaboration with a bunch of Londoners: DBLG and SQUA for on-air package, Brody Associates for custom typefaces, and Jonathan Glazer for idents.
The Channel 4 logo, designed by Lambie-Nairn when it launched, has become one of the most iconic logos in the UK. Long used in a heavy extrusion format, this new iteration goes for a flatter approach — in the opening image, yes, it’s completely flat, but in applications it still maintains a slight perspective — in order to highlight the pieces that make up the logo. The spacing between the pieces has been opened up and I think it makes for a much better, more functional logo, that also happens to look pretty kick-ass.
As you scroll through the work below, one important thing to consider (or remember) is that Channel 4 has always had an edge in the way it presents itself and is well-known for its creative approach to on-air branding, most recently with a series of idents and bumpers that presented the logo through random real-life scenes where the a semblance of the logo is visible for one second. (See the 0:28 mark here).
Horseferry is designed to reflect on Channel 4’s sharp, disruptive, cutting edge, challenging personality as a unique British institution. Chadwick reflects the modern, clean, functional and informative nature of their work as a public service broadcaster. The two fonts have been created to work hand-in-hand across print, digital and broadcast environments.
We will start with the custom typefaces designed by Brody Associates (of Neville Brody fame, yes) as they appear throughout the applications. The typefaces — named after the streets in which Channel 4 resides in — have a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde dynamic going on where Chadwick serves as the normal side of the coin and Horseferry as the weird one and the one you’ll remember the most. While Chadwick recedes in the background, Horseferry slaps you in the face with its harsh angles and inverted slab serifs and since it becomes so much the focus of the applications it eclipses the otherwise nice Chadwick with its bravado that, in most cases, comes across as demanding to be weird just for shock value. It feels like an overly trendy approach for Channel 4 to take and I wouldn’t be surprised if they drop it in a year or two as I don’t think it has staying power. As a typographic exercise, it’s interesting, but as a long-term branding solution it’s not quite right.
In print applications, the typeface certainly helps establish a common visual language even though there is all kinds of typographic treatments: very loosely spaced, small, large, overly hyphenated, all uppercase, etc. I’m not a fan. It lacks some focus or commitment. I do like the colorful logo on the corner!
Along side Channel 4’s inhouse creative team 4Creative, the identity created by DBLG and SQUA reflects the Channel’s public service remit focussed on innovation, diversity, taking creative risks. It is the latest evolution of a brand that has existed in its current form for over a decade.
In a bold new move, our core concept was to strip the channel of its iconic logo and find hundreds of unconventional ways to introduce and animate the famous Lambie Nairn blocks. We designed a system that is playful, surprising, ever changing and above all colourful.
This idea has been injected across all areas of the on screen identity. Promos, Branded stings, Menus information graphics, lower thirds, credit squeezes and even within the Channel4 News.
DBLG press release
The real highlight of this reboot is the on-air package designed by DBLG and SQUA. It takes the recent premise of not showing the logo to an extreme by getting rid of the logo altogether and instead basing the identity on the pieces that make up the logo. This is so ballsy from both the designer and client alike that it should almost be unlawful. The nine individual pieces of the logo are used as the basis of the on-air identity sometimes using only three or four them, sometimes all nine, and sometimes they multiply like rabbits into the hundreds. At their best, the bits and pieces are built as little blocks and made to bounce around on colorful platforms and at their least best (because it’s still pretty cool) they are digitally rendered to hold programming information. This is unlike anything else in TV identity and not only is it creatively original but manages to take Channel 4’s quirky equity in a new, unexpected direction.
The channel’s new idents demonstrate an innovative new take on the Channel 4 logo. 4Creative collaborated with Academy Films who produced this part of the project. Director Jonathan Glazer took the original brief and crafted a story, writing and directing the set of films; a four-part narrative that is to be continued…
The final piece of the puzzle are the idents by Jonathan Glazer which are very WTF-ish. If you thought the on-air package didn’t show enough of the logo, the idents will leave you wondering if these aren’t some of those films that are shown in tiny dark rooms in contemporary art museums. Here, the pieces of the logo are built into the environments as earthy materials. Blink and you will miss them. The second one with the jumbly man I find very annoying but the third one with the white lab coat minions is quite amazing.
Overall, this is a fantastic effort that is clearly not going for a popularity award but instead attempts to satisfy the channel’s mission to keep thins “innovative, experimental and distinctive” and if this work doesn’t fit that, I don’t know what does.