When it was launched in 1982, the iconic animated Channel 4 logo, designed by branding agency Lambie–Nairn, was revolutionary. It was one of the first computer animated logos on British television and the first example of a network using its on-air identity to establish itself as a brand. Having survived various reinterpretations over a decade, the logo is considered an icon of British culture.
But last year, and the British network channel felt like it needed a refresh. They sent out a call for pitches, and motion design studio DBLG nabbed the job with proposal that broke down the iconic logo into the nine blocks that it’s comprised of. Alongside 4Creative, the network’s in-house team, famed British designer Neville Brody and acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, DBLG launched the new system last week, which realizes the deconstructed blocks across on-menus, graphics, promotions, and idents.
The most striking–and controversial–aspect of the new identity system is the absence of a static logo. “Structurally the system is very similar [to the old identity system],” says DBLG’s Grant Gilbert. “There’s still an ident in front of the show. You still have information and promos for the programs. The physical structure is still exactly the same, it’s just how we represent it. The most surprising thing is that there isn’t a stamp at the end. We’re not sticking a logo on it.”
To come up with the original idea for the new look, Gilbert brought on fellow designer Steven Qua, who he had worked with at Channel 4 in the mid-’90s. Using a 3-D printer in the DBLG office, the designers printed out the blocks in the iconic “4” logo and began throwing them to see how they landed. They ended up using that same method to convey the idea in their client pitch. “We printed out the blocks of the logo and threw them the table and said ‘That’s your logo.’ We picked them up and threw them back down again and said ‘That’s your logo,'” says Gilbert of the original pitch meeting. “It doesn’t matter where they land, it’s all part of the brand and the blocks represent that.”
After landing the job, Gilbert tapped Neville Brody to design two different typefaces for the rebrand: Chadwick, an elegant, gothic typeface, and Horseferry, which has ‘cut’ characteristics that mimic the angles and geometry of the new mark. Jonathan Glazer came on to the project to direct four brilliantly bizarre short films that run during the channel’s commercial breaks. With no logo to stamp onto the end of the idents, Glazer incorporated the blocks into the narrative of the films themselves.
“There is a formula [for creating motion graphics], and over the years it’s the same thing over and over again. You have something animated, and then something else happens, and then the logo,” says Gilbert. “We wanted the opposite of that. That was the brief to ourselves, really.”