Channel 4 Logo

The Channel 4 logo is a familiar sight to channel 4 viewers. John Halas tells the fascinating story of how it came into being.

Nobody would deny the usefulness of a well-considered corporate identity. Major industrial organisations have recognized its value.

Corporate identities for television companies, however, are different. Television logos appear on the TV screen with great frequency, the attention of millions is focussed on them and they tend to establish the visual identity, the policy, the philosophy and the particular style of the station. They can also last for a very long time. The CBS Eye, for instance, is over forty years old.

Channel 4 therefore had a formidable problem to solve. The major British TV stations dominated the TV screens with their easily recognizable visual identities, and it was a very crowded scene which the newcomer had to muscle-in-on to. At the same time an opportunity emerged here to introduce a newer concept in corporate identity.

Britain is richly endowed with experienced, internationally known designers specialising in Corporate identity. Yet the new company, after careful consideration, chose a comparatively unknown design team to carry out the job. The design unit assigned the task was Robinson Lambie-Nairn Ltd., formed in 1976. Both Cohn Robinson and Martin Lambie-Nairn had previously worked in the graphics department of London Weekend Television. They both had previous experience as print designers in other companies. The third partner of the unit, Ian St. John, went to college with Cohn Robinson and on joining them assisted the young team in 2-dimensional graphics while they retained their TV contacts.

The simpler a logo looks on the screen, the more difficult it is to produce. The introduction of movement is the main problem. A 2-dimensional design is comparatively easy but when it assumes a dimension in motion, it is subjected to an aspect of dynamics whereby timing can become a dominant factor. Martin Lambie-Nairn came up with a solution which proved entirely suitable for the task and at the same time responded to all the requirements of a moving image. The visual elements were based on the shape of the figure 4. The 4 was designed to reflect the nature of the new channel and the aspirations expressed by those responsible for its creation and development.

In particular its output is composed of an eclectic mix of programming that is multicultural, multi-racial, often of minority interest. All output is supplied from outside sources. These disparate elements combine to form a strong and cohesive personality. The movement of the 4 on screen does the same.

But the major hurdles still lay ahead. Animating the shapes in order to maintain a true metamorphic illusion; adapting the design as the basis for Channel 4’s corporate design, and all its various elements. A computer was used in London to plot the basic movement but they had to go to Los Angeles to finish the sequence. Adding the colour with correct tonality, highlights and shadows was another problem. After several tryouts it was successfully solved. The final step was the most important one; the total integration of the basic elements of the logo design and its colours for the very wide uses which a TV company is obliged to adopt.

The corporate typeface across its applications is Gill Sans. It is interesting to note how such an old type can give an entirely up-to-date impression. The various adaptations of it; stationary, sign systems, promotional items, vehicles and merchandising, are carried out extremely well, helped by its simple ingenious design. The station has been functioning now for over a year. While it has taken some time to find its identity as far as programme content is concerned, it never had a problem in establishing itself as a high quality station with a new look. The careful input, with visual identity, is paying dividends. The talents of Martin Lambie-Nairn (who designed the logo), and Chris Vane (who transferred and adapted its various elements to flat print), have succeeded. The novelty of the concept maintains its momentums, and the integration over a wide range of uses has been comparatively painless.

Here is an outstanding example of how graphic design can contribute towards establishing and maintaining the image of an important communication organisation. It is also an example of how the up-to-date medium of motion graphics can work side by side with the more conventional aspects of print design.

It is an entirely contemporary concept and one which could be used as an example by many other corporations.

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