Identity challenge

The BBC’s 12-week period of public consultation, which follows a much-publicised strategy review, will overlap with a design-roster review pencilled in for the end of May.

The strategy review proposals – instigated by BBC director general Mark Thompson and now being scrutinised by the BBC Trust, promise to free up £600m for programming, as websites are streamlined and radio stations culled.

These decisions, if sanctioned, would havean unprecedented impact on design at the broadcaster – regardless of who is on the roster.

Despite the impending roster review, the BBC would not be drawn on design impact and issued Design Week this statement: ’All proposals from the Strategic Review are now with the BBC Trust for consultation. It is far too early to say how the review may affect design or branding and it would be wrong to speculate on any future decisions at this time.’

The design industry senses change though. An extra £25m has been earmarked for BBC Two programming under the new proposals as the channel is repositioned to cater for more drama and comedy, but less sport.

Graham McCallum, founding partner of Kemistry, worked as an in-house graphic designer for the BBC through the 1960s and 1970s until 1986, and was part of the team that worked up the first BBC Two identity.

He says, ’First, BBC Two will need to decide what it is. When I worked with Alan Yentob [then head of music and arts at the BBC] at its beginning, he was trying to steer the channel in the direction of highbrow arts and culture, but now it’s far more mainstream.

’There is opportunity for repositioning,’ McCallum continues, ’and it has been well branded in the past, but it is living off its own inheritance.’ McCallum says animated ’two’ digits had become ’tired’ and the current ’hollow two’ identity is ’weak’ and borrows too heavily from Channel 4 graphics.

Radio stations Six Music and Asian Network are to be axed if the proposals are ratified, and the BBC has tried to reason that their listeners would be absorbed into other BBC stations.

Thompson has suggested that the catchment of Radio Two can expand to house Six Music’s listeners. He said at its unveiling that Radio Two would ’Take a further step towards distinctiveness’, offering ’a clear distance with what you can find on commercial radio’, yet promised that the station would not experience ’age creep’ towards a younger listenership.

Although Thompson’s justification has been met with widespread disapproval, McCallum says it would present a branding challenge if presented as a brief, where a group could show ’the BBC being seen to give audiences what they want’.

Richard Tilley, creative director of Artillery Design, suggests that off-air communications could help the radio stations appeal to a broader listenership. He adds, ’Possibly, rebranding the radio logos could be done to reflect a broader range of music.’ Conversion would not be the ideal branding solution for Tilley, who says jokingly, ’Maybe they could scrap all the stations for one new station called Radio Everything.’

Tilley says that the decision to increase programming across the network could bring more work for designers, ’More productions equal more graphics and programming needs. Simple maths really.’ But he adds that this move may come as budgets for programme and branding titles are shrinking and consultancies are moving away from TV title work as it is ’not sustainable’. Tilley adds, ’You would like to think that bigger budgets would be passed on by the production companies, but there is no guaranteeing that.’

BBC Online is one of the areas earmarked for streamlining. Under Thompson’s proposals, half of the BBC Web pages – including Blast and Switch – will be shut and spending cut by a quarter by 2013 as staffing levels are reduced and more links made to non-BBC websites. McCallum says this will be ’the first contraction of the BBC ever’.

The online proposal follows Research Studios’ work lead by Neville Brody on a new visual language for BBC online. Poised to roll out, the work was initiated last summer. Brody points out that this is ’unrelated to any BBC politics’, although he admits that there are some parallels to be drawn with the broadcaster’s online streamlining.

Brody says, ’Their sites have been growing exponentially, so we’ve had to get rid of clutter. It was a burgeoning media space searching for an understanding, but now it needs to become a simpler experience.’ The new visual language will establish ’a core DNA’ based on ’traditional graphic components, typography and a grid approach to photography’, he adds.

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