Has Channel 4 made the right connection?

Opinion varies on Channel 4’s new in-house ident. Although it is a bold step on from dated animated logos, will it be as ground-breaking as the original in 1982? Bhavna Mistry reports

Channel 4 has had little feedback on its new identity since it was first aired last Friday. The handful of calls logged by the broadcaster on the topic reveal a mixed bag of responses, with some already missing the distinctive and colourful Robinson Lambie-Nairn identity, and others enthusiastic about the bold new direction.

Players in the design industry who specialise in on-screen broadcast work are unusually reticent about commenting.

Martin Lambie-Nairn, managing director of Lambie-Nairn & Company, refuses to comment at all, saying it “wouldn’t be fair”. Martin Poole, managing director of US consultancy Novocom, says it’s too early to tell whether Channel 4’s softer on-screen look will work in the long-term.

So what is the strategy behind Channel 4’s new on-screen look? The identity, dubbed Connections, retains the stencilled 4 logo – now drained of its multi-colours – and combines graphics and live action “to underline Channel 4’s position as a network that will remain relevant and innovative into the millennium”, says a spokesman for the broadcaster.

Stewart Butterfield, Channel 4’s director of advertising, marketing and sales, adds: “Our new look is not about a logo. We’re making a characteristically bold leap beyond the fixation with animated logos, which are beginning to look rather dated. Viewers need to recognise swiftly which channel they are on, but that can be done effectively without dominating the whole screen with a logo.”

The key image of the new look is a quartet of circles, one of which will consistently feature the 4 logo. The multi-coloured form and the 3D blocks have been dropped, as has the computer animated 4 which split apart and recombined. The circles quartet will be presented in various static formations, or in motion, linked by lines. The circles and lines represent connections between the channel itself – shown by the 4 – and three other entities: its programmes, society at large, and the channel’s viewers.

On a wider scale, Channel 4’s new identity faces stiffer competition this time round than when the then Robinson Lambie-Nairn produced its logo for the broadcaster in 1982. The launch identity has since been lauded as the most innovative corporate identity solution of the Eighties.

The identity featured bright colour, movement, and the use of ground-breaking technology. And importantly, the work was consistent both on- and off-screen. “All those things made the identity ground-breaking within that particular arena because no other broadcaster was doing that,” explains Martin Lambie-Nairn.

This time round, Channel 4 has developed its on-screen look in-house, with some input from Tomato. Tomato is known to be unhappy about the on-screen implementation of the work and Channel 4 acknowledges that the graphics group would be “disappointed not to have taken the project through to completion”, (see news, page 3).

Cost is not thought to have been a factor in Channel 4’s decision to take Tomato off the project – the broadcaster’s head of presentation Steve White says the decision to follow through with the in-house designers’ implementation was taken on preference for their work. But a spokesman proudly states that the project was carried out “without any of the massive expenditure that has surrounded some other recent controversial logo changes in broadcasting and other industries”. And those with even a passing familiarity with identity understand that generally you get your money’s worth.

It remains to be seen whether the new identity has the staying power and long-term impact of the original Robinson Lambie-Nairn creation.

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