Reach for the Sky

Paul Murphy treks out to BSkyB’s headquarters to meet Jon Yeo, the senior designer hoping to keep Sky subscribers tuned into its new music channels

Jon Yeo’s CV

1993 Foundation course at Grimsby College of Art

1994 BA graphic design at Suffolk College, wins Sky bursary for final year

1998 Joins BSkyB as junior designer

2002 As senior graphic designer, leads design development of Sky’s new music channels

Getting to BSkyB’s headquarters in Middlesex involves a Tube ride to Osterley almost as far as London’s Heathrow airport. What’s most remarkable about Osterley is how ordinary and suburban it is, a feeling reinforced by an uneventful wait in the rain for the heavily branded Sky minibus with a door that doesn’t want to close however hard I slam it (‘Sorry about that, it’s German,’ says the driver by way of explanation).

Having passed through the various security gates and collected the ubiquitous paper security pass, I’m allowed into the modest foyer of Unit 2 and the home of Sky’s Creative Services unit. A bank of televisions display the full array of Sky channels and at the end, bereft of any Sky branding, however modest (and modesty isn’t a quality usually associated with Sky), there’s The Amp, one of the three new music channels Sky launched earlier this year into what is an already crowded market (News, DW 24 April). So what is it that makes Sky think the channel, along with Flaunt and Scuzz, can stand out from the pack?

Turned around in less than ten months from conception to launch, the channels were always conceived of as complementary parts. The Amp is like Jo Whiley on the radio, describing itself as being ‘For real fans of real music’ and it’s earned a certain cachet in my house as being the place you can see Alex and Martin’s excellent ‘Seven Nations Army’ video for the White Stripes at least once an hour all day. Flaunt is the pop channel featuring Justin Timberlake, Kelly Rowland, Sugababes, Avril Lavigne and Atomic Kitten (you get the idea). And Scuzz is the self-proclaimed raucous one, billing itself as ‘the home for music fans who like their guitars loud and their thrills thick and fast’.

Jon Yeo, senior graphic designer responsible for the in-house music team at Sky, joined the company five years ago after completing his graphics degree at Suffolk. He’d previously spent the time between his second and third years on work experience at Sky. A bursary for £3000 from Sky helped him out in his final year plus the job offer that went with it.

Yeo speaks with great enthusiasm and a genuine excitement about the new music channels. ‘From the start the whole Sky One team plus others from Creative Services [in-house] were involved. There was no brief as such, we just worked up ideas after hours.’ A brief and provisional names emerged from initial market research at the end of last year.

Three design groups, including Creative Services, worked on the channels’ personalities. While Blue Source took charge of The Amp, picking up from where the initial R and D had taken it, Root Design was given Flaunt (or Gloss as it was then known), but this was later handed over to the in-house team, which was already working on Scuzz. Post-launch, all content for the channels, including promos and programming, have been handled in-house.

According to Yeo, the channels’ identities are their most distinguishing feature. ‘Compared with most music channels, more considered graphic design has gone into them,’ he says.

The basis of the Scuzz identity is, as Yeo puts it, ‘the stencil and spray can thing’ whereby the logo is sprayed on to a brick wall or some other prop that says ‘urban jungle’ á  la Banksy, he says.

As the basis for the Scuzz brand it works well, opening up immense possibilities not only for animation, but in its application. Guidelines for its use are featured in a style book designed by Yeo himself that’s a model of clarity and humour in keeping with the brand itself.

The channels are served by six designers and six producers and Yeo says there’s a lot of cross-over between the roles and cross-pollination of ideas. ‘The producers are really into the design and the designers are really into the content. There’s a lot of multi-tasking and it’s a nice, productive atmosphere to work in,’ he says.

It’ll be interesting to see how well the three channels fare. While Flaunt and The Amp offer the most straightforward rationales for their existence, gossip and pop from the former and music for art students from the latter, Scuzz, with its promise of an anti-establishment stance, social comment and teen idealism seems to sit most awkwardly with its corporate origins.

As Yeo says, ‘the most important thing to emerge from research was [Scuzz] couldn’t appear with a corporate badge, or appear to sell a product. It had to appear as a product of the culture it was portraying’.

Ultimately, we will judge the success of Scuzz’s identity on its ability to perform this sleight of hand.

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