Contesting the title

We have all winced at the moiré effect of a TV newscaster’s striped tie or dog’s-tooth jacket. He might look great in real life, but for viewers watching at home he looks like a migraine attack.

We have all winced at the moiré effect of a TV newscaster’s striped tie or dog’s-tooth jacket. He might look great in real life, but for viewers watching at home he looks like a migraine attack. The TV screen has its own rules of engagement and while getting it wrong is just an irritation to the wardrobe dressers of programme presenters, it’s deadly serious for brands.

With the increasing proliferation of electronic media, manufacturers will find that their logos and identities appear more and more frequently on the TV and computer screen. But the desire to see brand identities primarily as forms on the printed page, product pack or shop facia is still strong. Those who by happy accident have logos that work successfully in all media will have no imminent worries, although even they will not be able to rest on their laurels. However, many brand-owners will discover to their cost that identities which may have been off-screen heroes are on-screen failures.

So far, many manufacturers have seen the challenge as unimportant since their identity only appears on-screen when it is badging a TV commercial. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The consensus tends to be that the commercial itself can make up for any inadequacies in the broadcast quality of the logo. But the revolution of on-screen retailing is making this view outdated. On the Internet you can now visit Barclay Square, the UK’s first “virtual shopping mall”, created by Barclays Bank. At the moment there are eight shops in the mall, including Sainsbury’s and Argos, and no doubt countless others will follow suit. Suddenly the importance of an identity which works properly on-screen is obvious. As the consumer scans the available “shops”, those whose identities “read” best will catch the eye, and out of those it will be the few who manage to exploit the potential of the medium that will have the edge.

Interactive TV will also be arriving in our homes soon and will offer a similar experience. It is predicted that 2.5 million people will be plugged into TwoWay TV, the first of the many companies springing up to offer this service. With a remote control in one hand you will be able to actually take part in what’s going on as it’s going on. A manufacturer’s brand may leap out at you from the supermarket shelf but will it get noticed on the TV screen? The typeface that attracts attention in real life could degrade and be hard to make out or the pack colour which worked so well in the supermarket could flare or fade.

So how should the designer respond to all this? The answer lies in abandoning the heritage of pure graphic design and embracing the more recent discipline of on-screen graphics. Channel idents have developed from their original shaky beginnings to become sophisticated images, making full use of the medium. Form, colour, animation, live action, sound and music are all drawn together to form a powerful bundle of brand values. Just look at moving identities complete with sound effects, such as Channel 4 or BBC2, and then compare them with a typical package design. It demonstrates how much potential exists for a brand identity which is willing to make the leap.

Even the most mundane corporate mark or logotype can change to emerge as a new dynamic incarnation ready to do battle against rivals on-screen. Beamish Stout created a live-action identity sequence for its branding in various episodes of Inspector Morse and Legal & General has animated its umbrella emblem for the sponsorship of the local weather forecasts. PowerGen, another weather sponsor, has created a series of sequences which “play” with the corporate identity, exploiting the TV medium in an imaginative way. Nike uses the impact of its logo to full effect with simplistic yet striking images underpinned by fantastic sound effects.

All manufacturers will have to enter this arena sooner or later, and the skills of the graphic designer and TV identity designer will inevitably become fused to meet the demands of this new hybrid discipline. Taking a successful graphic brand identity and transposing it to the screen will mean negotiating a host of technological quirks. For example, colour contrasts don’t have the same rules. Green against red “bounces” and in graphic design can be a useful way of grabbing attention. On-screen, however, red will simply flare and have no visual appeal.

Details which can add depth and subtlety in a printed format can be lost on-screen entirely: serifs disappear, counters fill in and subtle ligatures can lose their finesse. Distortion is another pitfall which can be encountered when using parallel lines and curved shapes. For instance, M-pegging, where film is compressed and sent down a cable, causes distortion to static images which is not so apparent on the moving image.

Technical limitations test the designer and only an in-depth knowledge and a close working relationship with technicians will help solve the problems. When conventional videos are “squirted” down the line the quality is affected as it is expanded back to its original size. Navigational guides on the other hand must be simple, fluid, not causing walls or bottlenecks.

Designers with solely traditional graphic skills will quickly find themselves out of their depth with no doubt an attack of technophobia thrown in. When a client asks “Will my new identity work on the Internet or on a shopping channel on interactive TV?” will you know what to reply? You will probably be lucky today and they won’t ask, but what about tomorrow?

That’s why it’s best to bear in mind that all brands and corporate identities may need to work on-screen at some point. It may not be part of the brief, but a good designer will build it in to the creative solution anyway to avoid storing up a small screen disaster for the future.

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