Small screen, big vision

Coinciding with the launch of the new BBC identity, Martin Lambie-Nairn has produced a book on his television identities. Yolanda Zappaterra takes a look.

It’s probably fitting that the week which saw the BBC begin to implement its much-maligned new identity also saw the publication of Martin Lambie-Nairn’s Brand Identity for Television: With Knobs On.

Lambie-Nairn’s BBC branding has shaped our view of the corporation, starting with his title sequence for Medicine Today in 1966 and continuing through on-screen identities for both channels, along with the World Service’s multicultural BBC World identity.

His UK screen dominance doesn’t stop with the BBC, having also designed sequences and idents for Channel 4, Carlton, Anglia, Bravo, Scottish Television, BSB and The Disney Channel. Those projects alone would form the basis for a fascinating book, but With Knobs On goes much deeper than appraisal and processes. It attempts to cover every aspect of TV branding, and offers an insight into not just the history and development of the discipline, but also of the industry and its players.

Kicking off with the importance of marketing and the brand, Lambie-Nairn identifies the historical and contemporary problems that TV has had in this area, and offers solutions to such thorny problems as getting TV companies to realise that creating a brand is about creating a difference rather than trying to copy something else.

Obvious stuff nowadays, but probably not three decades ago, when Anglia TV’s chairman spotted a four-foot knight in Asprey’s on Bond Street, thought “that’ll do nicely for my logo”, got his props people to stick a silver flag with the word “Anglia” on it and filmed it. That story is one which, coupled with other sentiments, shows an era of innocence and naïvety that Lambie-Nairn seems to miss. It was a time which, in some ways, allowed more creative freedom than today’s strategy-led, marketing-aware businesses.

But that was then, this is now. The story of TV identity is very much the story of Lambie-Nairn, so the addition of a personal history is not a crowing affair, but an acknowledgement of peers, skilled co-workers, personal mistakes and a steep learning curve, which included grappling with the emerging technology of the Eighties.

That technology was put through its paces with the original Channel 4 identity, which allowed Lambie-Nairn to develop a strategy for a channel’s identity rather than an on-screen logo.

Lambie-Nairn here gives a great overview of the process, ideas, technology and development which formed a strategy based on the core personality of the station. The use of sketches, storyboards, computer images, vectors and finished work illustrates this overview so well that the obvious disadvantage of not being able to show the moving image is overcome to some degree – though a CD-ROM with the book might have been nice.

While our familiarity with the UK work enables us to visualise the images moving, foreign projects such as Germany’s Tele 5 and Swiss channel TSI evoke sumptuous photography and fine art which make you itch to see the idents in their proper setting. But informative captions and images from all stages of each project do give a strong sense of the idents’ development.

Luckily, we’re all so familiar with the repositioning of BBC1 and 2 and the Nine O Clock News that their study stands out as one of the strongest sections of the book, covering everything from research and strategy process to anecdotes and BBC politics. The minutiae of presentations, pitches and cultural differences are divulged in the chapter Foreign Fields, which covers Lambie-Nairn’s foreign adventures, while Finding Common Ground, the last chapter, explores the importance of communicating with the audience and the development of relationships through projects for Carlton, S4C, Bravo and ITN.

It has to be said that despite the vast offering of data in the book, there’s not much in the way of trade secrets, but Lambie-Nairn succeeds in balancing accessibility and interest for the casual browser with a real wealth of information, advice and insight for designers and students.

Brand Identity for Television: With Knobs On by Martin Lambie-Nairn is published by Phaidon Press, priced 45.

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