running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Channel 4 ReBrand

Saturday, 10 October 2015

After 33 years, Channel 4 has all but ditched the signature '4' logo that became an iconic brand mark. It hasn't fully abandoned it because the recent rebrand actually utilises the component parts of the '4' to great effect an a myriad of different combinations.

Channel 4 has never shied away from creative and sometimes radical visuals in its idents and adverts. In 2005, the originality of its slow motion panning shots around chopped-up electricity pylons and deconstructed urban landscapes revolutionised the ident.  For this rebrand, luminaries such as Neville Brody, Jonathan Glazer and London agency DBLG have all been involved to maintain that sense of exploration. To add to the drama, the channel is facing the threat of privatisation - and the rebrand has been seen by some as a bit extravagant and ill-timed.

The new design breaks apart the channel’s famous 4 symbol into its constituent shapes, which are then randomly reassembled in various arrangements for the stable of Channel 4 programmes. A series of surreal idents created by Glazer (who directed 'Under The Skin') are included, as well as two new display fonts, designed by Neville Brody.

Its adventurous, playful and fun to look at. Its interesting that the shapes have a considerable drop shadow, a progressive move forward from flat design, and the colour palette is bright and high contrast. In fact, the whole approach feels influenced by Google's Material Design,and in that sense it is extremely contemporary. There's an excellent short film detailing the process of the rebrand, which illustrates the quirky approach and the variety of ideas that made up the project -

Its always exciting for graphic designers when a Neville Brody font is involved, and in this instance we get two - 'Horseferry' and 'Chadwick'.  Actually, we only really get Chadwick, with a series of modifications to it in Brody's trademark style - angled cuts, half serifs and broken curves - making up Horseferry.

The description accompanying the Horseferry sample states that 'the design reflects the sharp, disruptive and cutting edge personality of a unique British Institution', whilst Chadwick is built for clarity and legibility on screen.

At first sight Horseferry looks great - it harks back to Brody's experiments during the Face era, and the sharp points and machined half-serifs in particular have a techy retro1980s feel. The lowercase t and g also give a nice nod to Gill Sans, and you can see all sorts of challenging ways to use this typeface. It also looks great for Channel 4 titles like Fargo, Grand Designs and Hunted.

But a quirky typeface and of-the-moment visual styling doesn't always age well, and Channel 4's programme roster reduces the reach of the font.  For me,  Horseferry doesn't work with the likes of Hollyoaks, Educating Cardiff, Made in Chelsea and Deal Or No Deal.  See for yourself if you can bear to tune in when these programmes are on.

All of which means that I'd be surprised if this new incarnation of the Channel 4 identity will still be around in 2025.