Four Play

As brands evolve, so must their logos. Rick Banks tells us why the ability to adapt while retaining familiarity is the ultimate mark of good design. 

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Obviously as a graphic designer, I've got quite a few favourite logos: FedEx, British Rail, Nike to name but three. I could go on but I've decided not to choose one logo to focus on, but a single logo reinterpreted again and again — Channel 4.

The famous colourful puzzle logo was launched on 2 November 1982, designed by branding agency Lambie–Nairn, representing a game-changing moment for the UK TV industry. Channel 4 wanted to shake everything up and wanted an identity that reflected this attitude. For the idents, the symbol would appear as animated blocks hurled onto the screen. At the time, there was no computer that was able to animate the logo in the UK, so the animation was done in Los Angeles. It was the first time a TV company used its on-air identity to establish itself as a brand.

In terms of design, the original and modular logo ticks all the boxes for me: it was clean, distinctive, unique, ownable and could work at small sizes. Perhaps even more importantly, the classic logo had room to evolve and respond; put simply, the logo had legs. Nowadays, not many logos have that kind of inherent flexibly that allows them to progress for the better — more and more TV re-brands are revolutions instead of evolutions. Think just how many TV channels have been re-branded in recent years (ITV, Channel 5, SyFy, Watch, Comedy Central).

In 1996, Channel 4 launched a new identity called "Connections". The multi-colour was stripped and the logo was placed in one of four circles. Three years later in 1999 this was replaced by a simple square.

Fast forward to 2004 and the (current) logo developed a 'shadowed' area where the negative space made up the number 4. Accompanying this new logo was a set of ground-breaking and award-winning idents, where the logo was made up of various objects. The camera would pan through a scene with the logo only appearing in a split second from a certain angle. This brilliant idea was only possible by having such a great and distinctive logo to begin with.

The original logo was so playful and flexible, that it must be a joy for current designers to experiment with the latest rendition. Today's media is constantly moving and shifting — the logo, with its original nine blocks, can still adapt to print, motion, film and beyond. It has been rotated, twisted, tweaked, extruded, and has even backed gay rights.

The logo isn't dead — it's very much alive and kicking. And it has been since 1982.