Better, But Careful
Let’s get something out of the way, I hated the old BBC branding with a passion.
I could never understand how the 'World's Greatest Broadcaster' could be content with the equivalent of a condescending uncle, who thought Tom Hooper's 'Cats' was a good watch, and drinks Baileys because it makes him look 'hip', as their branding approach. It was as though someone mentioned the word 'branding’ to them about 10 years ago and they immediately fired up their word processors to find out what it meant.
Everything was old-fashioned, disjointed, unimaginative, patronising, cobbled together, and dull.
But changes are afoot - the BBC has recently gone through an extensive, and long overdue rebrand, with the most notable differences coming in the form of shiny new visuals.
BBC Chief Customer Officer Kerris Bright has said:
“It has been a long time since we updated the look and feel of the BBC. Our research tells us that audiences think some of our services look old fashioned and out of date. They want a modern BBC that is easier to use and navigate to find the content they love and enjoy. The more content people find that they love, the more they will get from the BBC.“
So, has it worked? Well, in the best traditions of a Top Gear road test, let's find out.
Starting at the top with the most recognisable bit, the new logo appears to have had its macros fiddled with – some areas toned up, more bulk in others. Making use of the new BBC font - more on that in a bit – and a more even spacing between the different elements are small changes but make such a big difference. Considering the catch 22 situation they’re in – if they completely change it people wouldn’t like it; if they leave it the same people wouldn’t like it; if they just update it people wouldn’t like it – this new design feels more balanced, smarter, and less oppressive. It’s also, crucially, still as recognisable as its predecessor.
So off to a good start.
Source: Creative Blog
With the new services logos there has, of course, been some opinion differing. The release of any new logo is met with broadly the same enthusiasm as a Batman casting. When Michael Keaton was announced as Gotham’s caped crusader, the general reaction was “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, until people saw him fully latexed, when he was universally praised. Although it wasn’t quite as strong with these logos, the general online response was negative, claiming the BBC was copying Google.
Whether that’s the case or not – and it isn’t - if you look at them objectively, they work really well. The three-block rectangle design cleverly ties each one back to the main brand without having to have “BBC” looming overhead, and it’s a really simple idea that doesn’t expect you to be Einstein to get what’s going on. The animation for each is considered, thoughtful, and provides a good bit of flexibility to how and where each is used.
The previous versions were random pieces of designed text with “BBC” stuck on top, trying to marry together all these disparate departments you felt were sticking together for the sake of the children. So, there was a need for some uniformity between the various sub-brands to at least give the impression of a cooperative, connected BBC - and they’ve done that.
When a lot of logos are launched, most people see them on their own, out of context, so they don’t necessarily make sense. For example, you take Ollie Locke away from the tans, teeth and entitlement, you just want to give him a slap, but surrounded by all the other muppets on Made in Chelsea … see what I mean. With these new services logos, when you see them in situ with the rest of the graphic elements, all is good.
So I like them.
The block design has been further deployed throughout the BBC’s new graphics, and again nicely hits the spot – or indeed the square. This style of brand design I like, as it uses the logo shape as the main graphic element, playing to the strengths of the brand’s most recognisable component. It’s simple, clean, smart, adaptable, and easily ties everything together.
It’s also still a shape no other major broadcaster uses, weirdly, so even purely from a “point of difference” point of view it ticks the box. Plus, squares and blocks form the basis for most UI design, so they’ve got a leg-up there without even trying.
The only thing that slightly moistens my mirth is that the rectangles’ aspect ratios appear to be random, rather than using recognisable sizes, like 16:9, 4:3, and cinemascope 2.35:1. It’s only a small detail, but could give that link back to a “modern” BBC by acknowledging the way their output is now consumed - TV, phone, social posts etc.
"Updated, recognisable colours, logos and graphics will identify each service and help improve navigation between them."
The biggest change with the brand’s colour scheme is it now appears to come from the same catalogue. The old colour strategy made less sense than one of Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowens' wallpapers, mainly because their wasn't one. A random gaggle of ghastly gradients and light leaks imposed on anyone not quick enough to cover their eyes. Did I mention I wasn’t a fan?
Anyway, the new colours are bright, appealing to the eye, and engaging. They compliment each other, as well as their subject, without feeling sarcastic or rhetorical. They're loud but don't drown out, actively feeling like they want to be seen as an integral adjective of the new Beeb.
One area the BBC is well and truly on-trend is developing their own custom font, because that’s what every brand and their dog does now. I’m surprised they didn’t go the whole hog and make it flexible width, but let’s not go too fast.
Named after the BBC's founder, John Reith, at first glance it doesn’t seem to be too different to the Gill Sans they used previously, but like the main logo, everything’s been adjusted so the tails, arms, shoulders, and any other parts of each character’s anatomy are more consistent, less corporate, and more charming.
The two families, Serif and Sans, play off each other nicely; and although I’m not totally convinced with some of the applications, you can’t fault the fonts themselves. They may not be the best custom brand fonts out there, but they do feel right for the BBC, for today’s market. Mostly due to the un-Gill-Sans-yness of them.
Then we come to the new idents.
BBC TWO has kept the “2” curve shape designs from the last couple of years, which are fantastic; BBC THREE is vibrant, edgy and youthful – again spot on; and BBC FOUR is bit more conservative, with the quarter split design giving a different view of the main image on screen. Again, works really well.
But then you’ve got BBC ONE’s - the anchovy in the otherwise delicious Caesar salad of new idents. Seeing them for the first time, my reaction was “meh”.
For me they just don’t work. I get the thinking behind them, to capture “British life through multiple lenses”, and although clever, they’re as indistinguishable and forgettable as Richard Hammonds next TV show.
They seem distant and uninviting, rather than welcoming you in with open arms. The scenes themselves are slow, and yet the central animation happens too fast so if you’re not paying attention, you miss the point. They’ve lost the warmth and zing of some of the previous packages, and for me aren’t as iconic.
If you showed someone a herd of hippos converging in a circle, most people would know what channel you were on without needing to see any B’s or C’s. And yet, if you showed them a delipidated ballroom or some uninterested skateboarders, not sure they’d get it.
The website is another area that is a bit of a soggy bottom – it feels like their five-to-five on a Friday. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but you do feel if they’d just spent another 10 minutes on it, you’d have the full Battenberg rather than a plain sponge.
Some may call it minimalist, but there’s “minimalist” and there’s “can’t be arsed”, and this is slightly falling into the latter. And yet, with their other platforms, the experience and interaction has improved no end. iPlayer finally feels like it is connected to this century; the apps are quick with some nice details and animation; and collectively should appeal to both millennials and elder statesmen alike.
So I’m viewing the current iteration as a Bake-Off waft, cooling things down and tempting your tastebuds before it’s sliced, iced, and wrapped in some almondy goodness, ready for a Hollywood handshake.
A lot of these changes are down to the BBC’s own, recently founded, inhouse creative team, called, you guessed it, “BBC Creative”. At one stage that would have been an oxymoron, but now can legitimately be seen as one of the UK’s leading creative agencies. Their diversity and talent are evident, I love some of the styles and approaches they use, and you get the feeling someone actually cares about what is being produced. It can’t be overstated the difference they’ve made to overall aesthetic of the BBC’s output. At last.
So, back to the original question; does the new branding work?
YESSSSS!!! It is so much better. BBC, if I could kiss you, I would. There are elements I would like to see changed, but you can’t deny the new visuals are fresh, unpretentious, bright, and allow for further development and interpretation. It feels so refreshing to finally see this. The BBC does so many things well, and I could never understand why it’s look wasn’t one of them.
But, when you put everything together, there is one thing that stands out. Everything is a bit too safe, a bit too careful. There is nothing in there that is going to upset the established order, or cause someone to spill their tea in the morning. And on first thought, that is a bit of a let-down.
But, (again) if take everything into account, this is the approach that any sensible person would take if presented with this project.
Think about it, the BBC has a huge global audience, so has to appeal to a large, diverse group with very different views of it. There is a huge number of people that needed to be ok with end result. The more daring the new visual identity, the greater the risk of alienating viewers and users, which the BBC can’t afford to do. It’s the “BBC”, not the “GC”.
Its easy for people online (and me) to critique individual aspects, but answering honestly, if I was given this project, would I do anything differently? In areas, yes, but overall, no. It is what I would do – it is the most logical solution to a more difficult problem than people like to admit.
Everything is familiar but brought up to date without rocking the boat too much. The new branding allows the onscreen talent, visuals, programmes, etc to have the limelight, rather than the corporation itself, which shows the BBC is modernising and changing its approach. There is still the air of respectability, and it is still a recognisable brand – just now without the overarching, authoritarian, cobbled-together nature of the last 20 years.
And I can’t stress enough, whatever you think of it – it is SO much better than before. “Better, But Careful” is not a dig, it’s the approach that I think anyone sensible would take.
So, I am now officially a fan (mostly) of the BBC’s branding.
And on that bombshell, it's time to end. Thank you very much for reading, good night.