We reveal the new 'masterbrand' for Channel 4, courtesy of Pentagram partners Hudson-Powell and 4Creative, and dive into the thinking and principles behind it.
If you ever watch Channel 4's programmes online, you may have noticed that their on-demand service All4 was recently renamed as just 'Channel 4'. Clearly, something's been in the air. So it may not surprise you that the broadcaster has today unveiled a new masterbrand, bringing all its content, channel brands and streaming service together under one roof.
The new branding is the work of Hudson-Powell, partners at Pentagram London, working in collaboration with Channel 4's in-house agency 4creative. And it's been designed to evoke the channel's unapologetically rebellious nature, balanced with a need for cohesion and consistency.
Grounded in a brand narrative entitled '4 is a traveller', the new branding aims to help the channel continue to be 'Altogether Different' while facing the challenges of streaming competition.
Channel 4 has been known for its radically different content throughout its 41-year history, and that's no accident. It was originally launched by Margaret Thatcher in 1982 as a challenge to the monolithic structures of the BBC and ITV, which were then the only legal broadcasters in the UK.
While these organisations made their programmes in-house, Channel 4 was tasked with outsourcing its shows to external companies instead. And the success of this structure has been in large part responsible for a thriving indie production sector in the UK today.
Channel 4's original remit also required it to represent minority groups. And it's continued on its mission to champion unheard voices and stand up for diversity to this day.
From the early days of anarchic pop music magazine The Tube through to the majority-black sitcom Desmond's, the investigative show Dispatches, the reality behemoth Big Brother, and today the full-frontal dating show Naked Attraction, Channel 4 has spent four decades taking risks and commissioning unique television that people want to talk about.
It has a similarly daring and progressive visual design heritage, and the new masterbrand draws strongly on that tradition.
A design system for a brand of this breadth and depth requires a fine balance between design consistency and creative freedom. Working closely with Mat Heinl, who led the brand transformation strategy, Pentagram created a system with behavioural principles that connect its identity across all of its platforms, both now and in the future.
A key strategic decision was to holistically redefine the portfolio. Part of this, as mentioned earlier, was renaming the current streaming platform as 'Channel 4' based on the idea that viewers don't need more brands in an already complex content landscape. This confident approach stands in contrast to other UK broadcasters, whose streaming platforms typically have a separate name, most notably the BBC iPlayer, ITVX and My5.
Complementing Channel 4's 'Altogether Different' positioning, the team likened 4 to 'a traveller, guiding us through a universe of content'. This narrative was used to devise a core brand principle, '4 leads', which informs the framework for lockups and layout.
Pentagram's strategy team supported the development of a new brand architecture system, created a naming toolkit and also defined sharp new articulations of '4ness' (Channel 4's distinctive personality and tone of voice) to support the rollout of the brand and the broadcaster's future creative evolution.
Motion, interaction and composition principles guide the brand outputs regardless of content type, creating a consistent yet inherently variable experience.
A consistent logo with parametric possibilities
One of the key elements of the rebrand is bringing Channel 4's logo at the heart of the brand, alongside introducing a singular masterbrand colour. Optimised by Pentagram whilst retaining its legacy, the '4' logo was redrawn to hold a greater visual presence in digital assets.
Whether on Instagram, Tiktok or smart TVs, Pentagram's motion principles govern all travel through Channel 4's universe, ensuring that audiences experience consistency in how the brand moves. Physics-based elasticity of the '4' logo allows for reaction and dynamism, whilst travel and transformation principles create defined but flexible parameters for moving through the ever-expanding universe of Channel 4 and governing the smallest digital interactions.
Grounded by these principles, Channel 4's logo is able to react subtly to the universe's light and physics. Similarly, the audio design contextually responds to the world around it, with subtle changes of ambience emphasising contrasting content and various stories encountered on its travels.
The new logo animation is built on a variable parametric system that can respond to the universe's different moods and functionality across all Channel 4 platforms. This inherent flexibility means that core assets can be skewed towards the tonal positioning of channel brands, allowing for both individuality and clear attribution back to the masterbrand.
Great shows are the heart of Channel 4. And so Pentagram created a new naming strategy and design structure to align core show assets, such as colour and typography, with the masterbrand system whilst also providing shows themselves with appropriate tonal flexibility. Ensuring that this innate functionality does not drown out Channel 4's mischievousness, the graphic system is peppered with playful moments such as the '4moji' icons integrated within the brand typefaces.
Balancing the diverse and eclectic backdrop of content, colour and motion, the graphic system is reductive in its approach, creating a design language that is bold, contemporary, and forward-thinking.
Designed with practicality at its forefront, typography and layout principles are constructed with a clear information hierarchy, with 4's leading position (derived from the '4 leads' principle) being a consistent presence in all outputs.
The Channel 4 Headline typeface, which has become synonymous with the brand over the past decade, has been expanded to include variable condensed and extended styles for use in show brand creation.
Brand's eye view
The Pentagram team produced the masterbrand design system and directed the subsequent rollout across marketing, On Screen Presentation and social. The diverse range of assets to be deployed across linear, broadcast, social and digital platforms were brought to life by collaborators Art Practice and Time Based Arts (idents), Factory , Siren (music and sound), Stink Studios (social), Found (broadcast and motion) and NaN (typography).
Overall, Pentagram has created a brand system that addresses the huge variety of how modern audiences consume television while retaining a strong sense of the principles that underpin the brand. With the idea of Channel 4 privatisation, previously promoted under Boris Johnson's leadership, now having apparently receded, these new designs give the brand the confidence to proceed towards an exciting new future.