20.10.2021

Yesterday the BBC launched an updated logo. The expected Twitterstorm blew in from sofas around the country with the flames of controversy fanned, as usual, by incredulous newspaper writers: “What a waste of taxpayers money!”, “It’s the same!”. Even Richard Madeley waded in from his position as anchor for ‘This Morning’ – a show on ITV.

First, let’s give credit where its due. The work was carried out by Moving Brands probably in conjunction with internal BBC teams. MB are a world-class agency staffed by extremely clever and talented people who know a thing or two about contemporary media branding, so I can only assume that the strategic frame-working and exploratory creativity were fastidiously executed before this new direction was finalised.

Next, a bit of context. Since its inception, and with a few early on-screen anomalies, the BBC has updated its identity only very gradually over the years. Each redesign being way more evolution than revolution. Indeed, with such a constant, varied and vibrant output, across an ever increasing number of channels and devices, we would argue that the core visual identity needs to remain a safe harbour of consistency and integrity.

Why all the fuss?
The three-block logo that everyone is fixated upon, will only be a small part of the overall update to the visual identity scheme – just as it is for any brand. The knee-jerk, reactionary furore about cost is both ill-informed and entirely expected. In fact, the new logo is likely to end up saving the BBC money. Why? The previous logo used the quintessentially British Gill Sans typeface. This typeface is licensed by the Monotype Foundry. The BBC would have been paying a fee to license the use of the typeface – and given the amount of global viewers the BBC receives, that license fee would not be inconsiderable.

The new logo uses a typeface called Reith, named after Lord Reith, The BBC’s former General Manager. This is a bespoke typeface designed by esteemed type design company Dalton Maag. You can find out more about its development on the Dalton Maag website.

The BBC owns this typeface so it will no longer have to pay a fee to Monotype – and the other foundries such as Linotype and Bitstream whose fonts they also used in various applications across their myriad outputs.

Unifying the typographic character of the BBC’s visual identity, improving legibility across online and offline channels and ultimately saving money means this update seems like a worthwhile investment to us at Liven Creative.

But what about the wider identity?
The ‘blocks’ have also worked there way into various BBC sub-brands – though, significantly, it appears that the main TV channel brands of BBC One, Two, Three and Four are currently unaffected aside from the replacement of the old three-block logo.

BBC sub brands

BBC iPlayer, Sounds, Sport, News, Weather and Bitesize all receive new block logos. While we appreciate the unifying aesthetic approach, we are left questioning some of the executions.

Is it necessary for constituent blocks to change in width as well as length and colour? And, while we understand that iPlayer is a play arrow, Sounds is a volume icon, News looks a bit like a front page, Weather is kind of half-way between rain and sun, and Bitesize is some books on a shelf – what exactly is Sport? A wing, speedlines, half a trophy? We prefer our criticism to be constructive, so our replacement would be a podium.

A thankless task?
There are probably thousands of people around the globe currently engaged in the creation of visual and written content for the BBC; developing and managing the identity will be a never-ending and fluid Forth-Bridge-painting kind of challenge. We’re sure that this initial launch announcement only scratches the surface of the work that has been undertaken – and we’re looking forward to seeing how things develop from here.

The worst crime an institution as venerable yet pervasive as the BBC could commit, would be irrelevant stasis. It needs to initiate and embrace change, be in a state of perpetual ‘Beta’ and push boundaries. Popularity is a fickle mistress, it’s important that the BBC continues to make its own decisions, irrespective of whether we all agree with them. It is a ventricle in the cultural heart of the UK, and it is vital for us individually and as a nation, that this heart keeps beating strongly.