Poppy Thaxter
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The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

When it comes to big branding challenges, we’re used to witnessing the final part, the end result. But for a pivotal moment in British TV history – the rebranding of the beloved rogue of a station, Channel 4 – we felt that it was appropriate to give this project the full dissection it deserves. We spoke to the five members of the core Pentagram team for C4 – Luke Powell (Partner & Creative Director), Nav Bhatia (Associate Partner & Producer), Jack Llewellyn (Associate Partner & Designer), Luis Gutiérrez (Technical Director & Motion Designer) and Alice Sherwin (Designer) – who unpack this massive undertaking of a project. 

PT First of all, how does it feel to see the new identity out in the world?

LP We have been living and breathing Channel 4 for 1.5 years – so finally seeing it IRL has been exciting. This has been one of the largest projects we’ve taken on in terms of scope and range; requiring us to constantly zoom in and out, checking that the core ideas tying the system together at a macro level remain intact, whilst always making sure that every micro design detail is lovingly crafted. With so many components, technicalities and stakeholders, keeping focus at both levels has been challenging. But seeing that the system we have built not only works, but is holding up against whatever new issues get thrown at it feels like a real achievement for us and everyone involved. 

PT When working on a rebrand for such an iconic channel, what challenges did you face in making changes?

JL The privilege of working with such an iconic institution can’t be understated. In some ways, our process was actually made easier. Like many, growing up with Channel 4 gives us a certain sense of an intangible ‘4ness’ and it was surprisingly easy to discuss what felt right for the brand and what didn’t. We could push at the edges of that feeling to see what felt progressive, and what tipped too far into feeling out-of-step. 

We all love the logo. It’s British design heritage, and it made no sense to lose assets like that. So we tried to arrive at the most ‘Channel 4’ feeling version and the most technically performant design. Whereas other parts of the brand, such as the brand colour, were blank slates and we could discuss what ‘4ness’ meant in those areas.

The new brand system elevates streaming, social and marketing to an equal level.

The real challenge was designing for a brand that is so synonymous with its own creative output, both in content and 4creative’s design output. We had to balance creating a vibrant identity with providing the best platform for both internal and external teams to create amazing stories and visuals in idents, campaigns and digital content. This meant viewing our work as collaborative, with these future teams, and considering all the knock-on effects of the decisions we were making now, in the present.

Outside of the conceptual and visual development, there was a strategic challenge in introducing the business to a new way of thinking about its brand. Previous identities have been primarily, if not wholly, TV-focused. Because that’s all TV was. Whereas the new brand system elevates streaming, social and marketing to an equal level. The design needs to be coherent across more diverse contexts, so the decisions we were making were multi-dimensional, and that sometimes didn’t align with the incumbent workflows and processes. There was a lot of effort from all sides of the project to educate, update and implement a more connected brand structure across Channel 4.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

PT Why was it important to re-establish the main Channel 4 logo?

LP Re-establishing the ‘4’ logo was part of the original brief. The way audiences view content has dramatically changed in recent years, linear TV is no longer the main way content is consumed – being replaced with on-demand, social media and third-party streaming platforms.

This increased presence across so many platforms and mediums has made it all the more important that the ‘4’ logo returns to the heart of the brand, and a wider masterbrand design system built around it to create a seamless experience no matter where and how you’re watching. This move has created the attribution back to Channel 4 that is needed to remind existing audiences and educate new viewers that they are watching a Channel 4 channel, platform or piece of content.

Alice talks in detail in her answer below about how we re-established the ‘4’ symbol using the ‘4 leading’ principle. The idea that the ‘4’ has purpose as a guide and a reason to be with the viewer gives it licence to appear unapologetically at the front or centre of every interaction the audience has with the brand. This simple principle has opened multiple opportunities across the system to re-establish the 4’s presence boldly and naturally.

It’s not unusual that there is a tussle between the conceptual and functional needs of a brand.

PT How did you arrive at the idea of having ‘the traveller’ leading the core narrative?

LP The idea of ‘4’ as a traveller emerged early in the design process as a mechanic to describe the relationship between two central questions; how could the C4 identity be ‘altogether different,’ representative of all people across the UK and speak to the vast range of content, channels and collections available from C4? Whilst also being highly consistent and native when viewed across the numerous platforms and media types it would be seen on.

The traveller concept gave us ‘consistency’ in the form of the ‘4,’ its colour, the way it moves and rests – and ‘difference’ in the idea of travel – which allowed us to think about the places the ‘4’ might visit and the way those places might look. This framework gave us a base from which to explore what travel and place might look like and to explore how this construct could in turn build out into a wider design system, flexible enough to deal with the numerous and ever-changing design needs of the channel and the places it lives.

Early ideas looked at portals, magic and time machines as modes of travel – and multidimensional worlds and infinite mirrored spaces as the framework for the places that could be visited.

Motion explorations of an interconnected universe
Testing portals as a motif of travel

Ultimately though, as we tested these thoughts against the practical constraints of UX, tech stacks, brand architecture and information hierarchy – we found breaking points, where parts of an idea didn’t translate across a medium or weren’t as flexible as we needed. It’s not unusual that there is a tussle between the conceptual and functional needs of a brand. But these early moments of stress testing made it clear that the complexity of the C4 brand and the practical constraints that came with such complexity – made it even more imperative that the correct solution used mechanics that were built to be scalable, and could easily flex between motion/static; interactive/linear; long/short, high or low production, etc. 

This process of elimination led to the framework from which the final creative emerged; a traveller (4) that leads the viewer (in position or motion) through infinite worlds (that each exist within a 3D grid).

On the surface, it was the most literal and simple interpretation of the traveller/location idea. But through the testing period, it became apparent that the complexity and flexibility that emerged from that simplicity not only answered the practical aspects of the brief in terms of flexibility and recognition, but created a platform for free expression and 4’s goal to be representative of ‘difference’ and people across the UK.

The first iteration of the default brand worlds

PT Can you tell us about the principles-based system? 

AS The extent of the Channel 4 masterbrand is huge – the streaming platform, broadcast TV channels, socials, campaigns and channel brands, all brought together under one brand system for the first time. A masterbrand of this scale and scope required a very different approach to building a brand than Channel 4 had ever had before. 

It was important that the bigger picture was covered first, before zooming into the little details. That’s where principles came in. Principles are the core behaviours of the brand. Platform agnostic, they outline at a top level how Channel 4 should move, interact and communicate with their audiences. By leading with masterbrand top-level principles, and not just diving straight into creating specific toolkits for specific areas of Channel 4, we were able to really embed the principles throughout all contexts that Channel 4 shows up in. Thinking of everything as a whole, not as segmented identities as the brands had been previously. 

The principles govern everything from the way that the ‘4’ logo moves on TV, through to an Instagram story layout. What’s interesting about principles is that they are not specific to an asset or a context, instead creating cohesion through a guiding behaviour that can be applied in lots of different ways.

Channel 4 is now set up for approaching new platforms in the future.

There are of course A LOT of principles we could talk about, but a good example is one of our key principles ‘4 leads.’ This principle was born out of the brand narrative that we originally pitched, ‘4 is a traveller, guiding us through a universe of Altogether Different content.’ Whilst ‘4 leads’ seems quite abstract as an idea, it’s super practical in how it feeds into every single decision we made when designing, and all decisions that everyone who works with the brand will make in the future. In its purest form, ‘4 leads’ is seen through the ‘4’ logo travelling around in TV menus and endboards, guiding the audience through content – but this is just the start. The principle also informs our lockup system, with ‘4’ always leading lockups; the layout system, with ‘4’ always sitting top left proceeding functional content; the sequence in which the camera moves; the way in which ‘4’ will help you search in the future; amongst a plethora of other things, from sound to motion principles.

So, whilst the principles we set out create much-needed cohesion, as everyone is working towards expressing a single behaviour, they also allow for (and encourage) a massive amount of creative freedom and expression. This was super important for Channel 4, who needed everything bringing together, without limiting their creativity.

Another major benefit of principles, over a purely toolkit-based system, is that Channel 4 is now set up for approaching new platforms in the future. If you have core principles that are platform agnostic, you know how Channel 4 behaves, moves, interacts and talks, and can apply those behaviours to platforms that Channel 4 will want to show up on that don’t even exist yet.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project
The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

The ‘4’ is not merely a static symbol but rather a ‘traveller.’

PT Why is motion such a key part of the new identity? 

LG Motion is an integral part of the new identity due to Channel 4 primarily working with moving-image (a given with a broadcaster :o). Channel 4 must communicate its brand through media that are, by nature, kinetic. This is where the concept of motion design comes into play, serving as a key element of the new brand identity.

The role of motion in the new identity is to facilitate a seamless and intuitive experience for the viewers. It operates as the fundamental connector between all elements of the Channel 4 Universe. The ‘4’ is not merely a static symbol but rather a ‘traveller’ that navigates and unifies all content, channels, and worlds. This creates a holistic sense of identity that extends across multiple platforms, ensuring that viewers can easily associate all the content they encounter with Channel 4, irrespective of how or where they interact with it.

To ensure a stable and recognisable brand image, a procedural system is used. This system consolidates the ‘4ness’ in all of Channel 4's outputs, providing a consistent tone and a style of motion that resonates with the viewers. Despite the variety of platforms and content, viewers should be able to quickly identify the content as part of the Channel 4 brand due to this consistency. Motion engages the audience, reflects the dynamic nature of the medium, and ultimately forges a strong, distinctive and cohesive identity for the broadcaster in a digital age.

PT What is the parametric system? And how does it work across the brand?

LG A parametric system in design and animation works like a creative toolbox that Channel 4 can use to generate different animations. By setting specific rules or parameters, this system is flexible enough to adapt and change, leading to a multitude of outcomes. This adaptability is crucial in maintaining a consistent brand identity across a variety of platforms.

The system’s core lies in sets of rules defining the behaviour of the brand's elements, like the logo and camera movements. These behaviours are carefully crafted to evoke the traveller narrative, keeping the brand's tone consistent. A perfect illustration of this is how the Channel 4 logo behaves differently depending on the platform it's on. For instance, the ‘4’ might travel and behave differently in a TV show promo versus on a Channel 4 TikTok post. Despite these variations, the underlying procedural rules ensure it's still recognisably the Channel 4 brand.

The Channel 4 logo, for instance, utilises three basic movements – rotation, expansion, and extrusion. By combining these movements, a multitude of unique animations can be created. This system can also tailor animations to fit the tone of different channel brands within the Channel 4 family. E4 might have an energetic logo animation, whereas Film4 might opt for a more ambient one. Even simple animations for the Channel 4 app or website, like a loading screen, benefit from this adaptable system.

The initial goal of the project was to deliver all final motion assets as parametric toolkits. Despite some hurdles, this approach informed the design development and the working files. It encouraged experimentation and led to a versatile system that's easy for Channel 4 to use. This level of adaptability helps the brand keep its identity alive and relevant in today's dynamic digital landscape.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project
The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

Choosing colours is inherently quite an emotional, subjective process.

PT Why the need for a single masterbrand colour? Why did you move to green?

AS The need for a single brand colour that audiences would recognise as ‘Channel 4’ was new, and came in tandem with the need for a masterbrand. We needed one colour to link all outputs on all platforms, anchoring audiences and creating attribution back to the masterbrand.

But how to choose a single colour to represent the whole of Channel 4?

Choosing colours is inherently quite an emotional, subjective process, that has no single ‘correct’ answer, so we needed some factors to measure our options up against. It couldn’t be taken by competitors, global or local. It needed to function against all colours in our gradient spectrum, and work in the logo on top of an endless amount of dark/light/constantly changing content. And of course, it needed to have that somewhat intangible feeling of ‘4ness.’ Finding a colour that measured up to all of these factors was the tricky bit!

Turns out, the global and local streaming competitors were already using A LOT of colours. From the reds of Netflix to the blues of insert every other global player here to the yellow of ITVX and the magenta of BBC iPlayer – the spectrum left was looking sparse. We had genuine conversations about the colour being brown, not having a colour at all, going back to the multi-colour Lambie Nairn approach, as well as many many discussions about how similar baby pink was too magenta.

Once the functional tests and competitor audits were done, we had to decide what colour felt more ‘4’? That’s a hard thing to quantify. And it’s the sort of problem that everyone wants a say in. The process of deciding on the masterbrand colour took over four months – which sounds crazy. But colour is a contentious topic. Everyone at Channel 4, all the way up to the CEO, had an opinion on it. 

In the end, ‘Arsenic Green’ won out, ticking lots of the tricky boxes – with an underlying essence of subversiveness, a non-gendered nature and a slightly off-kilter ‘4’ feeling. We’re happy with where we arrived.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

PT How did you end up at the masterbrand visual language of gradients as a base for the system?

JL We began visualising the worlds that the ‘4’ moves through as part of the ‘traveller’ narrative. Originally we envisioned these environments as being fully ‘live’ and uniquely produced on-demand, maybe even generatively, whether on TV or web-based. This was to communicate the infinite scale of the universe of Channel 4 content. An early prototype was a mirrored space that could be passed footage, images, live streams, objects, abstracted data visualisations, and would produce a kaleidoscope-like visual through the repeating reflections. This was a way of producing a ‘brand visual’ out of the raw content ‘data.’ Despite being extremely dynamic, the mirror mechanic carried a particular aesthetic that was too cinematic, dramatic and aligned more with a channel brand like Film4. 

We needed something that felt Channel 4, was ownable, but also neutral enough to sit alongside the myriad content and feel natural. The aesthetic of our masterbrand worlds needed the ability to regress and support content, not overwhelm it. The challenge was to find something that could be both ownable by the brand, and ‘default’ enough to be a platform for content. 

We were aware that the aesthetic language needed to be scalable, so we looked at visuals that could be created in 3D, code, 2D, print, and still maintain integrity. It made sense to lean into something simple and raw, and look to bring a richness and depth to it. We liked the brutalism of linear RGB gradients applied in CSS and primitive web-GL 3D, and used that as a starting point to look at the use of simple lighting tricks to add dimensionality. After trialling many different versions we arrived at the masterbrand gradients. They are like liminal spaces – immersive, both tangible and intangible, and crucially flexible in tone and energy to give consistency of aesthetic but infinite variation in application. We made the most of the gradient’s simplicity with large washes of colour and lots of negative space to create an ownable aesthetic. 

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

PT How has the typographic direction changed?

JL The existing brand typography has a lot of personality, and has become synonymous with the brand over the last few years. This is equity that we wanted to keep. We felt that we could strip away a lot of the visual noise and present a simpler, bold and direct setting that let the typographic style carry its own personality. This aligned with our overall brutalist graphic direction, and also created a more seamless relationship between the expressive headline and functional text. 

The contradiction with the typographic style was that it communicates Channel 4 very prominently, but we had a strategic goal of elevating the unique identities of shows and editorial collections. We felt the brand typeface needed to have better flexibility to align with the varying tones and positionings of the show content. With Luke Prowse at NaN, the typefaces were rebuilt from the ground up with new weights and width variations. The family was also packaged into a variable file allowing the team at 4creative to use the full spectrum of stylistic variation to create show and collection identities with both more varied, and appropriate, tonality but still maintain the core attribution back to the Channel 4 masterbrand. The rebuild was also necessary for creating the platform for further stylistic skews to be added in the future – serifs, slabs, rounded strokes, etc. – an expressive type family that is still firmly Channel 4. 

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project
The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

PT What was it like working with the 4creative team? How was the workload spread between you both?

NB The very first pitch briefing we received from the Channel 4 team promised that “this will be a rollercoaster – at times it will be the most exciting way to spend our time, at others, we will feel physically sick.” We are happy to report that none of us suffered sickness (though each of us had COVID at least once during the duration of the project). Like any long-term partnership, it ran the gamut – at times frantic, fun, funny, frank, and frustrating. What focused and drove us was our united mission to create a brand that was challenging, inspiring, and exciting – Channel 4 at its very essence. 

The concept we pitched became the basis for all the work that followed. The collaboration with Channel 4 began as we were fleshing out the nuances of the concept and developing the system. Together with 4creative, who of course know their audience better than anyone, we refined the final system through iteration (upon iteration) until it was just right.

We encountered struggles on a couple of points, colour being one. It took a while to arrive at a solution, but it was only possible by working together not only with 4creative but also Channel 4 Marketing. We also collaborated closely with the Channel 4 producers to ensure that the right people were present in workshops, review and feedback sessions. This was no small feat given the large number of stakeholders. It was critical in maintaining the momentum, which could have easily faltered if not managed properly given the magnitude of the project.

PT When developing a brand of such enormity, with so many touchpoints to work with, collaborators to brief, and stakeholders to get on board, how do you ensure the concept and consistency are ever-present?

NB As you’d probably expect, our team dedicated a significant amount of time to creating very detailed guidance, which set the groundwork. However, the only way to ensure the system was being consistently applied was through oversight – being present and involved throughout. We met with the stakeholder teams weekly for a year and a half  – at least once a week. But at crucial points of the project we met many more times in any given week. 

For third-party collaborators, including the brilliant Found, Stink, Factory and Siren Studios, we were there when the briefs were written, during the briefings and the onboarding process, and in workshops, reviews, and feedback sessions, through to delivery and testing. We were there every step of the way – there was no other way.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project
The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

Digital guidelines were an absolute must for both internal and external design teams.

PT How have you set the brand up to be managed and used moving forward, by other agencies and the in-house team alike?

LP The logistics of creating a brand that would be used by so many people, to create so many applications; each with their own needs and technical nuance, was at the forefront of our thinking from the beginning of the project. It’s not an unusual problem to be asked to solve, but the scale involved and the fundamental need for consistency across the new brand meant we were approaching it from a number of different angles. 

The final design system clearly delineates between a functional layer that has strict guidance (for consistency) and a creative layer that has minimal guidance (for creativity). Defining these two spaces allows control of the brand whilst not restricting creative freedom, the hope being that this separation lessens the urge for agencies to challenge what ‘on brand’ means – as they have a free space to stretch their creativity.

We worked closely with each of the in-house teams to understand their needs and how they worked – and to ensure that the implications of the new system were either in line with their existing structure and workflows or were taken into consideration and agreed upon before the full extent of the design work commenced.

The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project
The Pentagram team behind Channel 4’s masterbrand give us an in-depth tour of the extensive project

Digital guidelines were an absolute must for both internal and external design teams – making core brand assets and the instructions for how to use them easy to access.

In addition to the above, we are in the process of arranging post-project workshops with teams and/or appointed department brand guardians to ensure that someone is always viewing output from a brand perspective.

We’ve been so deep in the trenches with this one for such a long time, zooming in and out of the big picture and small details, that we’re now really looking forward to seeing what 4creative, Channel 4, and everyone else that works with the masterbrand system in the future does. It’s going to be exciting to see our system really come to life.

Masterbrand Design System

Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell at Pentagram, in collaboration with 4creative

Typeface Remastered & Extended


On Screen Presentation

Found, in collaboration with Pentagram and 4creative


Pentagram in collaboration with Time Based Arts


Time Based Arts, in collaboration with Pentagram and 4creative


STINK, in collaboration with Pentagram and 4creative


Factory and SIREN, in collaboration with Pentagram and 4creative