TV gurus help students pen their future

THE HISTORY of TV graphics in four easy parts’ was a special day organised by senior journalism lecturer, John Mair for Coventry University’s graphic design students.

Some of the most prestigious names in TV ident design travelled to Coventry from across the UK to share their experiences.  Coventry University’s School of Art and Design Associate Dean, Professor Clive Richards commenced proceedings with an informative talk concerning the origins of computer graphics.  It was, in fact, Coventry and it was exactly 30 years ago in 1969.  Here follows some of the most interesting and revealing snippets of information each of the invited speakers shared throughout the day.

1) Martin Lambie-Nairn is the ‘King of the idents’.  He has been responsible for the most recognisable logos on TV, predominantly the BBC One, Two and Three idents.

Advice for aspiring graphic designers at Coventry University:
“I have sat where you’re sat, and if I can do it, so can you, believe me. I was useless. I could make things and do things but I couldn’t think things. And it wasn’t until some time later that I realised that I needed to create ideas and not just make things look pretty.  We are in the business of making complicated things simple.  Don’t argue, be arrogant or get cocky with the people that you work with, because they maybe junior to you now, but they may become senior. It’s important to realise that your entire working environment will change over the twenty to thirty years that you will be working in it.  I don’t walk into meetings with any particular advantage over other designers. You can either do the job or you can’t. It’s by merit that you get jobs, not reputation.”

Qualities needed to succeed:
“People who do this job need to be passionate about it. That’s the problem that I have with media studies, it makes you a ‘Jack of all-trades – master of none’. You don’t become a master of your art without absolutely concentrating on it.”

Longest project:
“The most difficult design brief would have to be the BBC. Not the logo – that took ten minutes – but the politics, it took 11-years. It was both challenging and rewarding.”

2) Paula Thompson is the Director of Design for BBC Television News. She drove the re-launch of that entire brand in April 2008.

What I do:
“We produce graphics for the BBC News Channel, all the national bulletins, Newsnight, News Round and Working Lunch as well as multi-media which is online.  And even though it doesn’t fall directly beneath my jurisdiction, there are a lot of specials such as the elections and the budget, the latter of which is going to be very big this year because of the economic crisis.”

Recent work:
We launched the BBC News re-design last March.  I have 65 people in my design department, which isn’t actually a lot for the amount of work that we do.  Sky has 55 designers for each channel so we actually produce a huge amount of work in a short space of time with relatively limited resources.  The remit of the BBC’s recent design was ‘simplicity equals clarity’.  This is especially important when dealing with the economy you have to get across to people these complicated business ideas.”

What makes a good designer:
“What we want to do is to tell a news story with graphics.  To be a good news designer you have to want to tell that story and you have to want to be part of it.  You need to know who your audience is and you have to know what the journalist wants to say.  It is a collaboration between different people; it is very fast and very feisty.  The newsroom is comparable to a lot of Sir Alan Sugars crammed into one space.  There are a lot of big personalities and each with the desire to tell their story.”

Does the BBC’s editorial guidelines stifle creativity:
“The simple answer is ‘no’.  I have spent so much of my time working on the brand, and fighting, arguing, debating and discussing in an effort to get it to a standard that I think is very successful.  Our designs have to look like the BBC (Red/White/Grey) but as is the case with any designer you have to go out of your comfort zone in order to see the bigger picture.  You are designing for your audience and the market place.”

On the controversial red ‘downturn’ arrow used on BBC News:
“Initially when the recession came about, it was decided that we needed a brand for it. This blood-like graph came out of the screen and everybody picked it up.  Consequently, it went right across all of our outputs, which is normally very difficult for us to do.  That was a first.  It was very heavily criticised and quite rightly so.  We listened to that criticism and we turned it around and we changed it because it was seen to be frightening, scary and dramatic.  This has changed since last Friday (23/01/2009).

3) Jonny Spencer was the Lead designer on BBC News’ American Election coverage in November 2008.

Responsibilities as a BBC graphics designer:
“This is when impartiality is most under the microscope.  Not only do we take part in it, we take pride in it.”

On the 2008/2009 US Elections:
“These projects tend to be split into two strands.  There is the campaign strand, and there is the results strand. We are a team, but we do specialise in separate areas, and I focus on the real-time results strand, which involves a lot of 3D modelling and bringing in data in real time.  We like to think of elections coverage as a journey.  We like to think that for elections the BBC provides the gold standard in terms of a results service; we may not be first, but it will be right.”

4) Dean Stockton was the former head of graphics at Channel 4, British Superbike Championship, World Rally Championship, ITV Digital and Carlton.

Advice for aspiring graphic designers at Coventry University:
“You need to have good grounding. What drawing does for you, is that it helps you see better, and understand things. It is important to understand everything around you, and turn what you see into concepts.  Don’t pigeon hole yourself, you have to be a creative animal and you have got to be able to turn your hand to anything. Creative concepts work across so many mediums, on so many levels. Keep your options open, because you are going to be entering a very tough environment.  We are in Europe now, a global economy, so it is no-good saying: ‘Oh, British jobs are being lost every week’. It’s not like that. Don’t be afraid to travel, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone.”


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