Universal Everything’s recent refresh for MTV’s 64 international channels is notable for what it DOES NOT do. As opposed to MTV’s long-standing tradition of constantly reinventing and playing with it’s logo, this time the logo itself appears only at the end – in black and white – and is not stylized or customized at all. The refresh also introduces a flexible new navigation system with onscreen graphic information about current or upcoming programs as well as a secondary set of messages on the lower third of the screen. As usual with projects from Universal Everything, the work is a blend of the maximal and the minimal, very graphic, very pop and very up-to-date.
Read on for a Q&A with Matt Pyke, Roberto Bagattii and Dylan Griffith of MTV about the refresh.
RB: Roberto Bagatti / VP Creative MTV Networks International, Creative Director MTV World Design Studio (Milano)
DG: Dylan Griffith / Creative Director – MTV North (Amsterdam)
MP: Matt Pyke / Creative Director – Universal Everything (Sheffield UK)
1. This refresh for MTV’s international channels seems remarkable for applying a consistent use of the MTV logo. MTV’s previous IDs have been known to stylize and alter the logo differently for each one. Why did you choose to change that around for this project?
RB: The intent of the refresh is to embrace change and express what MTV means today. The new look and feel’s main intent is to solidify the channel’s position as a dynamic intersection of music, creativity and youth culture. Our aim is to establish greater creative consistency across platforms and geographies, while still maintaining the local relevancy and attitude at the heart of MTV’s success.
We weren’t asked to redesign the logo so we thought it would be appropriate to start defining it instead of leaving it open to infinite interpretations – which has been the route the brand has followed for over 25 years.
DG: In terms of the logo itself we’ve simply cleaned it up, paying homage to our original old skool logo. I’ve never thought of it as a beautiful high end piece of design, (it’s almost beyond a conversation about design), but it has become one of the most iconic logotypes of late C20th youth culture. Therefore we just felt that we’d respect that, (treating it as sacrosanct), and we’d use it in a different way – essentially letting the idents ‘do the talking’ whilst signing them off with the logo. Maybe it’s just that the logo has grown up by now and is confident enough to ‘shout’ less.
Our onscreen graphics and layouts have all been re-designed around the logo – we’ve shifted it from top right to top left of the screen for starters, so that all communication on screen starts with the MTV logo. The logo will dictate and direct all on-screen activity: the ‘EPG’ inspired timeline will be anchored by the logo, (in this case the station bug), frame wipes will emit from it, idents will react to it and our music beds will dance along to it…
2. What were the main considerations in designing the navigation system?
RB: The flexible navigational typographic system, including elements such as speech bubbles, on-screen editorial, programme or music video progress bars and upper third programme guide alleviates the need for information-laden promos. Essentially we wanted to convey promo information through on-screen graphics in order to free promo space for heavier rotations of channel priorities; at the same time emphasizing two different tones of communication – a schedule-based line of information in the upper third of the screen, and a more informal and ironic tone in the lower third.
DG: We employed a colour coded palette, (cyan to denote current programming and yellow for up-coming or promoted shows), and the primary house font is Pharma Bold Condensed. The minimal qualities of Pharma are offset by our choice of 8 secondary fonts. These are more chaotic and anarchic, sitting in offset containers that act pretty much as digital fridge magnets, shattering the uniformity of the grid – almost harking back to a raw ‘cut and paste’ Jamie Reid style attitude. They allow for a more informal narrative or voice, and together with the more ‘business like’ EPG they inform the viewer of where they’re at in MTV time – a digitally fluent identity that mixes minimalism and maximalism, connecting to today’s multi-tasking audience.
3. Your core group of collaborators have many divergent styles, but all share a similar sensibility. How does collaboration with external studios for the IDs work? What rules or guidelines did you give them for these IDs?
RB: The brief’s main requirements were
• To align creative output with the brand’s content and to establish an international brand language that is relevant and enticing for a new generation of users.
• To re-evaluate and re-establish the iconic MTV logo and the way in which it is applied.
Our role was to ensure that this criteria was realised and embodied in the subsequent idents. Some of the proposals required additional direction, (especially trying to push them towards the conceptual requirements of the brief), whilst others didn’t need to be touched at all because they were on brief and spot on straightaway. Continuous dialogue between the core team made it possible to deliver everything on time, and feedback from the various creative directors around the network helped us address local issues, specific to language or cultural sensitivity.
DG: Ensuring continuity and a shared attitude between the idents was pretty simple as the core team consisted of Roberto, Philip, Matt and myself. Less people = more focus. Basically we threw a load of names (of international directors and studios that we’d previously worked or would like to work with) onto the table and took it from there. Matt would make initial contact as an ‘artist to artist’ approach often works best in our experience. If the initial reaction (of directing a video that would be watched by 520 million viewers across the globe!) was positive then we’d send our potential collaborators a simple brief. Key words such as wonder, joy and desire – feelings which resonate across borders, cultures and languages – were identified as the project’s common threads and so set the tone for the brief. These, in turn, were underpinned by the project’s mantra – POP X 1000%. We realise that even the most seasoned creative can suffer ‘creative paralysis’ when handed a blank sheet of paper so in order to get the best out of our collaborating directors we laid down a few basic creative parameters. The idents to date have all been directed or co-directed by Universal Everything ensuring continuity in terms of their attitude and also setting the standard for future commissioning rounds.
4. The IDs also seem to be conceived of in the same way as your Advanced Beauty project. Was this intentional? Do you prefer a curatorial approach?
MP: Advanced Beauty was held together by creative parameters observed by all directors involved and we took a similar approach in defining the playground walls for the MTVI project. Having restrictions to bounce off and react against squeezes the best out of people, whilst ensuring we gain a coherent family of films. The MTV parameters were:
• Visuals driven by the Music.
• React to the shared MTV Rhythm.
• Visualise Emotions.
• Abstraction with a connection to life.
• Make something never seen before…
5. I think my favourite ID is Mad Drummer. It’s very playful and seems totally in tune with the music: joyful, silly. Who was responsible for that piece? Do you have a favourite?
MP: Mad Drummer was designed and produced directly by Universal Everything, (i.e. me!) – I had a big desire to make something hands-on, all alone for a change – back to basics. It’s 100% powered by the music, every shape is actually a waveform, collaged into mosh pit heaven. My favourite is Mister Furry given the reactions of people’s faces when they see it – it touches hearts immediately.
RB: For me it’s a tie between Sweetheart and Mr. Furry – I like them for different reasons: I love the strong pop immediateness of both but on one side I feel the empathy that a character like Mr. Furry seems to emanate and on the other I love the sweet storm at the epicentre of Sweetheart’s explosion: here the relationship between music and visuals seem to be extremely tight, the saccharine and crystal nature of the sound seems to perfectly compliment the twirling world of candy we’re inviting the viewer to experience.
DG: Mad Drummer is my favourite too. It’s immediate, super simple and never fails to put a smile on my face. Oil by Maxim Zhestkov comes a close second – it has the ‘wow factor’ and makes me want to party…
6. These first six IDs are really varied, almost random in their technique and content. What are the plans for the ten additional ones?
RB: To continue along the same route, with a wider stretch of emotions and techniques, and to attract an even more diverse community of talent from all over the world that wants to contribute to the project.
DG: The plan is to go around the globe inviting our international creative directors to contribute ideas and to identify rising talent in their countries. This will further the international feel of the idents and should promote MTV’s role as curators of ‘motion design wowness’…an international visual jukebox that keeps on growing.