Big Brother 2
logo and graphic identity commissioned by Channel Four Television
Interview by Nav Haq
Curator Arnolfini, Bristol, England
NH. Tell me about the story behind how you conceived the logo?
DE. Initially I suggested that Big Brother did not need a logo. In my pitch proposal I presented ideas for each requirement of the programme, I proposed for example that the title sequence should be silent with a tensecond display of the archetypal broadcast countdown clock, and that billboards could show a picture of every applicant who wanted to appear on Big Brother. None of these initial ideas were eventually used and after winning the commission, the challenge was to design a Big Brother identity that could be applied to everything from the programme title sequence, a mobile phone screen and a baseball cap. I had to generate a logo that moved, and didn’t know anything about animation. I was interested in the visual effect that occurs when someone wears pinstripe or a check shirt on TV, you get those crazy flickers from a static pattern. So I thought it would be perfect to use this problem and create patterns to intentionally cause this effect. From this simple idea I created an identity based on horizontal black and white stripes that caused the TV screen to flicker and flash. That was the beginning of the Big Brother identity.
NH. I imagine it must have been difficult to have shifted towards doing a logo at that stage. How did that discussion develop?
DE. I was asked to make an identity but I really felt it didn’t need a logo. The horizontal black and white lines were really enough so that every time you saw the TV go strange you knew it was Big Brother – this ‘Orwellian’ game. I felt people watching TV should be affected by their own gaze. That effect would be enough to stand in place of a logo. But then I went to more meetings and I met Peter Bazalgette who is the boss at Endemol. He had a big vision for the programme and he felt that to achieve his vision it needed some kind of obvious mark or shape. He suggested eyes. To compromise I integrating a single eye concealed within the horizontal black and white lines. It resulted in an identity that stares back at the viewer, creating an optical sensation affecting the viewer’s gaze. This manipulation echoes the main ethos of the show and reflects its Orwellian sense of concealment, typified by the surveillance cameras distributed around the Big Brother house.
NH. I heard that the logo was based on your girlfriend’s eye?
DE. I was really adamant that I wanted the logo to be based on her eye. It was originally traced from a photograph of her cleaning her teeth. I had sneaked up behind her, made her jump and took her photo, she was startled and her eyes as a result where wide open. I’m not sure if Channel 4 knew or whether they know now. Very few people know where the drawing came from. It’s a personal story.
NH. What does she think about it?
DE. Nothing. It is very far removed from her, it is more important to me than her. Each year the original eye evolves and is modified and updated moving it further and further away from this original source.
NH. Do the variations in the design bear any relation to the persona Big Brother adopts in each series of the programme?
DE. Yes, the designs suggest and reflect the editorial direction that each series takes. For example, when Big Brother was ‘evil’ the eye had spikes, when Big Brother became ‘unpredictable’, the logo was designed to resemble lenticular glass, like that glass that is sometimes used for the front door of someone’s house. They are quite literal and always use a simple shape, lines, circles, triangles, spirals etc.
NH. The logo is an eye specifically. You were saying that you felt that it was an obvious thing to have as the logo. But somehow it is a variation on what happens in the Orwell book. Every time you encounter Big Brother in the book you see a whole face. But there is something about the single eye that is Masonic, like the Eye of Provindence. Because of this it seems the connotation is less about surveillance for example, and people might associate it more with conspiracy. The single eye symbol was meant to represent the eye of god watching over everything, but today it is more conspiratorial. It has a specific place as an icon in history.
DE. The suggestion from Endemol was to have a pair of eyes, but I felt that was the wrong way to go as you could identify it too much as a person. A single eye is different. It becomes more iconic – it’s a symbol of sight rather than the literalness of a pair of eyes. There are lots of logos that have eyes, camera shops etc., there is something there about the gaze. The eye represents the lens.
NH. I was reading something recently about the nature of logos. There was some research done into logos and their psychological effect that concluded they were a new kind of symbol or word even. Something that taps into your emotion. There is something about this that relates to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four in terms of psychological effects on mass society.
DE. Every graphic designer at some point in their career will design a logo, to me it feels an old fashioned approach to summarise something with a symbol. But I guess logos are often used and are an important part of branding and advertising. I find it amazing the importance that some logos have with people, Lacoste were the first brand to place their logo on the outside of clothing. I still find it weird that people want to wear a crocodile on their shirt, and advertise and endorse a brand as a status symbol.
NH. On the television there was a certain point where the Big Brother logo didn’t need text any more. Just the symbol. Can you tell me about that decision?
DE. The logo is on every billboard, in every magazine and newspaper and on TV solidly for twelve weeks every summer, it has a lot of coverage so it become memorable very quickly. As a result it was an easy decision to remove the words and just use the eye symbol.
NH. It seems that some of the earlier big Brother logos had a more optical effect. They used lines and colour to gain these effects. The more recent ones are less optical somehow, such as the recent one that looks like a broken mirror. Can you talk more about the transition?
DE. The fist few logos concealed the eye within a background field that effected the viewers gaze. But there where problems as Channel 4 and myself don’t have control over each application. Sponsors, press, media etc. all use it. When it relied on the background field it was inherently complex to implement. In response the logo has gradually got simpler, and resulted in a more traditional brandmark that can easily be applied to almost anything.
NH. Having read some of the interviews that happen with individuals that designed iconic logos, such as the guy that designed the Apple logo for example, or the Nike logo, they all tell a similar story. They talk about how they designed the logo under particular circumstances, and at some point it gets taken away from them, after which the company usually become hugely successful. The designers didn’t get any money for their designs, nor did they receive any recognition. How is your own relationship with Endemol and Channel 4?
DE. Unlike the Apple and Nike logo that were made before both brands were successful, when I was asked to make the Big Brother logo the show was already a proven success. I did my first Big Brother logo for series two. Even so I did not fully realize the success of series one, as I was living in the States. I approached the project with the aim of generating a logo that had a conceptual integrity and connection to the Orwellian idea of Big Brother. If Big Brother had flopped in the second series then the logo will not have been remembered. It’s only because of the success of the programme. It’s the same with the Nike swoosh or the Apple logo. If Apple went bust in the early 80s the logo would never be talked about.
There are probably millions of good symbols that designers have made but the thing they were attached to failed. I’m not so sure there is such a thing as a good logo or a bad logo. I’m not sure it can make or break something. In a way, the Big Brother logo breaks a lot of the rules of logo design. It was difficult to see, therefore it shouldn’t be that memorable. The fact that it became a commercial success was a bi-product of the success of the programme. I feel most recognisable logos and brands work in this way, they become intrinsically connected to the success of the product. There has always been a nice level of trust between Channel 4 and myself, it has only been in the last two years that we have created a contract and even talked about ownership. Each logo shared and added to the success of the programme, and Channel 4 returned each year for an updated version.
NH. So you haven’t signed away the rights to the logo?
DE. Channel 4 buy the rights to each custom version of the logo for each series. I maintain the ownership to the pure eye shape before it is customised.
NH. When it first started I think the programme had the promise of being quite an interesting conceptual and social experiment. But I agree that it has become trashy. It’s interesting that you are able to differentiate your design from the actual programme.
DE. The programme is very trashy and lowbrow, but the logo is the opposite, I find this contrast very interesting. A big proportion of the viewers to the programme don’t even know that the title of the programme has come from the book 1984. Most of the viewers and contestants have been born in the years since 1984 making them around 23 years old. I like how people come to my main work via the Big Brother logo or vice versa. It creates a complex juxtaposition that is an important part of my wider practice.