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PBS celebrates 50 years with new on-air graphics

LA-based Nathaniel Howe Studios (NHS) has partnered with PBS and creative consultancy Lippincott to create a new on-air graphics package to coincide with the public broadcaster’s updated identity. This includes a refreshed logo, bolder color palette and custom typeface. The new on-air look for PBS — home to shows such as Masterpiece, Nature and Frontline — will roll out throughout 2020 as the network celebrates its 50th anniversary.

PBS looked to NHS to translate its new identity for modern screens while providing brand coherency at both the national and local levels with its 300-plus member stations — the studio called on Adobe’s Creative Suite to create the look. “Nathaniel and his team took our multi-platform vision to heart and developed a broad range of inspired ideas,” says Don Wilcox, VP, multi-platform marketing and content at PBS.

“The design and animation play a supporting role, framing the content and delivering all the key information effortlessly within the new ‘digital-first’ brand architecture,” explains NHS founder/CD Howe, adding that he really enjoyed getting to work with people deeply connected to the PBS brand. “Some of our clients have been with PBS for over 20 years. It was rewarding to serve a brand that is so loved across this country, one that does so much good through storytelling, and to find the balance of respecting its history while subtly evolving for the future. In the process, we also got to meet so many diverse people across the country and help to solve their creative challenges.”

Howe explains that the PBS logo provided the perfect framework to keep the visual system focused while reinforcing the brand in a subtle yet unified way. “Its new flat design also lent itself well to the motion theory behind the package, which favors minimal design elements, gentle key frames and purposeful applications of accent colors to complement the hero PBS blue.”

NHS kicked off this massive project during the early phases of the rebrand strategy, working closely with PBS and Lippincott to help translate the updated identity for digital and broadcast screens. To address the unique needs of PBS’ member stations, a process that included multiple phases of testing and feedback, NHS delivered a customizable Adobe After Effects tool kit and led a nationwide on-boarding process. This included the production of video tutorials and webinars as well as in-studio training programs and presentations for PBS summits and conferences.

“Our greatest challenge was solving almost endless co-branding scenarios within an After Effects toolkit and maintaining balance between unification and local market self-expression,” explains Howe. “This project took place over the course of a year, so we had to keep the focus locked and the fire lit throughout. And we also had to fight off the challenge of adding extra design elements or complexity for the sake of it. Simplicity was the key here.”

According to Howe, the vitals of the PBS rebrand live within a master tool kit that is quick and easy to use for everyone. “The beauty of Lippincott’s minimalistic branding system came into play here as it enabled us to eliminate technical limitations, standardize the graphics creation process, and speed up workflows across the board.”

Howe is no stranger to PBS. For over a decade, he has collaborated with the channel on on-air graphics promos for several Ken Burns documentaries (Jackie Robinson, Prohibition), the Indian Summers series and the PBS Arts Fall Festival. He also helmed the brand refresh of PBS’ long-running anthology series, Great Performances, and sizzle reels for network summits.

“We simply wanted this package to generate excitement around PBS while honoring the integrity of the brand and the value it offers in our cluttered media landscape,” concludes Howe. “As a team, our hearts were aligned from the outset — and as a new father, I was personally inspired by the thought-provoking and educational nature of the content PBS offers to such a broad-reaching audience.”


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