Co.Design

Is The Science Channel's Surreal Rebranding "The Future of Logos"?

That's what Imaginary Forces, the company that designed it, is claiming.

You might not know Imaginary Forces' name, but you've seen its work --the bleeding-edge creative agency/production company has designed eye-exploding visuals for movie trailers like Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon and Minority Report, plus every awesome video game released in the past decade. So when I saw that my beloved Science Channel had hired Imaginary Forces to refresh the network's old-in-the-tooth visual branding, my heart leapt -- especially when Imaginary Forces claimed it was "the future of logo design."

"Morph always reverts to an amoebic black symbol."

I'll admit that I was a bit taken aback at first. Apparently, "the future of logo design" is an ambiguous shape-changing blob with three letters inside? Someone at The Science Channel (or SCI, I guess?) apparently took a page from Aol's rebranding playbook. But much like the Aol strategy eventually won us over, the SCI rebranding made more sense after I spoke to Ronnie Koff, a director and art director at Imaginary Forces who was creative lead on the project.

According to Koff, the Science Channel approached Imaginary Forces after the new, vaguely egg-shaped graphic mark had already been settled on. "Our role was to give it life, make it a character," Koff tells Co.Design. This logo-avatar, codenamed "Morph," does, well, exactly that: "It's designed to take on different looks and be many things to represent the Science Channel's broader scope of programming genres, which include science documentaries, sci-fi entertainment, space stuff, even fantasy and how-it's-made shows," Koff continues. "But Morph always comes back to its original state, this amoebic black symbol that has its own look even in a static form."

For example, Koff's team designed a pillbug-like robot persona for Morph to take on in general branding spots for the network itself. "We had this idea of making him a little menacing-looking, but he gets scared of everything and rolls back into his shell when startled," Koff says. "That's rooted in science but could also be sci-fi, and it also has a distinct personality." In another form, Morph resembles a nautilus shell, "which is still mechanical-looking, but also references a classic shape in science and nature."

"We're not coming from a print foundation anymore."

Morph's mutability -- highly controlled, but always moving and never predictable -- is what Imaginary Forces is touting as "the future of logo design" in their press release. "We're not coming from a print foundation anymore," says Koff, who comes from a graphic design background and cut his teeth in Saul Bass's studio. "Now that technology has reached the point where everything is some moving form of media, logos are going to be designed for that kind of media first. There's no reason to make a logo static anymore."

That's not to say that more traditional "words-plus-mark" branding can't be extremely well-designed and effective -- Comedy Central is living proof. And not every network or company is going to need or want a graphic identity that looks like a James Cameron fever dream. But Imaginary Forces takes the same basic strategy that Aol tried and raises the bar. Which bodes well for the future indeed.

[Read more at Imaginary Forces]

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20 Comments

  • raedog

    "future of logo design" -- anyone remember Nickelodeon's orange blob logo that was constantly morphing into other shapes?

  • Owain Roberts

    Hardly the future of logo design. Animated logos have been a standard component of TV idents
    for a long long time. Take a look at the idents created for Syfy by Proud
    Creative a couple of years ago... or maybe they did?

  • Howard Stein

    Excellent thinking and visuals.. We have been "stuck" in some rule book from the fifties that has ignored new media as far as logo design is concerned and it has become, repetitive, indistinct, and boring. Science Channel's approach is welcome and overdue.

  • Tim

    I'd also like to add that having worked with some very big branding / design companies, the only reason they're able to "push the boundaries" is because they're in the position where people blindly follow and accept what they do. A student could come up with the same idea and just be laughed at. I think calling it the future of logo design is arrogant.

  • Tim

    Should have done a Google search before stealing the name Morph from one of my favourite children's TV programs of the 70s/80s! ;)

    I disagree that it's the future of logo design too. Being a large company, they may very well have forgotten that not everyone who desires or needs a logo can spend huge amounts of money animating it and bringing it to life. Most logos are static.

  • Alina Wheeler

    A great brand means many things to many people. I think that this work is brilliant and visionary. I would be interested in seeing some of the other applications. I applaud those who have the courage to think in new ways and to execute with intelligence and quality. Brand expression has infinite possibilities... as we become more virtual and more omnipresent in different worlds of experience, we need to stay open to redefining the boundaries and be open to rethinking what bringing a brand to life means.

    Kudos to all involved. Alina Wheeler, author, Designing Brand Identity

  • abhishek bhartiya

    oh c'on. thats just a Viagra pill got black magic..  i fail to see why it would change the future of logo design :)

  • Bruno A.

    I have followed Imaginary Forces' work for many years, and I think this is of the absolute highest quality as usual

    The concept, the execution - one step ahead. We'll definitely see more "interactive" or "ever changing" logos in the future, especially for the big brands. Someone has to take the first step on a larger scale, and Discovery Communications decided to do that.

    For all the negative comments, please come back when you are designing for brands at this level. It's like a local TV host giving critique to David Letterman, or an amateur guitar player telling Satriani how to play.

    Not that I'm affiliated with IF or Science channel in any way, but it's a free country, and I'd like to defend both brands against negativity. Take a look at the work they both produce... They are where they are, because they know what they're doing.

    Cheers!

  • Ryan McCullah

    I work at Discovery and actually designed this logo and worked with a killer team to flesh out the concept and personality of morph. Imaginary Forces brought it to life in some incredibly beautiful ways and I can't wait to see where they take it next.

  • andrewsabatier

    Ryan, it seems that you did exactly that, you designed a 'logo'. Logo's in general have distinct limitations and aren't worth as much as designers tend to believe. 

    The point is that you played a very small part in determining the brand identity. Problems with the logo aside it seems that the people directing the brand strategy (please stand up if that was you) allowed Imaginary Forces to play too large a part in determining the brand identity. Otherwise we wouldn't have to suffer grand and silly claims like 'the future of logo design'.

    Also, from a British perspective there isn't a chance in hell that The Science Channel could successfully own the character name 'Morph'. The original Morph is too rich, warm and creative to ever give way to a robotic changeling. You'd have been better off calling the thing 'Sci'.

    Designers who aren't seriously strategy-led do not seem to recognise the limitations of design, particularly 'logo design', and this tends to produce a whole host of brand identity horrors.

  • andrewsabatier

    To claim that The Science Channel's morphing identity is the future of logo design is to misunderstand brand identity at a fundamental level.

    The morphing shape containing the wordmark is at best only a logo when it's fixed. When the identity is morphing into other things it's something else entirely. Considering that the morphing identity has common characteristics related to the fixed version that in combination with other non-material brand elements describes a discrete identity makes a good case for abandoning the word 'logo'. This is true not only for changing identities but also for static brand identities.

    The Science Channel brand identity is not only a brandmark with infinitely changeable components, it includes all the various types of marks that make up the entire brand, beginning with, but not limited to, soundbites, soundmarks, type of content, brandline, brand-idea and just about any other mark that describes the experience, and this includes every other aspect of behind the scenes elements of the business. These are better described as brand-marks and they should be co-ordinated interdependently to best manage the overall identity.

    To refer to this changing identity as a 'logo' is to misrepresent the whole gamut of experiences that describe The Science Channel's brand. This makes talk of the primary brand-mark as a 'logo' appear mis-informed, superficial and cheap. This is clearly a high quality identity suitable to the brand. The changing nature of the identity is entirely suited to the content of the channel and it is clearly a high quality identity but a 'logo' it is not.

    Imaginary forces should stick to what they're good at and not assume to have a grasp on branding and the future of brand identity. The future of some types of brand identity may include morphing and changing brand-marks but to claim that The Science Channel's identity is the future of logos is borderline ignorant.

  • Mikey Richardson

    The logo in flux is not a new idea, as cool as it is. Just considering Toronto alone, look at the NAi identity by Bruce Mau Design and their new ID for OCAD University. Through the 90's YTV in Canada had a motion-first identity which featured their three letter acronym attached to a suite of moving, ever changing  3D characters. Lauren Blass' comments are bang-on too.

  • t3d

    Branding in the hands of special effect artists. 
    The copy for the voice-over narration is laughable. 
    "Now it's a jellyfish., Yeah, that just happened"

  • jeannene.langford@gmail.com

    I would say it is one version of a future of logo design not "the future". I think static logos will still have their place but since none of us will be alive in 100+ years there is no way to be certain. Fun to think about though... thanks for the thought provoking article.

  • Lauren Blass

    It actually seems to me like they have a traditional print logo, the letters ‘sci’, and branding tools defined by that logo’s substrate — which is usually round-ish. Sort of the same level of variation as MTV’s logos, but it moves. Even if it’s not totally revolutionary (I don't think it is), it’s fun. 

  • Scott Suchy

    I bothers me to see that many folks are continuing to jump the gun in saying that this is, across the board, "the future of logo design." It certainly seems to be for logos that are presented to the masses mainly in motion-based media. And why shouldn't TV and the like be thinking this way? But I certainly can't see my local mom-and-pop coffee shop ever needing a logo that is capable of that kind of flexibility. (Unless the logo can pour me a cup of coffee when I walk into the shop in the morning.) While we certainly want to dream big in the industry, let's not forget that good design also needs to be practical and usable for everyone.