Early Graphic Design in Television

The launch of television in 1936 saw the birth of a medium that could be easily exploited and enhanced by graphic design. However the early story of graphic design in television was one of limited resources and under investment.

It was nearly 20 years after the launch of BBC Television, that its first full-time graphic designer was employed, John Sewell, in 1954. This saw the start of a commitment to the profession, but for a long time Graphic Design remained under the control of Scenic Design, when it really should have been its equal, considering the amount of airtime graphic design occupied.

The graphic designer is required for a whole variety of things: titles and end credits for programmes, graphic material for programme content (stills, captions, animated sequences etc.), on-screen promotion of programmes and the television channel, design of the channels identity and lastly all graphic ‘props’ for programmes such as dramas or sitcoms with designers having to produce signs, newspapers, packaging etc.

The expansion of television has been constant, firstly with the BBC increasing its transmission coverage after the war, then the later introduction of ITV, BBC2, Channel 4 and Breakfast Time and more recently satellite and cable television, Channel 5 and now digital television. This has meant the need for graphic design in television has also been increasing and once it was realised that graphic design is an important element of television there has been no turning back.

In this essay, it is mainly graphic design in British television that is discussed. However the story is much the same all over the world. A notable exception is America in which their use of computers was at a far more advanced stage, with the technology improving at a greater rate there, than in it was in Britain.


A new medium is born

On the 27th January 1926 in Soho, London, John Logie Baird was making history by successfully demonstrating his primitive television system to a public audience. Almost eleven years later, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began broadcasting the world’s first regular high-definition television service, on the 2nd of November 1936.

Television broadcasts were suspended with the outbreak of World War II. When they resumed in 1946, television started to become very successful, especially in Britain with coverage of the wedding procession of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. Originally only available in London and the Home Counties, three new transmitters erected across the country between 1949 and 1952, and television soon became available to a greater number of people.

The increase of license holders required a greater range of programming but it also brought extra investment in the medium. It was as a direct result of this, that the setting up and gradual development of graphic design departments took place.

Graphic design’s link with television however, began well before its launch in 1936:

Contemporary descriptions of Baird’s 1926 experiments with television broadcasts reveal that he used a variety of graphic forms to test legibility, including type script. Graphics and television were thus linked from the point of inception.

Crook, 1986

The new medium of television followed a precedent set by the existing mediums of mass communication such as radio and print in that it provided a constantly changing content with programmes such as sport, newsreels, cookery demonstrations and plays. These all required some sort of graphic introduction and this usually consisted of hand drawn lettering for titles and credits. The graphic artist was also required for programme announcements, intermissions and interludes, as well as inter-programme information such as maps and charts. Much of televisions graphic needs (as in the feature film, newsreel and documentary industries) were met by sign-writers for lettering and commercial artists and card animators for illustrations.

The lack of experiment and invention in television graphics between 1936 and 1950 became evermore apparent to many inside and outside the industry. In 1951, the Festival of Britain was showing a new awareness of design, one that wasn’t being shown in television. As it was beginning to be seen as an influence on public taste and opinion, the BBC decided that a Head of Design should be appointed, and so in 1953 they chose Richard Levin.

Levin came from a background of exhibition design, working on the BBC’s public exhibitions since 1933, organising propaganda exhibitions for the British Army during the Second World War and as a result given the responsibility for organising the land travelling section at the Festival of Britain. His original brief was related to set design but it wasn’t long before Levin realised the need for a graphic designer.

He knew from his experience in exhibition design what an important part graphics could play in enhancing display design, but the BBC wasn’t so convinced. To prove his point, Levin photographed every occurrence of graphic design in a weeks worth of programming, which he then mounted onto a large roll and presented to the senior management with the words “That’s why I need a graphic designer”. As a result he was able to employ John Sewell, British televisions first full-time graphic designer in December 1954.

John Sewell was a recent graduate of the Royal College of Arts School of Graphic Design who specialised in illustration and also had an interest in filmmaking. His role in television meant that he would have to draw on his skills to produce lettering, present stills and produce simple animated sequences, immediately upsetting the five signwriters already employed by the BBC who provided the bulk of televisions graphic needs.

Over the next few years, this experimental section1 was built up to a staff of about 8-9 full-timers including those who specialised in calligraphy, photography and those who had backgrounds in advertising. However this section was considered not to be of much importance, and even though overall control of design policy was still in the hands of Richard Levin, graphic design didn’t enjoy the freedom of an independent department. It was part of Scenic Design, which organised the briefs and budgets, and graphic design was low down on a list that included set design. It wasn’t until 1963 with the expansion of television design, that Richard Levin allowed an element of self-management with the appointment of a Graphics Manager. The section was also expanded from the 8-9 full-timers that were present in 1960, to between 18 and 20 designers in 1963. However this was due mainly to the anticipated launch of BBC2 in 1964.

The quality of television broadcasts and receivers was crude to say the least. In terms of the broadcasts, they were limited to black and white and a resolution of only 405-lines. This was further worsened by the quality of the receivers, with television manufactures more concerned with the decoration of their sets (which at that time were 80% furniture and 20% screen) as opposed to refining the circuitry inside, and this resulted in pictures suffering from poor definition. Up to 20% of the screen was considered unusable to the graphic designer due to the lack of focus around the screen’s edge and also the fact that different television sets cut the picture off at different points.

This meant graphics produced for television had a huge number of restrictions put on them. Lettering had to be large and bold with strong tonal contrast and illustrations had to use fairly heavy lines and lack detail (‘Op’ and ‘Pop’ art themes were common used during the end of the fifties). Designers also had to work from the center of the screen outwards, so as to ensure their work would be seen.

Title sequence from Wednesday Magazine. (BBC/Bernard Lodge, 1958)

Title sequence from Kingsley Amis Goes Pop. (Associated Rediffusion/John Tribe, 1962)

In America, William Golden was making a name for himself in television and was arguably the medium’s first graphic designer. Golden was born in 1911 in New York, where he attended a vocational high school in which he studied commercial design and photoengraving. In 1937, he joined the CBS Radio Network and soon became their art director.

After his career was interrupted by World War II, he returned to CBS and produced many award-winning promotional pieces often using the images from the likes of Ben Shahn and the then unknown Andy Warhol (who later became an influence on the illustration styles employed by graphic designers in television).

However his greatest creation was his corporate identity for CBS Television the well-known CBS ‘eye’ (see below) first aired on the 6th November 1951. He died at the age of 49, only a few months after being awarded art director of the year by the New York Art Directors Club in 1959.

Corporate logo for CBS Television (CBS 1951-Present Day) and its designer, William Golden

It was Saul Bass though, who was to have the most influence on designers in the profession even though he had closer links with film than television. Saul Bass was also born in New York in 1920 where he studied at the Art Students League and Brooklyn College and worked for a number of years. In 1946 he moved to Los Angeles, were he began to produce graphics for advertising.

His work on titles began almost by accident when working on an advertising campaign with the filmmaker Otto Preminger. Bass was designing a graphic symbol of a flame and a rose when he and Preminger came up with the idea of putting this image at the beginning of the film and animating it. Bass did this, adding credits to run over it, and from that moment on, Saul Bass became a title designer. He then went on to produce the titles for Preminger’s film The Man with the Golden Arm in which:

Bass used abstract shapes to portray the disjointed and unhappy life of an addict.

Montagu 1991: 5

as well as Grand Prix and Walk on the Wild Side. Bass later produced the title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho, in which he also directed the famous shower sequence. This is what he became more interested in and moved from the title sequence, to directing sequences in feature films. Saul Bass revolutionised film-making. He allowed the title sequence to become an integral part of the film – the prologue in which the mood could be set instead of just a series of captions.

Bass was also successful in designing many corporate identities with clients including AT&T, Exxon, Quaker Oats and Warner Communications.

Title sequence from The Man with the Golden Arm. (United Artists/Saul Bass, 1967)

Bass had most influence on the early graphic designers in television due to the fact that it was a new medium with precedents for design having to be found elsewhere. Often this was from print but Bass was the only one who provided a potential influence. However, his influence was often hard to emulate on television with its many technical, time and budgetary constraints. In fact it was also difficult for them to find inspiration from anything they, their colleagues or their predecessors produced, because for a long time video was not used to keep a record of programme output. Advertisers also found they had the same problems when they encountered the moving image with the arrival of commercial television in 1955.

Growth and evolution

The 22nd of September 1955 at 7:15pm saw the launch of Independent ‘commercial’ Television (ITV) in Britain, destroying the BBC’s 20-year-old monopoly in television. Initially, as with the BBC’s first broadcasts, Independent Television was limited to the London area for which the Independent Television Authority (ITA) awarding its first franchise to Associated Rediffusion Ltd.

The launch of ITV meant everything had to start from scratch with much of the expertise poached from the BBC. However this couldn’t happen with graphic design, as there was no precedent to follow – it was only shortly after the employment of John Sewell at the BBC, that the first Head of Design at Rediffusion employed their first graphic designers.

The model for resolving the graphic design needs of Independent Television was one in which the basic requirements were met. Most producers working for Rediffusion came from either the BBC, the film industry, or America and this meant there was very little sympathy for graphic design other than its most basic use. A result was a general lack of resources, limiting the scope of the work produced by the five designers.

Not only were they working in a medium that was new to them, but they were also in the position were quantity not quality was wanted from them. The same was true for the other independent stations that were rapidly being launched across the country: ATV (which provided programmes for the Midlands during weekdays and London at weekends), Granada (North weekdays), and ABC (Midlands and North at weekends).

The ITA envisaged a system of major and minor companies, similar to the Hollywood studio system, with the first four contracts being awarded to the ‘majors’ mentioned above. They would provide the majority of programmes for the network with the ‘minors’ behaving more like relay stations, producing the odd local programme and news for their region. In fact a large number of the minor television companies provided a real contribution to the national network. The minors were awarded their franchises between 1957 and 1962 when network was completed, providing the vast majority of the country with Independent Television. This strong regional output that it provided, persuaded the BBC to expand its number of regional television centers, and saw graphic design units set-up in Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham.

In 1962 the Wilkinson Committee which was assembled to assess the progress of both BBC and ITV and to make recommendations as to which should take responsibility for a third channel, published its report. A major criticism was the lack of investment in areas that weren’t directly associated with revenue return, and this included graphic design. However the subsequent reorganisation of the Independent Television network in 1968, with some franchises being awarded to new companies, still saw a policy of minimal investment in graphic design.

Meanwhile at the BBC, things were looking very different. It had won the right to broadcast the new channel, BBC2, which first aired on the 30th April 1964 and was also the date on which 625-line transmissions began. In 1967, the graphic design unit, with its new semi-independence from scenic design, was involved in advising the government on which system to adopt for colour television. This meant an extra amount of work for the graphic designers, monitoring and conducting tests, between PAL and CECAM. One such test involved filming a studio full of naked people to test the reproduction of flesh tints. Colour transmissions finally began on BBC2 on the 1st July 1967, with colour transmissions on BBC1 and ITV beginning in November 1969.

After its involvement, it became clear that the ‘experimental’ section had an important role to play in BBC Television’s output. It was soon decided that the section should become a separate department, with the freedom to manage its own budgets and briefs, and a Head of Graphic Design was appointed. The department faced yet further expansion in 1970, when the BBC’s Open University programming began, with a whole new unit set up to deal with its graphic needs. It was here that experiments with character generators began.

Typical graphic design during the sixties saw a move to a greater use of photography and more detailed illustration, due mainly to the fact that 625-line transmissions when they were launched in 1964, allowed greater picture definition, allowing graphic designers more creativity. There was also a lot more innovation with the increasing knowledge of the effects a film rostrum camera could achieve. The greater use of calligraphy was apparent at this time too.

Title sequence from The Avengers. (ABC/Jerome Gask, 1963). Watch on YouTube

Title sequence from Darkness at Noon. (Associated Rediffusion/Arnold Schwartzman, 1964)

The introduction, firstly of 625-line broadcasts and later colour, had obvious benefits to designers although in a way they were also a hindrance. It has to be remembered that even though these improvements were available, they were being broadcast alongside the old 405-line transmissions (which even with their quality weren’t suspended until early 1985). It was up to the audience to upgrade their sets and sales of colour receivers were unexpectedly low when colour television broadcasts began. Before the majority of viewers had 625-line and colour receivers, the designer still had to consider those watching on 405-lines and monochrome sets.

Title sequence from I, Claudius. (BBC/Richard Bailey, 1976). Watch on YouTube

Title sequence from The Old Grey Whistle Test. (BBC/Roger Ferrin, 1968). Watch on YouTube

These considerations were particularly true of the seventies, especially the early years. Colour wasn’t truly advantageous to the graphic designer as, although it allowed greater creativity, it had the major disadvantage in that mistakes were harder to conceal. Before colour and 625-lines, due to the quality of the medium, a lot of graphic designers managed to get things broadcast that wouldn’t be now with the mediums picture improvements. This meant graphic design wasn’t as straight forward, and designers had to think much more about what they were producing and pay much more attention to detail.


The history of graphic design in television has been relatively short yet it has seen so many changes that everyone in the profession can feel they are ‘pioneers’. However, there are two people that stand out from the rest; Bernard Lodge and Martin Lambie-Nairn, both of whom regard Saul Bass as a major influence on their work.

Bernard Lodge

After leaving the Royal College of Art, Bernard Lodge joined the BBC in 1959. It was here that he got the opportunity to design the title sequence for a new children’s series Doctor Who in 1963. By exploiting the effect that occurs when a television camera is pointed towards a monitor, he was able to convey the idea of time travel and space fiction and created what became the famous title sequence. When he reworked the sequence in 1973, he again used techniques that were new to the profession, by using a computer controlled rostrum camera. Lodge produced many more memorable title sequences before leaving the BBC in 1977 to form his own company which later became Lodge-Cheeseman when his former colleague, Colin Cheesman (who had become Head of Graphic Design at the BBC), joined him.

Title sequence from Doctor Who. (BBC/Bernard Lodge, 1963). Watch on YouTube

Title sequence from Doctor Who. (BBC/Bernard Lodge 1973). Watch on YouTube

Both Lodge and Cheesman were working at a time when the use of computers in the profession were being used to an ever greater extent, but both believed that the computer should be used “not as an end to itself, but as a key to open new creative doors”. (Merritt 1987: 10) Bernard Lodge enabled more doors to be opened by working with Filmflex Ltd. to develop new animation techniques with the computer controlled rostrum camera. These included ‘streak-timing’ to produce a drawn and blurred light effect and ‘slit-scan’, which could be used to create controlled distortions. Lodge-Cheeseman went on to produce work for television commercials and also graphic effects for the movies Alien and Bladerunner.

Martin Lambie-Nairn

After leaving Canterbury College of Art in 1965, Martin Lambie-Nairn applied to the BBC for its holiday relief scheme in which students were taken on for three-month contracts over the summer. He was accepted and given the job of assisting Alan Jeapes. After the three months, Lambie-Nairn was made Jeapes full-time assistant, making him the youngest assistant graphic designer in BBC television at the age of only nineteen.

In 1967, he left the BBC to join Associated Rediffusion however, when Rediffusion lost its franchise to London Weekend Television (LWT), Lambie-Nairn decided to go it alone, and set up his own company to handle the freelance work he was acquiring. This proved to be a mistake and after a brief time at the Conran Design Group, he decided television was his home and moved to Independent Television News (ITN) were he became deputy to the senior designer.

Here he worked on the on-screen graphics for the Apollo space missions including the near-disastrous Apollo 13 mission. An opportunity came up in 1970 with an open-brief for the design of a new company logo and title sequence for ITN’s flagship programme News at Ten. However, the senior designer, Malcolm Beatson, had cornered the brief, but Lambie-Nairn had been asked to have ago at the brief himself by ITN’s Editor in Chief. When his ideas were chosen over Beatson’s, he was seen to be undermining him and resulted with the whole design department refusing to speak to him for a while. It was because of this, that he left ITN and joined LWT.

Typical still used up until the late 1970’s to illustrate current affairs or news items. If the item were to complicated to convey in a single still, it would be animated.

It was here that Martin Lambie-Nairn was to find his big break. Weekend World was LWT’s current affairs programme, was broadcast on Sunday lunchtimes and due to its topicality, required a graphic designer to work from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. As it was such an antisocial shift, the contract to produce its graphics was placed outside of LWT. At this time Lambie-Nairn had set up his own company with a fellow colleague Colin Robinson, and the contract presented a golden opportunity for Robinson Lambie-Nairn. They won the contract, and it was here that Lambie-Nairn revolutionised the graphic conventions used in presenting current-affairs related information graphically.

This was traditionally based on newspaper cartoons – for example, if there was a story about the pound being weak, a cartoon drawing of a pound sign wearing bandages and using crutches was shown. Realising that this was at odds with communicating a serious news item, Lambie-Nairn developed a new method of presenting this sort of information in a more appropriate graphical manner. It was with this new approach that Weekend World became more successful, and this meant more work for Robinson Lambie-Nairn who found themselves “leaders in a field of one” (Lambie-Nairn, 1997).

Title sequence from Weekend World. (LWT/Robinson Lambie-Nairn, 1982)

It was with the launch of Channel Four though were Martin Lambie-Nairn was to create waves in the television industry. Taking the idea that this new channel didn’t make its own programmes, but commissioned them from independent programme makers, Lambie-Nairn designed the innovative ‘coloured building blocks’ that came together to form the channel’s figure 4 logo. This had to be produced in the United States, whose computer animation technology was far more advanced than in Britain. Lambie-Nairn also introduced many new concepts that were new in 1982, but common place in television nowadays.

He created a series of animations that were all based on the coming together of the ‘coloured building blocks’ but all were slightly different, helping to keep the stations identity fresh and new. One such animation showed the coloured blocks separate and revolve – almost coming out of the screen – before returning to its original figure four, whilst another saw blocks fly in towards the centre of the screen to form the four. Although this was expensive to implement it was radically different to its competitors which at that time, all which had a single on-screen indent they returned to, be it BBC1’s globe, Anglia’s revolving silver knight or Thames’ London skyline.

Channel Four also had consistent on-screen branding, with programme menus, weather charts, on-screen promotions etc. all having the same look and feel often with the Channel Four logo used like a postage stamp in the top right hand corner of the screen. However prior to launch, it wasn’t liked by some of the channels executives, one of which wanted the logo to be rendered with a chrome effect and have the appearance of a turned off television. This showed that graphic design in television still wasn’t fully understood even by 1982. The Channel’s identity was so far ahead of its time, that it remained largely unchanged for 14 years, unheard of in todays rapidly changing industry.

Round and Back. (Channel Four/Robinson Lambie-Nairn, 1982)

On the back of this success, Lambie-Nairn was asked to design many other corporate identities for television companies. These included Anglia, in which Lambie-Nairn was responsible for the removal of the then much loved, but out of date, revolving silver knight and the satellite company British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB). However all five channel identities he created were replaced after only a couple of months when the company ‘merged’ with Sky.

He also became successful outside of Britain, working with companies such as TF1 (France), ARTE (France and Germany), EuroSport (Europe), TV Norge (Norway) and Quatro (Portugal) to name but a few.

It was with his old employers though, the BBC, that Lambie-Nairn became the most respected. In 1991, Lambie-Nairn was responsible for, as he saw it, ‘repositioning’ BBC1 and BBC2. This was especially true with BBC2 that beforehand, with the old ‘TWO’ indent, was seen as a channel that was middle-class and boring. By replacing it with the figure ‘2’ in a series of indents that echoed the different values of the channel, not only did the he succeed in making the channel more accessible, the indents almost became more popular than the channel itself.

It was for this reason that when Lambie-Nairn was recalled in 1997 to redesign the BBC’s identity, from its corporate logo to all of its radio and television station identities – that the BBC2 logo remained unchanged, with only more indents being added to the ever increasing family. Lambie-Nairn has gained so much credibility within the BBC, that nearly everything you see today on the BBC, has been created by Martin Lambie-Nairn.

His success has also reached a point, that for a long period during the 1990’s, three of the four terrestrial television channels, a number of ITV regions, and many satellite channels, all had identities created by Lambie-Nairn as well as a number of overseas television companies. Martin Lambie-Nairn was also the man behind the popular eighties satirical television show Spitting Image in which his company also financed the initial development.

Computer revolution

The success of the Channel Four identity, caused immediate resentment from the various ITV companies, which considered the new channel to be its poor relation, yet its identity had become a talking point amongst the industry and public. They concluded that it was successful due to the fact that it was computer animated, and so ordered its graphic designers to computerise their logos.

The viewer was suddenly confronted with an array of computerised flying logos – Thames for example took its familiar London skyline image and turned it into a metallic looking slab that flew around the screen. Of course this had no effect on viewing figures or the popularity of the channels, as the identities bore no relationship to the values of the channels (if anything it made them all look the same). It was just fascination with a technique.

However the computer revolution started well before the launch of Channel Four, in fact it stemmed right back to the 1960’s and television news which became the spur for investment in this new technology.

News became design conscious with the introduction of ITN in September 1955. Before then, news on the BBC consisted of newsreels with a voiced-over news commentary. ITN was a refreshing alternative. By following the lead set in America, were news ‘anchormen’ were used to link news stories together in a studio environment, ITN’s style was soon adopted by the BBC. Since then, news has probably been the most competitive area of programming, and this has been matched by competitiveness in graphical approaches, with studio sets and informational graphics constantly being reassessed.

ITN led the way in 1959, with the introduction of the ‘Swingometer’ and introducing computers in the 1964 elections (although only to analyse data). It wasn’t until 1974, that ITN introduced the computer to present the information on screen. Using a VT30, it was the first time raster graphics were seen on British Television. Although the images produced were similar to those used on Teletext, it had the advantage of being able to be played back quickly ideal when large amounts of data are being presented continuously.

Engineers at ITN, later designed their own system, the VT80 which helped to greatly improve the appearance of the on-screen graphics during the 1980 American elections. It was these advances that made the BBC realise how far behind it was in its use of computer technology. The need for this increased investment was made more apparent with the soon to be launched early morning service Breakfast Time in January 1982 (a result of the expansion of television broadcasting laws – ITV launched its own service, TVam in the February of that year). It was only then that the BBC employed a further 20 designers and invested in the much needed computer hardware and software.

A film rostrum camera. Computer controlled rostrum cameras were introduced around the late 1970’s

The computers use throughout the rest of television graphics has followed a path of ever-increased usage – from its control of the rostrum camera, to being able to generate images for on-screen. Before computers, the film rostrum camera was used in many areas of television graphics. The rostrum camera is a vertically mounted camera that is able move up and down above a bench on which the artwork is placed, and it is the bench that is able to produce the majority of the movement. Used mostly in the filming of animated title sequences, it was also used for the filming compilations of stills (be them photographs, paintings or prepared artwork) and shooting cells or drawings a frame at a time ready for animation.

In 1958, the BBC adapted the film rostrum camera so that it was able to record straight to video instead of film. This allowed the results to be instantly available and ended the wait for film to be processed. Computers first became involved when they were used to control the rostrum camera. By attaching motors to all its moving parts, allowed complicated moves and techniques such as ‘slit-scan’ and ‘streak-timing’ to be achieved. Next came digital paint systems such as the Quantel Paintbox, which enabled graphic designers to assemble collages and montages and also adapt images using an electronic pen and graphics tablet. Animation also became computerised allowing effects such as those in the Channel Four animations mentioned earlier.

As for lettering this became easier and less time consuming than the original hand drawn methods, first of with the Masseeley hot press printing machine in 1955, and then with ‘Letraset’ four years later, before character generators began to take over in 1969. Television graphics have reached a point now in which the vast majority in all aspects of graphic design is created on computer, and is becoming increasingly more integrated.

Liquid Gold (Yorkshire Television/Jeff Parr, 1986)

However it was the eighties in which the computers use was more obvious to the viewer due to the fact that it had reached a stage in which it could be successfully used to create title-sequences or station indents and present graphical information. Green monitor output and wireframe graphics were fashionable at the start of the decade for use in station or programme promotions. As the technology improved, and greater effects could be achieved, so the fashion changed, meaning that during the mid to late eighties 3D animated computer graphics (usually with metallic or chrome rendering) were more commonly used.

Title sequence from Ghosts in the Machine II. (Channel Four/Richard Markell, 1988)

As for programme titles, they all seemed to embrace colour in a way that was not seen during the previous decade with the influence from Channel Four’s identity on graphic designers particularly evident at this time. Using a similar palette to that of new channels identity, designers and often mixed photographs with illustrations which were usually very stylistic and sometimes of a cartoon nature. It also saw a return of the familiar black background in titles – last seen in the fifties – and on most occasions, titles ended with a simple title on black.


The history of graphic design in television is one of triumph over adversity. Ever since its launch in 1936, television has been a medium that has been restrictive to the graphic designer, both on and off screen.

Originally limited to only black and white and 405-lines designers still managed to be innovative and creative and for a long period of time without the proper resources and funding. However thanks to people such as Richard Levin who knew what benefits graphic design could bring to television, we now have a situation in which the profession is now an equal alongside set design, make-up, set design etc. (A recent development in the story of graphic design at the BBC was the creation of a commercial arm in 1998 called BBC Resources, in which departments such as graphic design, now compete for work outside of the BBC – mainly in order to keep these areas funded.)

However, in a medium that is all about visual communication, its surprising that such an important part of its output (graphic design accounts for 100’s of hours worth of television every week) was disregarded for such a long time – even when departments were finally set up they were considered experimental.

Television is also is also a rapidly changing medium that is constantly benefiting from technological improvements. Although superficially beneficial to the graphic designer, they become restrained by the viewing public who until they upgrade, has to be taken into account the introduction of colour television is a prime example. Even today the introduction of digital television has meant a designer has to think of how to solve a problem in two ratios – normal analogue television 4:3 screens and digital widescreen ones. Improvements in the technology behind the screen can also be restrictive as was seen during the eighties.

Computerised control of the rostrum camera was an advantage as it did help to cut out a lot of time consuming and repetitive work that was seen when manual control was the only method. However the increasing power and subsequent multi-purpose use of the computer again hindered the graphic designer who felt obliged (sometimes even ordered) to use the computer and/or the newest effects it could create. However as computer graphics went out of fashion when audiences became used to them, we see graphic designers using computers as they should be intended as another tool to get the required creative effect.


  • Craig, J. and Barton, B. (1987). Thirty Centuries of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Survey
  • Crook, G. (1986). The Changing Image. Television Graphics from Caption Card to Computer. London: Robots Press
  • Lambie-Nairn, M. (1997). Brand Identity for Television. With Knobs On. London: Phaidon Press
  • Merritt, D. (1987). Television Graphics from Pencil to Pixel. London: Trefoil Publications
  • Microsoft Corporation (1996). Baird, John Logie. Encarta ‘97 [CD-ROM]. Redmond: Microsoft Corporation
  • Montagu, R. (1991). The Television Graphics Handbook. Borehamwood: BBC Television Training
  1. Gradually, over the next two years, what the Television Annual of 1957 described as “a new and largely experimental section”, was built up. (Crook 1986: 34) ↩︎