10 years since Fox International Channels’ Worldwide Re-Branding
An entrepreneur story
Preface: Passion kills Comfort
At the start of summer 2009, in the southern hemisphere with tons of heat (and without the AC to deal with it), I received an unexpected email from the beloved Flor Picco, who at that time was the VP of branding for all international broadcasting at the prestigious and megapopular television network 20th Century FOX, parent company of The Simpsons, Dr. House, X Files, Family Guy, and many other great stories that inhabit the collective unconscious of all contemporary society.
At only 23 years old, and with several years of university still ahead of me, receiving a message with a brief to design the corporate re-branding of one of the largest broadcasters in the world did not go unnoticed — at the least, I felt anxiety and fear 🤦♂️.
But I trusted that if the Brand Manager at Fox International Channels had seen some indication of creativity and talent in my humble portfolio, I wasn’t too mistaken in choosing my career, and all the love and passion I’d felt about this field was starting to bear fruit.
To better understand the context, I had decided to start and found DHNN Creative Agency the year before, which was basically a humble office in a tiny apartment in the beautiful city of Martinez, without AC as I mentioned earlier, and with austere home-depot desks, brand new “hackintoshes” (cloned Mac computers) as a work tool, and a salary just enough to get by — but what abounded was the drive to do what I most love, which was all the motivation I needed to tackle this challenging project.
But now, the question is, what made such a massive corporation look into the work of a university student who couldn’t even afford to buy a new pair of sneakers? Possibly the phrase that I’ve most thought about since I started designing professionally has been: “treat each project as if it were worth a million dollars” (obviously that project doesn’t exist 🤔), but it’s served as a metaphor of the carrot to the lazy donkey, to look for the horizon, to always have a vision, however grand it may seem, that allows us to move forward with complete confidence that what wakes us up every day is motivating enough to be able to enjoy what we do.
Getting more into the technical part of the assigned project, came the moment of truth. How would I develop the corporate branding of FOX International Channels? I had a very short brief where the premises were: The FOX logo had to remain, the slogan is “We entertain people,” and a brand manual was needed with enough capacity to be able to distribute it to more than 300 TV broadcasters throughout the planet in more than 40 different languages. 🤦♂️
First Things First: the Concept
Such a short brief (almost as short as a tweet) could be an opportunity to let creativity flow, but on the other hand, it could have also represented the terror of a blank sheet. This fortunately wasn’t the case — it was enough to understand the slogan of the company: “We Entertain People,” as a conceptual trigger and inspiration to give visual form to the new entity that we would capture, and this creative freedom would provide a personal touch to all the pieces. As a point in common, all Fox channels are not only synonymous with entertainment, they also share a state of constant motion, they have life, they are animated. I would suspect, then, that the spirit of entertainment that 20th Century Fox represents is based on the stories it tells and its constant movement. It was that movement, that animation, that spark that ignited the conceptual thread, with an added challenge that it had to be represented inanimately, or statically — a beautiful paradox. Though graphic design is mainly in charge of finding connections between opposing ideas to create new syntheses, here I had found a great one that was very fitting to the concept. As soon as I arrived at the idea or concept of “static movement,” the painting “Nude Descending a Staircase” by Marcel Duchamp immediately came to mind. In the piece, movement is represented as an abstract morphological juxtaposition that hides the study of movement of a person descending a staircase. I don’t remember where I was able to appreciate this work by Dunchamp for the first time, but what I do know is that it had been resonating in my subconscious since then.
With the same conceptual premise, and Duchamp’s pieces as an emblem, I continued to investigate about the study of static movement, and I had the immense luck to run into the work of Étienne-Jules Marey, a scientist who used photography to dig deeply into the representation of movement by creating powerfully revealing and attractive images for the conceptual design that he was building.
With these extraordinary graphic and conceptual references, I began to retrace the path of representing Fox International Channels and its slogan “We Entertain People”- I started creating a visual representation of a brand that was constantly moving, in a static way.
Shapes and Colors
With the conceptual trigger already set in my mind, and endless visual references to aid me, it was the moment of truth: I had to start defining the graphic universe of this rather unorthodox brand system.
I tried to approach the challenge of generating a design system loaded with more variables than constants, not because of a capricious definition, but because of the complexity of an umbrella brand of these characteristics.
Paradoxically, the brief only said that the “FOX” logo couldn’t be changed (a beautiful combination of three characters in Kabel font), but the brand “FOX International Channels” had to be able to adapt and embrace the name of the regions where it is represented. By building a typeface system in Din that accompanied the FOX logo, I was able to easily solve the issue of adapting the brand to the more than 44 languages it’s broadcasted in.
I already spoke about the concept definition of the FOX slogan, “We Entertain People,” but it had come time to materialize it in harmony with a logo that was extremely complex itself. It was then that I defined outside the box that I would use the typeface as an image, and that the logo could coexist with the Tagline not only in small print underneath it, but also continuously reversing roles with the typographical hierarchy. The typeface involved in this experiment was Avant Gard, a font with enormous personality that would provide the right balance to the complex variables in this system.
Taking into account the television universe from which FOX broadcasting came from, I assumed the challenge of translating colors of light to chromatic subtractive colors. I basically faced the enormous challenge of translating RGB to CMYK, seeking to represent the colors that had come from the test card of the old box TVs, but in a way that these 7 colors could coexist harmoniously and almost imperceptibly, while still providing a marked identity to each of the pieces of this complex design system.
At the same time, the colors functioned as semantic representatives for each of the scenarios that they exemplified. Red/magenta, for example, was the chromatic tone that due to its strident quality, defined the set of “ASAP” pieces in the stationary. And every other colortone had its own pertinent scenario.
Graphics and Photographical Operations
This was the most daring and complex part of the design system to systematize. Either because of their enormous artistic importance or their grand visual character, the collages were not a mere fortuitous endeavour. While the flow of the irrepressible expression that art inhabits can be represented by the talent of an artist, I needed to look for the representative analogy of the collages, so that this idea would be imprinted on each piece of the system, finding the right balance between art and function: Design.
In order to not appear as less than the rest of the parts of the design system and to be able to explain the thought behind the images that somehow represented the conceptual spirit of the brand, I had to think of a name that would define the synthesis created by these antagonistic universes, and give a framework for the juxtaposition of images and of the controlled morphological harmony. This is how the expression “minimal trash” was born, a nonexistent artistic movement that would help me conceptually anchor the reason I used images with a collage shade to represent static movement in a corporate context when the time came to present it to the client.
After gathering all the elements, I began to implement the design system in various scenarios. First they were institutional stationery, personal cards, envelopes, letterheads. Then, it was applied to merchandising, bags, premium brand gifts, objects.
But it soon grew and replicated to occupy space. Graphic pieces were created for offices, posters were made to put up in the streets, and even infographic pieces were made.
The digital pieces were no exception — I made the fox.com website design, mobile applications, email signatures, templates for presentations and keynotes, etc.
But since all this work was the spark that was going to be distributed in such diverse regions as Latin America, Europe, Asia, The Middle East, and Africa, it was necessary to define a brand bible that could be understood and applied in more than 324 FOX International Channels offices around the world, with diverse cultures, different languages, etc.
That is why the regulation had to be as unequivocal as possible — leaving the least amount of loose ends would allow the complex system to withstand manipulation without losing its identity, and in this way, be able to remain in the collective unconscious of people just as I had initially conceived the brand system.
Conclusion: Entrepreneurship and Empirical Teaching
The adventure of working on this project was how immensely enriching it was and how I was able to learn so many concepts that I still apply in my career as a designer to this day, but especially from the understanding of this discipline as a business.
At that time at only 23 years old, it was very complicated to commercially land this project — how I should charge such a brief without losing the opportunity to work on the project, but still trying to make some money. It was almost impossible to calculate — at university, we would only see morphology, typography and concepts, and what was left to learn of the business was relegated to the streets.
My experience with ex-bosses and colleagues was not rich enough to ask for advice and at that time, there were no YouTube tutorials about how to bill a project of this size. Obviously, motivation wasn’t remuneration, but with a few tools in the business of visual communication, I started to understand that true talent is valued highly and it’s up to us to continually work to foster it.
Over the years, I did more projects with Fox and Natgeo, but I treasure this one above the rest because the pure value of inexperience uncorrupted by preconceptions reflects, in each of the pieces of the brand system, a high degree of genuine talent and the desire to do this only for the romanticism that is generated by the love of art.
In March 2019, 20th Century Fox was acquired by The Walt Disney Company and the rest is history.
Thank you so much for reading my article about the Fox International Channels Re-Branding.
If you ever want to speak about the Fox International Channels Re-Branding Project, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org