An In-House Agency Look at TRTÉ’s Teen Strand Rebrand

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In-house agencies have thrived in recent years. Though initially moreso as a result of a challenging economic climate, these in-house design-departments have succeeded in not only working alongside independent design and branding agencies for special projects but continue to produce award winning work on a day-to-day basis that numbers in the thousands of projects by year end.

TRTÉ Creative Development

I’ve had some interesting conversations with a few notable in-house agencies recently, talking about everything from the how’s and why’s of commissioned work to the practicalities (and apprehensions) of bringing in an outside (read: untested) agency to pitch for a rebrand.

There is certainly enough work out there for both in-house agencies and stand-apart branding firms to succeed. The challenge lies in that delicate balance of maximizing internal channel resources with the value of bringing in a new perspective, all the while ensuring the brand stays in well tested hands.

RTÉ’s Alan Dunne shares a glimpse from the broadcaster’s in-house design department, sharing his first person account of TRTÉ’s recent rebrand from longstanding television children’s brand, The Den. Special thanks to Alan and RTÉ for providing this to us. An inside look at everything from initial apprehensions, to the development of the brief, and the polished lineup of new idents waits for you, just behind “keep reading”.

Expect to see more first person articles from the in-house agencies from Discovery Creative (US & UK) & FOX Interntional Channels in the pretty near future. This is a rather new perspective we’re providing on ABM, namely client-side originated perspective pieces. If this is something you’d like to see more of, let me know directly, or support the content publically via Twitter and http://www.facebook.com/tvbranding

Special Guest Commentary
by Alan Dunn, RTÉ

“RTÉ like other state and semi-state organisations has on occasion by-passed on site talent and commissioned work from independents facilities which could have been delivered by in-house expertise. This is especially true when budgets are flush. Rightly or wrongly, as a consequence, a number of key branding projects for RTÉ have been designed and produced by high-profile design/media companies at a considerable cost to the national broadcaster, and with my presumed bias aside, not always to remarkable effect.

It was decided that the long serving children’s linkage programme The Den, was to wind down after a 25 year long legacy. But why all of sudden was the RTÉ Graphic Design Department now considered to participate in the opportunity to win the contract of branding the replacement of The Den up against the usual coterie of award winning, big hitting channel branders? The obvious conclusion would be that current economic strains that Ireland finds itself in today has resulted in a cost cutting approach in the handling of branding design work. Personally, I think it goes further than that, much further.

Over the past 5 years the RTÉ Graphic Design Department, has undergone an unprecedented level of transformation. An injection of new creative talent, increased expectations of technical competency and the obtaining of high-end industry standard equipment. Overall there is a positive atmosphere of creativity, experimentation and innovation within the department. All of this has been cultivated in an enthusiastic working environment that feels more akin to a small dynamic cottage style design team, than the typical dowdy image that one may have of a semi-state in-house facility. These were changes that didn’t go unnoticed within the organisation and coupled with the economic downturn – the planets were somewhat aligned for a new exciting chapter – trusting the in-house design department.

The Den Divided

Whatever was to replace The Den had to stand up to the public’s expectations, not only that of the principle viewers – children and teenagers but also to the scrutiny of generations of kids who fondly recall the years of joy The Den brought– of which I am one! Early on in the branding process it was agreed that a programme that catered for an audience aged between 0-16 created a major branding issue and was something that needed to be solved. So it was decided to take a divide and conquer approach; RTÉjr catering to the 0-6 year olds and TRTÉ would cater for an audience of 9-16 year olds. 7 and 8 year olds wandered somewhere between, resorting perhaps to reading a book or something hideous like that. Conor Cassidy another IDI member took care of RTÉjr and I was to work on TRTÉ.

Teasing Out The TRTÉ Logo Brief & Logo Design

The initial stages of the channel rebrand was to render a workable brief that set out clear objectives of what was to be done. And so after much discussion and research with RTÉ’s TV Promotions Department and RTÉ Young Peoples it was becoming clearer as to what the personality of  TRTÉ was to be. Because of the time constraints, developments with the artwork were already underway while investigations were underway as to what exactly was the brand. Contrary to my initial expectations, this actually felt like a very inclusive and intuitive approach. As far as I recall a brief never actually got written but what did happen was we finally got to a stage where we had some concrete truths about the visuals and what we decided the brand was. It was as if the inclusive design process highlighted to us a clearer avenue to go down.

TRTÉ looking as if it was part of the extended  RTÉ visual family was a main focus point. Its remit was to look as though there was absolutely no doubt from the colours and the shape that it felt immediately part of the RTÉ family. It had to lead the audience from the safe world of RTÉjr and usher them into the adult world of RTÉ Two. So it had to seem like it resided visually somewhere between the two like a missing link in an evolution sequence. This resulted in the final logo design echoing certain distinguishing traits of RTÉjr such as its position over the RTÉ logo and looking like the more angular older sibling.

Initially it was understood that TRTÉ was to be the MTV styled channel of RTÉ until it transpired that we were actually dealing with more of an adolescent or ‘Tweenager’ audience. It was a serendipitous misdirection of sorts because most tweens have aspirational tendencies. Aspirational as in they want to be spoken to like teenagers by brands. Its no secret that Just Seventeen is read by 14 year olds. So our thinking early on was targeting the visual style of the channel at an older audience would be enticing to the tween audience. So if your wondering what the ‘T’ in TRTÉ stands for, its a deliberate enigma.

Obvious as it would seem, we did not really prioritise the issue of gender neutrality. It really only became apparent later on in the process. Through the colours, shape and feel the logo had to instil a certain attitude of confidence, timelessness and punch without screaming ‘I’m a boy/girl!’. While certain shapes worked, colour combinations did not. Initial shapes for the logo design were reminiscent of tribal design but with an urban, surf/skater culture feel. We moved into looking at the idea of strong verticals and horizontals. It was an avenue that needed to be explored but it too was discontinued.

Close to a thousand drafted logos must have been generated before it finally came to fruition. In the end I drew up a sketch that seemed to sit well as a logo.  In the back of my mind I was already looking at what could be done in terms of ident concept animation.

The Classically Animated Idents

Irish teens are a difficult market to appeal to. Choosing the style of the hand rendered pen illustrations was a result of us wanting it to go for a creative and crafted look that is still honkin’ with the cool dudes. We felt reassured by the tendency of Irish teenagers to customise their schoolbags and pencil cases with intensely detailed pen doodles. A factor which would later give rise to the introduction of the TRTÉ Christmas Doodle Competition.

Opting for an entirely graphic solution suited the executive panel, as they were eager to avoid filming live action to save money. I worked up a couple of sample storyboards using a detailed pen and ink style. It was becoming clear to us that the classically animated detailed doodles were adding hugely to the development of the brand’s zany and alternative personality. Often it is too easy to just go down the route of 3D animation or continuing to go down the route of something which is obviously computer generated artwork. We knew that our unique ‘hands on’ approach had a strong level of visual sophistication that would stand out for all the right reasons. Most importantly it was fun.

For us it was a very exciting opportunity to go back to basics. In the same way that letterpress printing and other forms of traditional mark making have been the classic process for the print designer, similarly I have always considered traditional classical animation to be timeless craft in the field of motion design. The day that the animation desk arrived was thrilling. We were amused that it had an electric plug just for a single fluorescent lightbox at the back and yet it would be the most key piece of equipment for the project.

The entire ident collection was produced inhouse by two people, myself and fellow in-house designer Stephen McNally. On a typical day I would hand animate the various doodles needed for a particular ident, scan them in for Stephen who put them into a image sequence and composite them together in After Effects. Often a single ident was made up of a wide variety of individually animated elements with details that perhaps only we will ever appreciate. The result was that each ident was insanely detailed and made for decent repeat viewing. Both myself and Stephen are illustrators at heart so it became a project that we both felt very passionate about and it was probably the most creative fun we have yet had on a job.

It was very labour intensive for the both of us, and when something didn’t look quite right it was literally a case of going back to the drawing board. But the hand drawn approach was something we knew that audiences would appreciate and our idiosyncratic endeavour would punch above its weight and stand out among competitor’s ident designs that had huge budgets.

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Filed under branding, channel identity, ident, opinion

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