NBC still seems as ‘proud as a peacock’

Welcome to the second edition of Theoretical Thursdays this summer. For the first article click here. This week we have the visual history of the NBC logo. Oh, and no, I haven’t yet forgiven their executives for canceling Community.

John J. Graham’s peacock logo debuted in homes on May 22, 1956, to advertise the recent switch of television network NBC to more color programming. The National Broadcasting Company was owned by color television manufacturer RCA at the time. The parent company turned television, and as a result the logo, into a marketing tool throughout the following decades. (Editor’s note: A news story dated June 27, 2015, appeared after this posting would note that the public might begin to confuse the Peacock media productions with the growing gay rights movement.)nbc-logos

NBC had the peacock logo refined by the studio of Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar, after a brief branding blunder during the 1970s, making it the first time the brightly colored bird was the official logo. The new peacock debuted in 1986 during the “NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration.” The 1986 iteration appears in a form close to the logo currently in use; I personally find this a much sharper version than its 21st century counterpart. I find it to be one of those marks that is so ingeniously simple that, not only is it is hard not be jealous of its creator, it makes a designer want to work so fervently as to one day have a piece that can be equally as iconic. I still feel insecure about my logo making abilities but I admit with such great work like this for inspiration the task seems less daunting than in the past.

Chermayeff and Geismar reduced the eleven original feathers down to six simplified, rounded shapes, one for each of NBC’s main divisions. I find the primary and secondary color palette an efficient use of color as a designators. As a culture Americans are used to these six colors seen together. The feathers are evenly divided into warm and cool colors, logically arranged around the bird’s body. I admit, from a small child until now, that I have always wondered at the color arrangement. Why does the pattern read that way? Chermayeff and Geismar helped pick the order based on the divisions represented—news (yellow), sports (orange), entertainment (red), stations (purple), network (blue), and productions (green). It could be argued that the from NBC’s humble origins as a radio broadcast that news, sports and serialized scripted entertainment were at the heart of the company. As technology progressed each station, and the eventually the network created from affiliated stations, became more important as pooled resources allowed for better production values spurred by the rise of television and computer generated effects.

Other visible changes from 1956-1986 included the head of the peacock’s head being turned to towards the right; some sources indicate this to mean “looking to the future.” This design decision would be echoed in the 2000s with the MSNBC slogan “Leaning forward.” Later, NBC ushered in the mobile user era with a “crystallized” version of the logo reflecting Apple’s “glossy” interface design on iPhones. As a designer I respect the need to reflect what Steven Heller calls the “zeitgeist of the period.” However, as a mobile-user I find the gradients distracting. The highlights reference early LCD screen reflections that I always found annoying while working digitally. Additionally these graphics typically appear on a flat screen that is rendering the three dimensional imagery in only two dimensions. It seems to me that implicating the all three dimensions like this is no more progressive than thinking of Daguerreotypes as technologically advanced although the day of real-time portable digital projection at the average consumer level is quickly coming.

The Chermayeff & Geismar peacock logo was put into production as an onscreen bug during the during the 1993-1994 television season. Today NBC keeps a tight reign on the logo through strict guidelines that allow for little deviation. Some exceptions have been noted such as the “Stars and Stripes Peacock” following the attacks of September 11. Other small adjustments have been made to the logo reproduction in the last decade with the switch to Widescreen HD formatting. NBC executives noticed that the 16:9 frame ratio distorted Standard Definition 4:3 ratio televisions that RCA first built. In 2009 the Peacock was rescaled smaller to remain in-frame despite the screen shifts for the launch of their new “NBC. More Colorful.” campaign. This was especially noticeable during the institutionalized ‘Thursday night comedy block’ airing between 7:00-9:00CST then comprising of fan favorites “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and newcomer “Community.” This adjustment, and on-screen bugs in general, would continue to place pressure on designers to create multi-platform work so that network traffic personnel, responsible for making sure programming reaches the serviced market at the correct time, could quickly package program streams for airing.


For more on the Peacock and gay rights confusion click here. 


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