Close-Up: Live issue - It's hard playing designers at their own game

Michael Johnson is somewhat underwhelmed by Fallon's efforts to revamp the design of BBC Radio's station idents.

It's becoming a familiar topic for ad agencies to grumble about brand consultancies. For decades it was clear - ad agencies were the ones that steered brands and made them famous, designers just supplied the logos to go in the corner of the ad, or the endframe. End of story.

But recently, though, it's become obvious that clients have started to view advertising as just one channel for their communication, not the beginning and end of the story. It's no surprise then that branding designers, usually appointed first, have begun to make major positioning decisions. Agencies get asked to implement them second. And it's only a few months since a recent example, when Bartle Bogle Hegarty parted with a client over the proposed roll-out of the Sony Ericsson "I (heart) long journeys" (etc) campaign, which emanated from Wolff Olins.

But ad agencies are fighting back. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO created the new BBC2 idents this year. And only last week, DDB snaffled Royal & SunAlliance's brand review (I fear the agency's "answer" will be pricey TV ads, and not a desperately required identity overhaul, but what do I know?). And earlier this year, Fallon beat off several proper design companies to review BBC Radio's idents.

Here was a chance for advertising to flex those design muscles, and show 'em how it's done. And, yes, the idents are better than they were, but that's damning with faint praise; they were awful before.

So, taking a cue from the previous Radio 1 identity (the number "1" in a black circle), Fallon has taken the decision to, er, put all the numbers in circles. Coloured circles, mind you.

Some of the numbers are presented with little "gags". For example, the "3" contains a bass clef, the "4" has a speech mark, and so on. Not being a Radio 7 listener, I presumed that the station aired DIY shows until it was pointed out that the symbol was a smile, and not a bent nail (shame, because that's an interesting idea for a logo).

So, what was probably quite a neat little system fell apart somewhere between Soho and White City. Rather than have any gags for Radios 1, 2, 5 and 6, we just have coloured numbers.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Fallon's work, and I think that the agency has a better "design" eye than most, but if we're applying the "I wish I'd done that" test, I don't.

Had this been a blind testing, I would have guessed that this came from a mid-table design company that had its first idea messed up by the client.

Mmm. Maybe this design thing isn't quite as easy as it seems?

- Michael Johnson is the creative director for Johnson Banks.