Martin Lambie-Nairn, branding expert 'who made TV idents sexy', dies aged 75

Tributes for designer's "exceptional work" for C4 and BBC.

Martin Lambie-Nairn, branding expert 'who made TV idents sexy', dies aged 75

Martin Lambie-Nairn, the branding expert who created Channel 4’s original logo and transformed the on-screen look of the BBC, has died at the age of 75.

Lambie-Nairn’s ability to fuse branding, design and advertising capabilities transformed the look of British TV in the 1980s at the start of the multi-channel era.

His iconic logo for Channel 4, which debuted in 1982, featured animated, colourful “blocks” that made up the number four.

Other celebrated designs included a globe balloon for BBC1, which ran from 1997 to 2001.

Campaign profile of Lambie-Nairn in 1997 described him as “the man who made TV sponsorship idents sexy”.

His love of TV went beyond branding and he was one of the creators of Spitting Image, the satirical puppet show, which launched on ITV in the 1980s.

He founded an eponymous branding agency, Lambie-Nairn, in 1990, before selling it to WPP in 1999 and it later became part of Superunion, WPP’s branding division, in 2017.

More recently, he has run his own consultancy, ML-N, which announced his death on its website.

“In a career spanning five decades, Martin was widely acknowledged as one of the leading graphic designers and creative directors of his generation,” the statement said.

“From his ground-breaking identity for the launch of Channel 4 in 1982 and rebranding of BBC News to his appointment as a Royal Designer for Industry and creating the original concept for the TV series Spitting Image, Martin’s accolades and achievements are too numerous to list. His exceptional work, kindness and infectious creative spirit touched the lives of so many people.”

WPP said in a statement on Twitter: “Martin Lambie-Nairn was one of the greats of our industry, with an extraordinary legacy of work that not only entered but shaped the public consciousness.”

Superunion added: “So sad to hear of the death of Martin Lambie-Nairn, one of the world’s most brilliant designers and a truly wonderful person.”

Lambie-Nairn trained in graphic design at the Canterbury College of Art before taking up his first position, in 1965, as an assistant designer at the BBC.

He launched Robinson Lambie-Nairn, his first company, in 1976, after working as an art director for Terence Conran at Conran Associates, a senior designer at ITN, overseeing the changeover to colour, and a designer at LWT.

In 1981 Lambie-Nairn conceived and financed the start-up of Spitting Image, after the idea came to him “over lunch”.

He set up Lambie-Nairn and Company in 1990, acting as creative director and designing specifically for TV, before selling it to WPP in 1999.

Lambie-Nairn first recognised the potential of the on-screen TV logo when he sat in on a presentation made by a BMP DDB planner to Anglia Television, which had brought him in to help with a logo rethink.

Up until that point, “we were being asked to think of just TV logos, and decisions were based on, say, whether the client liked pink, and it was an unsatisfactory way of working because it was totally subjective,” Lambie-Nairn said in an interview for the Campaign profile in 1997.

“Then I sat in on this presentation, which was fascinating, because it was strategic and involved changing the entire identity. We realised then that we had to embrace planning into the way we worked [on branding].”

Lambie-Nairn developed a product that was about planning, strategy design and results, rather than tweaking logos and ignoring other branding mechanisms.

His work won him many accolades, including the D&AD President’s Award, one of the most prestigious prizes for design and art direction in the UK.

“Martin changed the face of TV idents because he takes a long time before considering an identity,” Mike Dempsey, the D&AD president, said at the time that Lambie-Nairn received his award.

“He wants total understanding of the [TV] corporation and does a lot of groundwork. He is importing the infrastructure of advertising into the world of design, by doing lots of work on the project before thinking of the creative idea.”

Campaign’s 1997 profile recalled how some in adland were “unnerved” by Lambie-Nairn’s fusion of branding, design and advertising capabilities, especially when his branding agency was hired by the satellite TV channel, EBN, to create an ad campaign.

“People got nervous about that, but we are very happy to work with agencies,” Lambie-Nairn said. “I do not believe that to manage a TV brand more tightly and concisely, it should be handled under one roof – I’m just saying it should be managed properly, so that any expressions of the brand do not get fragmented.”

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