Rebrand Round Table: The SNL Year 40 Rebrand

Design Features
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Change is hard. For an established business, little is as scary as changing the core identity of the brand. Much of the pressure of a large rebrand falls on the designers and design agencies that attempt to find just the right balance of old and new. Here at Paste, we’ve decided to bring together our favorite design, branding, illustration and typography experts to discuss the ins and outs of recent rebrands. We hope you find our Rebrand Round Table discussion series interesting and informative, and feel free to join the conversation in the comments and on Twitter.

For our first Rebrand Round Table, we’re taking a look at the recent update to the SNL brand for Season 40. You may have caught these new changes, led by SNL’s Film Unit and design giant Pentagram, during the Chris Pratt-hosted season opener. Read a bit about the thought behind the SNL rebrand from Pentagram and Alex Buono from the SNL Film Unit to follow along with our discussion.

The Experts:

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David Llewellyn (DL) – David is a New York City based image and style consultant for the modern gentleman or groom. David’s work was recently featured in “20 Boards For Man-Spiration on Pinterest”.

Jason Yang of Invisible Element (JY) – Jason is an art director, motion designer, illustrator, typographer, and overall design enthusiast. Jason’s work was recently featured in “25 Designers Getting Sharky on Shark Week”.

Belinda Love Lee (BLL) – Belinda is a Cardiff, UK based designer specializing in graphic design and illustration. Belinda’s work was recently featured in “50 of the Best Business Card Designs”.

Mark Bloom of Mash Creative (MB) – Mark is a graphic designer and self-proclaimed typography geek currently based in East London, UK. Mark’s work was recently featured in ”#DopePosters of the Week: Round Three”.

So, since this is our first rebrand round table, let’s start off slow. The new SNL opening sequence is a new logo, new typography and a done-up version of the classic SNL NYC cityscape montage.
What did you think?

Jason Yang: Overall, I thought the entire package (logo, typography, montage) worked well as a cohesive rebrand.

Belinda Love Lee: At first glance when looking at just the still logo without it being animated I thought ‘Yeah, it’s alright’, it’s exactly the kind of rendition I imagined for SNL. But when I watched the opening sequence with the logo animated, that’s when the logo really comes alive! I love how each individual word of the logo interacts with the other words.

Mark Bloom: Its “OK” but for me it lacks any wow factor. it certainly is an improvement on the previous title sequence and I do find the adaptive type interesting. Ultimately this has been designed to please the masses and not graphic designers, so, on that front, they have done a good job.

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new.pentagram.com

Lets take at a look at the logo first, designed by Emily Oberman at NYC firm Pentagram. According to Pentagram, the new look is a custom version of the font Druk, a strong sans serif. According to Oberman:
“We just wanted it to feel like SNL, which is a mixture of boldness and simplicity and classiness, with a little bit of quirk,”
How do you think Pentagram did with the font choice?

David Llewellyn: Good choice. The customized Druk font is strong, clean and flexible, both as the full brand title as well as the famously used ‘SNL’ acronym branding. This is a much cleaner take on the traditional SNL logo, which might lend to intent for use of the rebrand beyond the 40th anniversary. Traditionally, an anniversary logo will be designed for the short term shelf life of the anniversary duration. Pentagram, however, might have made these design choices for a longer duration of this logo moving forward, easily amended for variation without the ‘40’ add-on. This might also be why there is the flexibility in the architecture of the branding. I might have also gone a different direction in font variation in the ‘40’ aspect of the logo, but I think the use of a contrast color solved it sufficiently (but why that corporate blue??).

JY: In most cases when it comes to a brand refresh, it’s important to stay true to any existing guides or elements previously established. With such a strong and established institution as SNL, it makes sense to keep the new look familiar, versus a complete visual overhaul. Pentagram made a wise decision to use a strong sans serif for two reasons: it was nod to the original logos between 1975-78, and respects the previous logo from 2006-2014.

BLL: SNL needs a strong bold, yet classic font to carry the overall personality and weight of the show through and this custom version of the Druk font definitely pulls it off. The quirkiness of it comes through with the placement of the type being on different lines.

MB: I think it is a good font choice and can see why it has been chosen. The bold, condensed type does indeed mirror the tall buildings of NYC, it is legible and, as it isn’t too quirky, it won’t look dated in years to come.

The logo was also designed to play with levels, to stack like architecture of NYC. And apparently Lorne Michaels was thrilled with this flexibility. Do you think having that flexibility will be useful for SNL or can having too many choices get in the way of a solid brand?

DL: In traditional branding, this kind of flexibility would have been better termed as “cheating” – an easy way out for creating consistent brand identity & layout – therefore diluting the strength of the brand. But with various mediums, including TV and various digital outlets that SNL uses, this kind of flexibility is not only a wise choice but, in most cases, surprisingly consistent. And who better to break the mold than Pentagram – this kind of flexibility is something that they have been experimenting with in terms of logo design (ex: Platform identity). Most of their choices are consistent, due largely to the cleanliness of the Druk font. Where the consistency breaks for me is their use of the ‘SNL’ acronym variant typography. While breaking up the the letters in the opening sequence animation works in making the eye dance across the screen, it does not work for stills. For example, in the still bumper shot of guest artist, Ariana Grande, the breaking up of the S-N-L acronym variant logo disjoints the branding, demoting the logo into merely just another 3 letters. This reminded me of some alphabet magnets my 5 year old niece would slap up on the fridge. This is SNL, not Sesame Street.

JY: For SNL, I think flexibility is key. Although the possibilities are seemingly endless as it relates to logo layout, the various iterations provide cohesion to the brand. The unpredictable stack type arrangements are a nice visual metaphor to the improv nature of the show and its blend of cast members.

BLL: Not a lot of companies/logos can get away with so many varying options, but I feel like SNL has the capacity and personality to pull it off! The overall humour and carefree likeness of the show fits incredibly well with the playfulness of the text. I’m loving the variety of logo placements, how they can be stacked and moved. I actually think the logo as an animation is stronger than just the logo stand still.

MB: It is still recognisable as SNL even in the various lock-ups, this comes down to the font choice and colours. Having this flexibility makes the logo more interesting and playful.

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alex-buono.com

OK, we can move on to the opening sequence. According to Buono,
“The idea was to honor the 40-year history of the show with something classic and iconic, a little more dressed-up than previous seasons and with typography that was integrated into the cityscape.”
How did Pentagram and the SNL crew do integrating dynamic typography into the complex cityscape montage?

DL: While everyone might not be a fan of the opening sequence, I like it. I like a lot of movement and I don’t mind a little busy with a purpose. This potentially could have been a heavy, clunky mess but I think they made solid choices integrating the typography into the landscape. I love their choice to keep the typography 2D, instead giving it life and lightness through transparency and flickering (lens flared) animation. It gave it that electric, projection/strobe light feel. Some might feel it’s too busy but I think it captures the electricity of Broadway & Times Square while my eyes danced, like watching a pinball game. Very alive. Very NYC, without being too literal.

JY: The montage immediately has a classic SNL aesthetic, incorporating beautiful NYC cinematography and straight-to-camera talent intros. The established logo and typographic treatment designed by Pentagram translate extremely well in motion. As frame composition evolves from shot to shot, the flexibility of the dynamic typography shines, while reinforcing its design purpose.

BLL: You can tell they really thought through the whole title sequence, carrying the rebranded typography even onto the actors/actress names. I like the way that its rendered with the flickering effect, tying in the retro kind of feel of the 40 years that have gone by.

MB: I think this has been done well, I like the way the type appears from behind a skyscraper in the first few seconds of the sequence, the lighting and flickering of the type is harmonious with that of The City at night.

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alex-buono.com

Finally, we have to talk about the Pixelstick work. How brilliant was the incorporation of light writing. Do you see a trend coming on?

DL: I love the use of light writing but it’s hardly anything new. This has been showing up across different mediums for years in graphic design, photography, cinematography and art installations. This has even influenced interior design and retail POS branding as of recently. I know there’s a lot if innovative technology that goes into the Pixelstick work, but the outward perception runs the risk of coming off like a mere Photoshop trick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan and I look forward to what these animators and cinematographers come up with next in pushing this technology (manipulating what used to be considered a photographic mistake). But in this age of Instagram, with filters and tilt-shifts readily available and packaged to the savvy masses, these innovators have their work cut out for them if they are going to keep their work ahead of the curve.

JY: Although light writing has been done before, the Pixelstick incorporation is what ultimately gives the SNL montage a unique update. The in-camera effects are quite stunning and further enhance the energy of the SNL brand. I commend Alex Buono for his concept, experimentation and brilliant execution in his involvement with the rebrand. I hope that the following trends we begin to see takes the technology and continues to evolve and push new ideas.

BLL: It so beautiful and must have taken ages to execute. It’s definitely on trend and ties into the whole hand lettering rendition we often see in logos today. But I like how they went the extra mile with building the text via light exposures, reminiscing a ‘neon city sign’ kind of imagery.

MB: There are some really interesting bumpers shown on Pentagrams website, my favourite being outside the New York Stock Exchange where the SNL logo appears to disappear into the ground then re-appear closer in the foreground.

I think the light writing using pixel sticks is really interesting and gives a great effect but am slightly confused as to why an alternative logotype was used for the Met Museum of Art bumper? Consistency is key when building brands and this alternative logo could and probably would confuse viewers as to what actually is ‘THE’ SNL logo.

Now the important part. Time to rate this rebrand (1-10).
10 = “Wow. That was so beautiful I cried a little bit.”
1 = “40 years and that’s all they came up with?”

DL: I give it a 7. Hardly groundbreaking but solid and classic – with some longevity built into it to push this rebrand past its 40th Anniversary.

JY: 9.

BLL: I would give it an 8!

MB: I would give this rebrand a 6 out of 10. It does lack pizzazz, but designing a new flexible logo, custom type and title sequence that doesn’t alienate the viewers is a tough job indeed!

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