Early Graphic Design in Television

The launch of television in 1936 saw the birth of a medium that could be easily exploited and enhanced by graphic design. However the story of graphic design in television is one of – until recently – lack of consideration resulting in limited resources and under investment.

It was nearly 20 years after the launch of BBC Television, that its first full-time graphic designer was employed, John Sewell, in 1954. This saw the start of a commitment to the profession, but for a long time Graphic Design remained under the control of Scenic Design, when it really should have been its equal, considering the amount of airtime graphic design occupied.

The graphic designer is required for a whole variety of things: titles and end credits for programmes, graphic material for programme content (stills, captions, animated sequences etc.), on-screen promotion of programmes and the television channel, design of the channels identity and lastly all graphic ‘props’ for programmes such as dramas or sitcoms with designers having to produce signs, newspapers, packaging etc.

The expansion of television has been constant, firstly with the BBC increasing its transmission coverage after the war, then the later introduction of ITV, BBC2, Channel 4 and Breakfast Time and more recently satellite and cable television, Channel 5 and now digital television. This has meant the need for graphic design in television has also been increasing and once it was realised that graphic design is an important element of television there has been no turning back.

In this essay, it is mainly graphic design in British television that is discussed. However the story is much the same all over the world. A notable exception is America in which their use of computers was at a far more advanced stage, with the technology improving at a greater rate there, than in it was in Britain.