The history of graphic design in television is one of triumph over adversity. Ever since its launch in 1936, television has been a medium that has been restrictive to the graphic designer, both on and off screen.

Originally limited to only black and white and 405-lines designers still managed to be innovative and creative and for a long period of time without the proper resources and funding. However thanks to people such as Richard Levin who knew what benefits graphic design could bring to television, we now have a situation in which the profession is now an equal alongside set design, make-up, set design etc. (A recent development in the story of graphic design at the BBC was the creation of a commercial arm in 1998 called BBC Resources, in which departments such as graphic design, now compete for work outside of the BBC – mainly in order to keep these areas funded.)

However, in a medium that is all about visual communication, its surprising that such an important part of its output (graphic design accounts for 100’s of hours worth of television every week) was disregarded for such a long time – even when departments were finally set up they were considered experimental.

Television is also is also a rapidly changing medium that is constantly benefiting from technological improvements. Although superficially beneficial to the graphic designer, they become restrained by the viewing public who until they upgrade, has to be taken into account the introduction of colour television is a prime example. Even today the introduction of digital television has meant a designer has to think of how to solve a problem in two ratios – normal analogue television 4:3 screens and digital widescreen ones. Improvements in the technology behind the screen can also be restrictive as was seen during the eighties.

Computerised control of the rostrum camera was an advantage as it did help to cut out a lot of time consuming and repetitive work that was seen when manual control was the only method. However the increasing power and subsequent multi-purpose use of the computer again hindered the graphic designer who felt obliged (sometimes even ordered) to use the computer and/or the newest effects it could create. However as computer graphics went out of fashion when audiences became used to them, we see graphic designers using computers as they should be intended as another tool to get the required creative effect.


  • Graphic Design was considered an experimental section: Gradually, over the next two years, what the Television Annual of 1957 described as “a new and largely experimental section”, was built up. (Crook 1986: 34)


  • Craig, J. and Barton, B. (1987). Thirty Centuries of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Survey
  • Crook, G. (1986). The Changing Image. Television Graphics from Caption Card to Computer. London: Robots Press
  • Lambie-Nairn, M. (1997). Brand Identity for Television. With Knobs On. London: Phaidon Press
  • Merritt, D. (1987). Television Graphics from Pencil to Pixel. London: Trefoil Publications
  • Microsoft Corporation (1996). Baird, John Logie. Encarta ‘97 [CD-ROM]. Redmond: Microsoft Corporation
  • Montagu, R. (1991). The Television Graphics Handbook. Borehamwood: BBC Television Training