The CNN logo many people have seen air, online and on social is like a 30-year-old game of telephone.
Over time, design elements like the shade of red used in the original image from 1980, have been manipulated countless times by news outlets across the globe. For instance, slight variations may occur as the image is transitioned from a print CMYK color model to RGB for digital, and back again for whatever purpose. In some cases, the sizes of each letter “N” in CNN are different widths and heights; the inline thickness varies; diagonal lines run at different angles; the “C” isn’t a perfect semi-circle.
About two-and-a-half years ago CNN hired entertainment brand consultancy and marketing agency Troika to take a long hard look at the multitude of ways the logo was being portrayed, both nationally and internationally, across communication platforms on-air, in print, and digitally on desktops, laptops, mobile devices and social. A CNN design steering committee decided the many different variations had to go.
“We needed to develop some consistency here,” said CNN Senior Director of Design Robert Poulton.
Enter CNN Sans, a new, custom designed font that will replace the previous Gotham-style font on all company-wide platforms. The font is cleaner, easier to read, and most importantly is available in 30 different weights — from “light italic” to “display heavy” — each representing a range of kerning, spacing and style options to fit any use across the global network.
“We realized we all have various needs, and they’re often quite subtle,” Poulton said.
The new typeface is designed in a way that establishes continuity throughout the brand. For example, a lower third on TV may use a different weight than a Facebook post, but when displayed together they will appear as part of the same family.
The typeface also looks suspiciously like Helvetica, which is exactly what it’s based on. It’s “Helvetica neue.” CNN took that same look but added its own custom elements, including the streamlined logo, to fit the company’s needs.
Designers looked at each character individually, as well as part of the whole, and made adjustments to letters and symbols over the course of about two years. CNN also created a usage guide for the logo, outlining specs for colors, titles, large and small applications, badges, overlays on images, registered trademarks and more. In spite of all the options, the design is purposefully simple.
“We were not trying to create a typeface that has a particular personality,” Poulton said. “We didn’t want something that was cool today and out of date next year.”
Instead, CNN went for longevity with a classic look that’s not likely to go out of style. The decision to create a font rather than license someone else’s will also result in substantial savings for the network, especially over the next 15 or 20 years, which is at least as long as the design is intended to last.
CNN introduced the new font to employees on April 21 via an internal, animated video narrated by Richard Quest. It highlights the versatility of the font, lets colleagues know it has already been installed on their computers, and takes a fun, lighthearted approach that mirrors the network’s attitude toward adopting the new font on a worldwide scale.
“We wanted to make people comfortable with it,” Poulton said.
While the new font has the ability to be immediately implemented, and has been in many cases, there’s also no deadline for CNN divisions to switch over. Instead, Poulton said the company is encouraging its adoption by making sure the process is as convenient as possible, with easy-to-access information and tech support, so that it happens organically over time until that consistency is baked into the brand.
“It took us 30 years to get to where we are now,” Poulton said. “I think it will take a while to get to where everyone is using this font, and have it become a part of our culture.”
[Images courtesy of CNN]