Designer Martin Lambie-Nairn (1945 – 2020)

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It is hard to believe now, but there was a time when television offered slim pickings.

This was before the infinite carousel of Netflix, before every channel had a twin, triplet and a plus, and before Sky introduced American style choice to British households.

In 1981 there were just three channels – the licence-funded BBC One (launched in 1936) and BBC Two (1964), and the commercial broadcaster ITV (1955).

The launch of Channel 4, in 1982, was the start of something new.

Martin Lambie-Nairn, who died this month aged 75, was responsible for creating the iconic animated Channel 4 logo, formed of colourful blocks.

Lambie-Nairn went on to create a series of memorable indents for the BBC (many involving hot air balloons and paint).

He was, he said, “in the business of setting channels apart from each other”.

“All branding is about setting yourself apart and trying to be clear to your audience or customers that you stand for this set of values,” he explained in 2013.

Former head of design at Apple, Jony Ive, said he was “fortunate” Lambie-Nairn had “defined part of my visual landscape growing up.”

“His work for the BBC was so very gentle, thoughtful and beautiful,” he said.

“Identities driven by beauty and not a marketing agenda are so rare and so valuable.”

ML-N, the consultancy Lambie-Nairn co-founded, issued a statement that said he was “one of the leading graphic designers and creative directors of his generation.”

“His exceptional work, kindness and infectious creative spirit touched the lives of so many people. He will be hugely missed by everyone who had the privilege to work alongside him over the years.”

Lambie-Nairn will also be remembered for something quite different than graphic design.

During a long and presumably boozy business lunch in 1981 he came up with the original idea for the satirical puppet show, Spitting Image.

The programme, which first ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996 delighted in lampooning the establishment and was watched at its peak by some 15 million people.

The producers said the series was “based on an original lunch with Martin Lambie-Nairn.”

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.
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