This is, undeniably, the largest project of my professional career thus far.
Buffalo Toronto Public Media represents 2 full years of conceptualization, design, pitching, and ultimately a massive brand overhaul of our corporate identity and our six broadcast stations. The task was so monumental it added “brand designer” to my job title and required my job description to be rewritten.
At the heart of the whole project was a need to simplify and focus our look, to create a cohesive and clean design language that carries across all our stations, and to better leverage our national brands to our local audience.
This project has its roots in a previous rebrand that ultimately stalled in early 2017.
For Rebrand MK1, I had the (at the time) bold idea to change the name of our corporate company name. When I would tell people I work at WNED | WBFO, I was always met with the same glassy-eyed reaction. Nobody knew where that was. But when I followed that with “…the local PBS and NPR stations” people immediately knew exactly what I meant.
I realized that nobody knew us by our call letters, but everyone knows the national brands we license. That idea stuck with me, so when it came time to pitch a rebranded name, I went with something that was both geographically significant and identified what we were on a more general scale.
Buffalo Toronto Public Media was born but ultimately shelved at the 11th hour for bureaucratic and logistical reasons. I filed the idea away knowing someday it might be useful again.
In 2018 we got word that PBS was going to undergo a major brand refresh and they were encouraging all member stations to change their own brand to meet the new guidelines. We jumped at the opportunity to implement a new, fresh, unified brand and I could finally finish the project I started.
The new PBS brand was clean, sleek, and blue. They had slightly redesigned their logo (the p-head, as it’s known internally) to be more visible on smaller screens, the angles were more rounded, and faces slightly turned upward. The wordmark was now a larger sans serif font, specially designed for PBS.
With this new overhaul, PBS was encouraging member stations to change their brand and use this new logo. They were also encouraging stations to adopt more geographic names because, as I’d discovered years earlier, most people don’t recognize call letters.
This posed our first major problem. We are a bi-national station. We broadcast throughout most of Southern Ontario as well as Western New York. A majority of our TV members are Canadian. We couldn’t just brand ourselves PBS Buffalo and alienate a large portion of our membership. PBS Niagara was rejected flat out because it didn’t really represent the entire WNY and Southern Ontario region.
Further complicating the matter is our number of other stations. We have a PBS station, PBS Kids, Create TV, NPR, Classical, and JazzWorks. The brand guidelines PBS laid out only took into account a PBS station, but as a cross-border joint licensee, we had a very unique series of problems to solve if we wanted to create a cohesive brand.
We decided to work within the confines of the brand for our PBS station and then carry that style over to the rest of our stations. It made the most sense to play nice (or as nice as we could) with the PBS restrictions since they were the most detailed. Thankfully, NPR is much more forgiving with their brand guidelines and anything we’d decided on with WNED would easily translate over to WBFO.
PBS gave stations a number of different logo variation parameters to work within, and after trying a seemingly endless amount of them, both with our call letters and Buffalo Toronto, we decided that the simpler option should prevail and picked WNED PBS.
It was around this time that I began working on the corporate identity. I’d started just with WNED | WBFO until I took a chance and pitched Buffalo Toronto Public Media to my director, who wasn’t here for the last rebrand cycle. After getting her blessing, I began to develop the two identities concurrently with each other that we could pitch to management.
Having already made the sale a few years ago to the same people, it wasn’t too difficult to get everyone on board with Buffalo Toronto Public Media a second time around.
With the WNED PBS logo and corporate identity in a rough design stage, it was time to translate those ideas to the rest of our stations.
We really wanted to create a cohesive family of logos. Our existing lineup of designs was very piecemeal that didn’t look like a family of stations whatsoever. They’d been changed and redesigned in parts over the years until nothing looked related. With the WNED PBS logo being all blue, I decided that each station would have its own color identity, but retain the same basic layout and typography to show the relation to the rest of the family.
We devised the idea to keep the logos for the other stations, wherever possible, to resemble the architecture of the WNED PBS logo. This would entail
WBFO was the only real outlier to this, but since the NPR logo was about the same size as the PBS logo it evened out.
The existing WBFO logo had NPR in very small letters at the bottom, barely visible if resized at all. It had been designed when we purchased WBFO from The University of Buffalo in 2012 and remained largely unchanged until our rebrand.
For WBFO, like WNED PBS, I knew we needed to heavily leverage the well-known national brand. The logo now mirrored WNED PBS’ in layout to bring them closer together visually, even if it’s not immediately noticeable. WBFO’s primary color became red to match the color in the NPR logo.
We pitched the station to be known on-air as WBFO NPR to mirror WNED PBS but NPR corporate vetoed this idea. WBFO is our only station to identify solely with their call letters.
WNED Classical proved to be one of the more complex problems to solve. We don’t have a national feed or license like PBS or NPR, so there was no brand to lean on.
Because there was no national brand to pull from, the Classical station had a bit of an identity crisis and seen a number of changes throughout the years at the whim of people inside the building, incorporating a number of fonts, slogans, colors, symbols, and shapes.
Adding to the confusion was the way the station was referred to. “Classical 94.5” “Classical 94.5 WNED” “94.5 WNED” “94.5 WNED Classical” “WNED FM” were all used interchangeably.
This new rebrand provided an opportunity to solve all of these issues and bring the classical logo and identity in line with the rest of our stations. Following the standards of WNED PBS, we settled on the new name: WNED Classical.
The first decision I had to make was what symbol to use in the middle. You might think it’s easy or an obvious choice, but we had directives from the station:
This really narrowed down the options to music symbols, notes, etc. The station had used variations of a G-Clef for years so there was precedent there, but I wanted something new. I settled on several universal music note symbols (see over).
Most of these didn’t fill the circle properly, which left us with the double eighth notes. We had concerns the logo (second from the bottom) with the double bar would be hard to identify at smaller sizes. The descending eighth notes were selected from the final choices.
Next, we had to pick a color. Again, without a national brand, we had free reign. The station had used shades of burgundy and light blue but I wasn’t a fan and wanted something new and fresh.
I sat down and looked at what we had reserved so far. WNED PBS used blue, WBFO was red, we knew WNED Create would be orange, WNED PBS KIDS lime green, and WBFO Jazzworks deep purple, per their brands.
I looked to the new PBS brand guidelines for inspiration and found a beautiful shade of purple in their list of secondary accents. Simple, regal, classy. It was quickly approved by the station and we had our finished logo.
As mentioned above, the remaining stations had national brands and standards we had to work within, so it was just a matter of plugging their existing logos and colors in with our new architecture.
Our lifestyle channel WNED thinkbright Create was quite the mouthful. Thinkbright was dropped and simplified to WNED Create.
WNED PBS KIDS was the only piece of the first rebrand attempt to make it to air. The original rebrand idea coincided with our launch of a 24/7 PBS KIDS channel and a logo was needed, so we soft-launched the rebrand with the WNED PBS KIDS logo. By the time the rebrand was shelved we’d already committed to the logo so it stayed.
Another easy opportunity to bring all the logos into one cohesive family using the national brand’s existing logo, colors, and font.
WBFO JazzWorks is our 24/7 jazz station on HD radio. We never had a full logo or brand for it and would use the national JazzWorks logo as our own. Wanting to pull it in line with the rest of our brand, we picked a deep purple to match the tone of the music and applied the logo system. Simple and easy.
February 4th, 2020 at around 12:35am was the official switch over for the new brand. I stayed up late that night to watch the WNED bug logo on our broadcast switch over from our old version to my new logo. At this point it was official, we had launched.
The weeks leading up to the brand launch were hectic. It’s hard to imagine how many pieces have our design on it until they all need to be updated at once. Simple things like website logos, business cards, and letterhead were easy enough. But we also took the opportunity to start redesigning event logos, a brand new style guide, new merchandise, tall station and corporate banners, Classical program logos, the WBFO reporter microphone flags, on-air pledge logos and stills, in-house podium signs, corporate folders, our monthly membership magazine, the list goes on.
As the design process for the brand started to wind down my role began to shift. While still designing much of the new material that features our brand, I also began an advisory role to ensure that our brand standards were met by everyone in the company as well as the outside vendors that we use.
While still an ongoing and evolving process, my ceremonial finish of the brand process came on June 24, 2021. With staff, board members, and family members present, we had a ceremonial lighting of new signs on our headquarters. Thanks in large part to very generous donations to our capital campaign, we were able to add these lighted brand logos to our building in Downtown Buffalo. The previous logos that were on the building date back to the mid-90s / early-00s, several brand and logo designs ago and were terribly out of date. This updating of our building is a fresh reminder of who were are now and where we are located.
Personally, it is very rewarding to see something of mine evolve from a concept in my head, to a design on my screen, to a logo used in broadcast, to a series of lighted signs on our building in Downtown Buffalo. The brand process still continues, but this felt like a final major milestone for me. I’m incredibly proud to be able to leave my mark on our organization and the skyline of Buffalo, even in my own little way.