Viceland: More Punk Less Design.

Cooperation was not all that easy in the beginning, as Matt Schoen, Executive Design Director for Vice Media New York and the contracting branding agency Gretel’s founder Greg Hahn and Creative Director Ryan Moore reported. Designing the visuals for the newly launched television channel VICELAND, operated by the US-American Lifestyle and (sub-)cultural magazine VICE was quite a challenge to the already-existing logo: should the graffiti-word mark be transferred to the new third dimension? Should it be treated as a container, to be filled with graphic art, the way MTV did in the nineties? Or should it be animated?

An exter­nal design agency was charged with solv­ing these issues. An ini­tial brief­ing com­prised noth­ing but these “off the cuff“-ideas, tak­en from an inter­nal E‑mail, and caused Gre­tel-design­ers to ago­nize – as they were used to enter cre­ative process­es with ful­ly devel­oped brand strate­gies and positioning-documents.


There was noth­ing men­tioned about the per­son­al­i­ty of the brand. We are lis­ten­ing to our clients what they tell about them­selves, but there was noth­ing at VICE.”


It’s all about content

VICE Mag­a­zine has been set­ting jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards for 20 years, with­out ever ques­tion­ing its own iden­ti­ty. And they have lots of rou­tine in cre­at­ing posters and bill­boards pri­or to fin­ish­ing the first episode of a pro­duc­tion. So instead of on who Gre­tel focused on how: how does this brand func­tion, and how does its many sto­ries? “The con­tent is real­ly strong, some­times dan­ger­ous.“ Some kind of frame was nec­es­sary, as the con­tents were extreme­ly different.


We were total­ly stuck and had no sin­gle piece of design.” – Gre­tel-founder Greg Hahn.


Always pressed for time, Gre­tel came up with a real­ly cool visu­al: an ani­mat­ed on-air-design, based on the idea of a time­line, offer­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty to present var­i­ous con­tent vol­umes and zoom­ing right into the con­tent itself. Excerpts from pro­duc­tions were col­laged to cre­ate fast sequences, and sec­tioned with big head­lines, time spec­i­fi­ca­tions and ver­ti­cal lines. But in spite of VICE-management’s ini­tial enthu­si­asm for this design it was reject­ed as being “too cor­po­rate, too designed”. So the idea was ditched. Only to be recy­cled lat­er on: one of the exec­u­tive direc­tors, Shane Smith, con­tact­ed Matt Schoen and request­ed to use the con­cept for an upcom­ing documentary.


In New York, Gre­tel resort­ed to thumb­ing lots of back-issues of VICE, try­ing to find pat­terns that could help to iden­ti­fy the brand. And instead of the con­ven­tion­al pitch they opt­ed for col­lab­o­ra­tion. Mood-boards were used to slow­ly devel­op a design con­cept, always in close coop­er­a­tion with VICE. These mood-boards actu­al­ly showed the bane of every designer’s exis­tence: cheap shop ads, street signs, ama­teur­ish posters, clas­si­fieds and search ads on lamp posts, all the way to high fash­ion ban­ners in Helvetica.


The new design con­cept for brand­ing was defined as:

  1. pull back (empa­thy)
  2. un-pol­ish (unique)
  3. gener­ic (anti-bull­shit)


The mot­to was to have as lit­tle design as pos­si­ble. Blunt typo, black on white back­ground, or white typo on film-stills. Forced jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, Hel­veti­ca block, danc­ing let­ters. A null design that looks as if any­body could do it with MS Word. Gener­ic, free of arti­fice and veneer, unpre­ten­tious. The word mark logo in Hel­veti­ca takes a step back, allow­ing the con­tents to take cen­ter stage. These seem­ing­ly sim­ple tools can be scaled for use in all oth­er media and for­mats, such as print and web cam­paigns, teasers, on-air-design and inter­faces. Gre­tel pre­pared a brand guide, appro­pri­ate­ly pre­sent­ed to the client as four sta­pled A4-for­mat brochures, per­fect for Xerox­ing. Matt Schoen was to take over as head of VICE’s in-house design depart­ment. “We cre­at­ed a guide­line with­out being pre­scrip­tive“, said Gretel’s Cre­ative Direc­tor Ryan Moore. The VICE design team like the idea: “We didn’t feel like we had a sys­tem. We can be free in the container.”


Con­tent con­tent content

VICE pro­duces doc­u­men­taries, with­out shy­ing away from dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions and loca­tions. This result­ed in the idea of a cam­paign using white flag-like bill­boards, set up in inter­na­tion­al cri­sis regions, but also in eco­nom­i­cal­ly under­de­vel­oped areas of the Unit­ed States. These bill­boards showed noth­ing but the VICELAND word mark, with­out any tagline. The bill­boards were doc­u­ment­ed pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly, to be shown on a web­site togeth­er with the expla­na­tion: “It’s a TV chan­nel“. A spe­cial call-to-action was con­ceived for the channel’s intro­duc­tion: a tele­phone num­ber con­nect­ed to Vice Media answer­ing machine. Just a few hours of broad­cast­ing gen­er­at­ed loads of voice­mails, which were then used for short spots adver­tis­ing VICELAND. One spot fea­tured an out­raged female voice say­ing “It’s the ugli­est show I’ve ever seen in my life. Nobody likes that!“

Text: Christine Wenning | 19.9.2017 | Fotos: Julius Stuckmann, Gretel | CXI 17