Modern Designers’ new test card-inspired BBC Philharmonic campaign

The illustrations by Sophie Douala use soft colour gradients and geometric forms to house information and include Easter eggs relating to the orchestra

Manchester-based agency Modern Designers has created the new season campaign for the BBC Philharmonic. 

Modern Designers has worked with the broadcasting symphony orchestra, which is based at Media City in Salford, since rebranding it in 2016. The studio has produced the campaign designs for every season since. For this new project, which Modern Designers started working on at the beginning of this year, BBC Philharmonic briefed the team to create a digital-first season campaign that reflects the fact that 2022 is the 100th anniversary of both the BBC and the BBC Philharmonic. 

Modern Designers BBC Philharmonic 2022/23 campaign identity

The designs were inspired by early BBC test cards (the image shown when a broadcaster’s transmitter is active,  but no programme is being shown), the most famous of which is Test Card F, the image of a young girl playing noughts and crosses with a clown doll. The season campaign identity looks to imagine a modern day version of those tuning signals, and the familiar image of the test card provided a “useful framework to showcase the BBC Philharmonic’s history through a series of illustrations ranging from the abstract to the literal”, says Jack Kimberley, lead designer at Modern Designers.

Illustrator Sophie Douala was commissioned to create a series of illustrations that draw on the frameworks of these cards, using abstract geometric patterns and shapes as holding devices for information about the BBC Philharmonic 2022/23 season. Modern Designers felt her colour gradient-based style was well-suited to the project since it “lends itself naturally to the abstract and representational”, says Kimberley. The modular illustrations can be reconfigured in numerous different ways to promote different concerts throughout the season.

“Sophie translated a slew of references around broadcasting and the orchestra  into both recognisable and conceptual shapes and forms,” Kimberley adds. “To compliment her work we added illustrations with stricter forms that depict iconic locations from the orchestra’s past.”

The imagery includes a number of Easter eggs hidden within the forms, such as abstracted references to musical instruments and the broadcast tower at the Alexandra Palace television station in north London, one of the oldest television transmission sites in the world. Other locations referenced within the illustrations include the Royal Albert Hall and Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where the BBC Philharmonic have performed their Proms concerts. The BBC’s new brand typeface, Reith Sans, is used across the campaign materials. 

One of the team’s biggest challenges was “the sheer amount of content required”, says Kimberley. “As well as needing a campaign image, each concert requires a listing-style ad that can be promoted through the season. Among these concert ads, the BBC Phil also wanted to bring other content to life about them, their history, and so on.”

To help fulfil that task of bringing multiple pieces of content to life, Hamburg-based graphic and motion designer Lucas Hesse was commissioned to create a suite of kinetic animation styles which could be mixed and matched “which made sure that each interaction felt new”, says Kimberley.

He adds: “Each season is quite eclectic: from well-known pieces to lots of commissions and premieres. There isn’t usually a theme so the fun bit is trying to create something that can appeal to a broad audience (in terms of demographics and taste), yet still feels fresh.”