DixonBaxi’s retro-futuristic rebrand of Pluto TV, explained
The design studio talks us through its “portal” graphic device, bespoke typeface and “hyper-jump” motion design for the streaming service.
In the age of streaming, we are all bamboozled by choice: millions of shows, thousands of channels, dozens of platforms and only so many free hours in the day. Whatever happened to just turning the TV on and seeing what’s on? This quality, which the older crowds (this writer included) will find comfortingly nostalgic and the younger, a novelty, is what Pluto TV is banking on setting it apart. Recently bought by Viacom, the free streaming platform (with 22 million active users, by the way) still has a vast bank of programming to choose from, but it’s scheduled so viewers can drop in mid-show and just watch whatever’s playing. With this as a kernel of an idea for the platform’s branding, DixonBaxi has created a retro-futuristic identity that embodies Pluto TV’s age-old trait as well as its vision of the future.
Aporva Baxi explains that the brand already imbued an off-centre brand personality, but having grown very quickly, the identity across hundreds of channels and other applications had lost focus and needed a tidy up. “As with any business that undergoes rapid growth, it was fragmented, it lacked distinction and clarity,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It had a quirky spirit, so we had to extract that story, to bring out the weirdness and difference, and create a brand that was a signal through the noise. Cohesive across genres, but still distinctive. It was full of energy that needed to be distilled into a brand for the global stage.”
DixonBaxi worked with Pluto TV for nine months, closely with Fran Hazeldine, SVP of marketing. “Any time [along the process] it felt too generic and safe, we pulled it back, to hold on to what makes Pluto unique,” he explains. “It’s colourful, bold and really accessible while still having some polish.”
So, how does that manifest? First, the designers took the circular icon from its previous logo as the starting point of a planetary, space age theme and developed it into the “portal” graphic device, four layers of circles in four decidedly retro colours. This is the basis for an ident and many motion graphics that show a “hyper-jump” into the Pluto TV universe. “We often talk about brand worlds but in this case, I think it’s really true,” Hazeldine says, “the idea that it transports you to this other place. Motion is inherent to this brand.”
In the same vein, DixonBaxi’s bespoke typeface for Pluto TV moves the brand from upper to lower case, and features an angular upward cut atop many letterforms, giving “a sense of movement, a lean forward,” Baxi explains.
The logo itself was designed to convey the portal and the brand’s quirky personality, while still fitting neatly underneath many other identities across the channels (MTV, CNN, etc), and standing out as an icon on a TV or mobile device. The colour scheme is useful here, where many opt for a single brand colour, its retro rainbow is easy to spot while the layered circles also work in monotone. “To serve all these needs is incredibly complex,” Hazeldine says. “A flicker of this colour is what we needed, a little visual glue.”
The colours can be used in different combinations and dialled up to be more expressive, or down to be more reductive, depending on the purpose. Over sports programmes, for example, the brand uses more purple, for reality shows it employs magenta more heavily, and for cult films, orange and yellow, while yellow is a function colour in UX design.
Similarly, the typeface comes in eight weights, allowing it to adapt to myriad scenarios and still retain absolute legibility. The core one is a chunky semi-bold, which Baxi says “captures the attitude” of the brand.