News / Graphic Design

Pentagram designs brand identity and motion graphics for unconventional American debate show


Pentagram’s New York office has designed both a powerful brand identity and the motion graphics for Third Rail with OZY, a primetime debate series on American broadcaster, PBS. 

The premise of the show developed by combining digital news site OZY and Boston-based public radio station, WGBH, to create “an unconventional, cross-platform alternative to typical talk shows that would appeal to new audiences,” Pentagram explains. The weekly show “explores a single “charged question”…debated by expert and celebrity guests in front of a live studio audience, and incorporating viewer input from social media and data from exclusive national poles”. 

The 2017 season of Third Rail with OZY invited both guests from left and right political stances, including Malcolm Gladwell, Roxanne Gay, Amber Rose and Ann Coulter, “with the idea that the “third rail” is where they meet and set off sparks, or “electrifying conversation” (a tagline developed by Pentagram),” says the design consultancy. 

In turn, the title of the debate programme — relating to the political metaphor describing the discussion of a controversial issue, in referencing the high-voltage third rail on electrical railway systems — inspired the identity’s design direction: “The branding plays off the subway reference of the title, with “Third” and “Rail” crossing in the word mark to share the common shape — and the middle ground — of the “H” and the “I”. 

Using a bold colour palette of black against a vibrant yellow, the identity and motion graphics “share the show’s fresh approach,” explains Pentagram, “looking unlike anything else on PBS”. The branding’s bold quality is exemplified by the logotype being set in Ferry, a sans serif typeface designed by Stockholm-based type foundry Letters from Sweden, complemented by a secondary and “conversational” typeface Brandon Text, designed by HvD Fonts. The television show’s identity also incorporates the OZY logo, which was previously designed by Pentagram.

The motion graphics for Third Rail with OZY illustrates possible debates featured in the series, such as ‘Are lies the new normal?’ and ‘Is America at civil war?’ coming into shot at alternate angles. As a result, “the typography moves like trains on tracks and individual letters sizzle and flicker with electricity,” says Pentagram. “When the two words of the title finally connect, the whole logo jolts to life with a shock.” 

While Third Rail with OZY aired its first seven episodes Pentagram also offered consultancy on set, purposefully “designed to encourage conversation with convivial, bar-like atmosphere that remains, transparently, a TV studio”. Additionally, Pentagram’s identity sits large-scale as a backdrop on set, rendered in bright yellow neon. Following its first season last year, Third Rail with OZY is set to return to television screens in 2018. 


Pentagram: Third Rail with OZY


Pentagram: Third Rail with OZY


Pentagram: Third Rail with OZY


Pentagram: Third Rail with OZY


Pentagram: Third Rail with OZY