It wasn’t until I had kids that I entered the world of PBS Kids, the child-friendly branch of public service broadcasting. With 13.5 million viewers aged 2 to 8, supplemented by nearly half a billion streams on digital platforms and an app full of interactive games, the public service is a juggernaut of free family programming.
On July 14, PBS Kids debuts its biggest logo overhaul in over 20 years. Notably, the logo’s mascot – a lime-green boy named Dash (who, if you think about it, is old enough at this point to drink) – was kicked out of the brand. In its place will be the sparkling words PBS Kids. And that’s all. There are no children, no pets, nothing that screams “Youth programming here!”
Maria Whelan, senior director and head of marketing and brand engagement at PBS Kids, admits this was a surprising direction for the brand, given that “young kids aren’t always readers yet.”
So why did PBS Kids do it?
It turns out that the rebranding has been in the works since 2019, and was deliberately paced to validate the approach with PBS’s existing audience. PBS did the branding in-house, but partnered with Lippincott, a company you might know best for the Starbucks siren, to help with the process. The bottom line is that the current logo, apparently created in 1999 (and reiterated slightly since), has served TVs better than the growing range of small screens and apps where it might appear. Functionally speaking, getting rid of the face allowed words PBS Kids be much larger, and therefore more readable in the same space.
But this functional decision was not the only logic guiding the PBS development process. The team interviewed 33 families from across the United States of varying race, ethnicity, and economic background, talking to children and their parents, and using them to test several new directions for the logo.
“We had questions about inclusion,” says Whelan. “We wanted direct feedback from our audience . . . evolve the logo to better represent [audience].”
What they learned during these interviews was that the children weren’t as attached to seeing another child’s face in the logo as one might think. In fact, those conversations revealed that the “PBS Kids” typography was the brand’s most recognizable piece (even to kids who haven’t yet learned to read).
Even still, on its own, the PBS Kids logo strikes me as a little less fun than the previous iteration – and I can’t help but wonder if keeping the faces plain may have helped the kids relate. see in the mark. However, that criticism is largely mitigated by the rest of the PBS Kids branding system.
Dash, along with his co-mascots Dee and Dot, will technically stick around, but they’ll be joined by an endless collection of new characters, who have gone from green people to all people.
Building on similar character forms to those PBS Kids already uses, the designers have created a whole set of combinable humans that represent a range of races, ethnicities and physical abilities, but also mixed in with a few friends. blues, greens and purples as well. (If you’re a PBS Kids watcher, some of these new people will be familiar to you. Their rollout began in late 2021.)
Whether you’re a fan of the update or not, this PBS Kids rebranding straddles the current zeitgeist of representation. The green alien Dash was one person representing all of us, implying an unspoken message that “we are all part of the human race”. But this literally representative update now emphasizes a more modern way of framing diversity: our differences should be recognized and celebrated, rather than glossed over.