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The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.