Preceded by: "original" blue set
The "new" blue set is Countdown's incumbent and eighth studio design overall. It debuted at the start of Series 77 on 3rd July 2017, first appearing on the comedy spinoff 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown a month prior.
Above everything else upon the set's debut, the biggest glow-up was given to the desk — behind which sit the presenter, two contestants and Dictionary Corner duo. A complete transformation from the abundance of icy blue used beforehand, it was emblazoned with a burled wood laminate and shimmery copper surfaces. Its contemporary look is accentuated by strands of colour-changeable LED lights tucked in an overhang along the top, which are filtered purple ahead of crucial conundrums to provide more intense lighting. At each end of the desk is a sloped, wedge-shaped section, emphasising on the modern elements its composition. Towards the centre are two cutouts accommodating the monitors that represent the contestants' scoreboards, which perfectly offset the orange with a vivid blue background. For the first time, the contestants' nameplates (which sit on top of the desk above the cutout sections) were changed from their grey rectangular box style by replicating the cuneate shape of the desk itself and incorporating the matching textures.
The background of the set resembles that of its predecessor by being made up of screens exhibiting a blue letters and number pattern, which was modified for this overhaul. Behind these screens are a number of spotlights, which are projected onto them while rotating to bring the set to life with a looping 'animated' effect. The studio backdrop retains the turquoise colour, as seen before, and continues to darken for crucial conundrums in sync with other lights around the studio transitioning purple.
Above the screens is a shorter section finished with a redder wood-effect laminate and two metal rails, all of which extend the length of the set and are supported by beams attached to the top of the wall panels. The uppermost rail bends inwards and arches down as it reaches the centre, giving the impression of it branching out from the clock.
As always, the clock represents the centrepiece of the studio. It was given subtle uplifts to comply with the new scheme, involving a dark copper design being fitted on the front section of the pedestal, with the desk's matching wood effect being applied around the side faces. An effect introduced in early 2019 saw a spotlight be placed directly in front of the clock on the studio floor (hidden by the desk), emitting a vibrant blue colour onto the pedestal and metallic grid frame.
Used during each of the rounds, the letters and numbers board continue to be mounted behind each other — as they had been on the previous set — so as to be more compact; they are still rotated between shots when the particular board is required. They were rebuilt as part of the set change, evident from the two now being equal in length, whereas the numbers board had always been squarer in the past. Adding to the deluge of burled wood featured around this set, panels with the texture were fitted around the outer faces of the boards. One of these was initially applied to the upper front face of the letters board, but was quickly covered over with a blue panel after a number of viewer complaints were received, which deemed it 'too distracting' while the letters were being put up. For further aesthetic touches, a colour-changeable LED strip lies on top of the letters board section, and is lit up blue to intensify the matching colour above.
As with every design, the "new" blue set has undergone a number of subtle modifications during its time in production. One such permanent change, though likely only noticeable to eagle-eyed viewers like myself, has been as simple as the aforementioned spotlight being placed under the desk to illuminate the clock's pedestal in blue (purple for crucial conundrums).
The first show of Series 82, on 2nd January 2020, saw the beginning of a letters and numbers pattern being projected onto the studio floor, mirroring that seen on the set walls. Shortly thereafter, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted government social distancing guidelines to be observed around the studio. With the show's cast generally spread out to start with, the only radical change involved the left side of the desk being extended to allow for a 2-metre gap between Susie Dent and the weekly Dictionary Corner guest, who would sit together in normal circumstances. The entire studio audience area was cleared, and staff members operated to limited numbers around the recording space.
In light of the pandemic, CGI-animated conundrums were introduced, resulting in the mechanical board being removed. This change benefitted the recording process, as it significantly cut the amount of time required to set new scrambles in the event of tiebreakers, which can effectively go on forever. Furthermore, the CGI conundrums reduced the quantity of physical letter tiles needed, and prevented any further instances of them falling off the board or being stuck on upside-down (typically the case with 'M's and 'W's, which are sometimes difficult to tell apart on the Futura font used). While social distancing adjustments were only in place for the pandemic and a year after, the digital conundrums were made a permanent fixture. Sadly, it was revealed in early 2021 that the studio audience, which had been in place since the show's first episode, would no longer exist for any future recordings beyond the pandemic, with the show's producer stating that running the programme without the facility saved ITV (who produce Countdown on behalf of Channel 4) expenditure on staff and insurance.
The complete list of changes made to the "new" blue set since its inception is as follows:
• 18th October 2017: the wood-textured front face of the letters board was covered over with a blue panel.
• 28th May 2019: the paper sheets used during the numbers games were replaced with a dry-wipe board to cut down on the amount of paper being wasted.
• 5th June 2019: the backlight emitting onto the clock pedestal began transitioning purple for crucial conundrums, in sync with the other studio backlights.
• 1st July 2019: a one-off change saw the backlights for the crucial conundrum tinge red as opposed to the standard purple.
• 2nd July 2019: the overhead camera shot of the studio was repositioned to behind the podium where the letters and numbers board is situated. This episode also saw the ending credits' centre-to-left sweeping shot be changed to the opposite direction.
• 12th September 2019: the borders around the letters board's 'vowel' and 'consonant' boxes were repainted from grey to blue.
• 24th October 2019: in line with the previous change, the border around the numbers board's CECIL unit was repainted from grey to blue.
• 2nd January 2020: kicking off Series 82, a letters and numbers pattern, matching that seen on the set backdrop, started to be projected onto the studio floor in front of the circular podium.
• 10th August 2020: following a four-month hiatus, the programme began observing social distancing in line with government guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the desk was extended to allow for a 2-metre distance between the two Dictionary Corner members. In addition, this episode saw the debut of CGI-animated conundrum scrambles using the Futura Condensed Bold font. This replaced the mechanical board that was in use from the show's debut.
• 5th October 2020: the banner seen on the ending credits began displaying a pattern of the word 'countdown' beneath the scrolling text.
• 28th October 2020: the Futura Bold font was reinstated on the conundrum board to once again match the style of the physical letter tiles.
• 28th June 2021: to accommodate then-new presenter Anne Robinson's height, the clock starter button was removed from the tabletop.
• 11th January 2022: the sticker over the MacBook laptop, used by Susie Dent, was revised to display the alternative, albeit similar, Countdown logo.
• 14th July 2022: the clock starter button reappeared on top of the desk following Anne Robinson's departure.
• 24th October 2022: after two and a half years, onscreen social distancing was finally lifted between the two Dictionary Corner members, resulting in the left wedge section of the desk returning.
• 8th May 2023: for the first time since its introduction in January 2009 (with the launch of the "original" blue set), the letters and numbers motif on the central circular platform was redesigned. This concurred with the other circular platform, which accommodates the boards, being rebuilt from scratch due to scuffing, albeit in the exact configuration.
• 4th December 2023: the clock hand, which had been cracked in the centre since 9th December 2020, was replaced; the outer section of the rebuilt version was painted in a darker shade of grey.