Adrian Jean (GDC president) and I were chatting last month in Montreal about the impact of Canadian designers on doing good globally. So when the Canada 150 logo issue erupted, I invited him to join me this month to write about this topic together… – David
It’s rare that graphic design gets so much coverage in the mainstream press.
The largest potential damage to Canada’s brand internationally in 2013 was likely committed by Rob Ford. In 2014, professional designers have the opportunity to help avoid our own Federal Government from shooting our brand in the foot.
The Federal Government is building the visual branding for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Apparently, the government engaged an internal team to develop what appear to be logo identities to be focus group tested. The artwork that was tested were only “logo elements” and not fully formed logos for consideration.
Assessing a logo on pure aesthetic grounds is a very personal process and perhaps not appropriate for commercial art. Rather, aesthetics must be part of a larger strategic conversation. Professional designers know this, and design buyers should too. Yet the government’s process for developing this auspicious identity appears to miss this important mark entirely.
If the brief for the project was as simple as “Design a logo for Canada’s 150th birthday” then perhaps one could argue, and it would be a stretch, that the logos presented solve that brief. However the real problem is not with the work: it’s with the approach to strategy. We all know that clients can be challenged with authoring clear strategy: this is where we as professional designers often have the greatest impact.
Canada’s history is peppered with great moments in design leadership. Some of that leadership is apparent from the marks themselves: Expo 1967, the Centennial Identity, Canada’s Federal Identity Program—the list goes on. Equal in our leadership is our punching above our weight class in establishing codes of professional practice and social design that have been mimicked around the globe. We should also be terribly proud of government policies that have led the world in inclusive design that seeks to leave no one behind.
We have carefully established an international reputation of care and consideration when it comes to the values and benefits of excellent design. The Canada 150 project risks undermining that foundation.
We look forward to proudly celebrating our nation’s 150th birthday, and its many achievements in demonstrating how a civilization can be measured by how it treats it weakest members. Our collective creative culture is a big part of that. The 150th anniversary will come and go, however our efforts, our mark, will last for many decades.
Let’s encourage a reboot for this project, by asking the right questions and solving the problem in a way that we know is best—not by creating more logo suggestions (though the discussion has raised many excellent candidates), but by going to the core of the challenge.
The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) contacted the Federal Government about this problem, but their response was tepid at best.
We’re preaching to the choir here. It’s our Federal Government that needs to start listening, and so we urge you to help get the word out, and add your name to the over 1,700 who have signed already:canada150.gdc.net
GDC (National) with the support of RGD (Ontario) and SDGQ (Quebec) launched this petition to convince our elected officials to develop a design advisory board with representation from this country’s professional creative communities. Solving design challenges with design thinking is what we as professionals do every day. This is what we’re good at, and our country’s creative community should have a voice in creating this enduring legacy.
We need not just designers, but colleagues, employers, friends, family—everyone who believes or benefits from the power of design thinking—to help our government hear that design has been part of the fabric of our nation for at least 150 years, and it is vital for our future as well.
The solution is simple. We need to bring design thinking from our professional creative communities into the process and build a strong foundation from which to develop excellent results. We need a national design advisory board that will guide the Federal Government to stop designing logos and start asking the right questions, then, and only then, start developing a creative strategy that results in strategic branding solutions.
Canada has a wealth of wise and strong creative voices. From our own confederation in 1867, to developing universal health care in the 60’s. From formalizing our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the Quebec Referendum “Unity Rally” in Montreal 1995, to the formation of new Territories in our Great North. These are just of a few of the many truly Canadian events that represent moments in our nation’s history when we’ve acknowledged that working together is our priority and our mark.
Also consider that acknowledging the power of a design advisory board may benefit us beyond seeing our way to a great identity for Canada 150. Perhaps our government will realize the benefit of a lasting national design policy, as has benefitted other innovative nations globally. One need only look at countries like South Korea, of similar population, with far fewer resources, to see how a national design policy can drive international competitiveness and innovation. But we digress…
For Canadian designers of all stripes, this issue today is our unity. With glowing hearts, we can stand together. From far and wide, let’s tell our government that developing a logo is not enough. Design is our culture. We must commit to a design process that truly honours 150 years of great Canadian design heritage.
We want nothing less than to put our best foot forward to communicate 150 years of Canadian inventive nation-building, one creative idea before the next.
Next step: https://canada150.gdc.net
(How strong is our heritage of Canadian do good design ingenuity? Watch next month for David’s Eh to Zed of Canadian do good design!)
More about our guest blogger: Adrian Jean is the president of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.
Reviewed January 9, 2014