Canada’s logo debate continues

Last week, we published an article about a proposed set of logos to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. The controversial designs prompted Canadian creatives to launch a site showcasing alternatives – but their decision has been openly criticised by the country’s association of graphic designers.

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Last week, we published an article about a proposed set of logos to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. The controversial designs prompted Canadian creatives to launch a site showcasing alternatives – but their decision has been openly criticised by the country’s association of graphic designers.

As we reported in a previous blog post, the Canadian government has commissioned a new logo to mark the 150th anniversary of the country’s confirmation. Five designs (below) were developed and tested on focus groups in Montreal, Ontario and British Columbia but received mixed reviews – one was considered too aggressive, another too bland and others were deemed too “one-dimensional” to truly reflect the spirit of Canada.

Uninspired by the suggested designs, claiming they lacked evidence of careful thought and consideration, designer Ibraheem Youssef approached 15 Canadian designers and art directors and asked them to create something better. A week later, he launched, showcasing 17 alternatives.

The site has had more than half a million hits since its launch and Youssef released a second set of logos on Monday after receiving emails from hundreds of Canadian designers (top and below). In an interview with CR, he said he didn’t expect the government to opt for any of the proposals on the site, but hoped it would provoke a public debate about acceptable graphic design and the way national projects are approached.

But while it’s certainly ignited widespread discussion, the site has also attracted criticism from the President of Canada’s Association of Registered Graphic Designers, Lionel Gadoury, who published a message on the association’s website accusing Youssef and contributing designers of undermining the industry.

“Being creative is clearly addictive…however, like any addiction, this can have unintended and harmful consequences,” he writes, adding: “On one hand, we can appreciate how talented individuals can, in just a few short hours, create marks with aesthetic appeal, but the flip-side is that crowd-sourcing ultimately undermines and devalues our profession.”

Gadoury’s note goes on to say that good design is “much more than aesthetics alone” – it is the result of a careful process, evaluation and collaboration between client and designer.

He also suggests that Youssef and co’s logos do little to highlight the research and planning that national projects demand and risk reinforcing the perception that design is merely making something that looks nice.

While equally unimpressed by the government’s proposals, the RGD is urging designers to adopt a more formal opposition route and have published a letter that creatives can send to MPs to voice their disapproval.

Youssef and the150logo team have since responded with a letter of their own (which can be read in full here), reiterating that the purpose of their project was to encourage debate, prove that good design is present in Canada and make Heritage Canada retract their proposed logos and consult with national agencies to create a more meaningful symbol.

“We both want to raise awareness for the importance of quality design and design thinking. We just chose a different avenue to raise that awareness,” it states. “We are seasoned industry professionals, not addicts, and this is a grassroots visual movement,” it adds.

While the letter agrees with Gadoury that good design is about more than aesthetics, it goes on to say that “open letters and passive complaining hasn’t gotten us anywhere.”

“These logos are our version of a protest sign. And our protest seems to be working. Considering the results we have achieved and the fact that our efforts …have obviously strongly contributed to directing the discussion regarding good Canadian design… we believe that instead of belittling our efforts and discrediting the unity we’ve established between hundreds of Designers and Creatives from all across Canada, we’d appreciate your support and acknowledgment of our efforts. At the end of the day, we both want to achieve the same thing.”

Since the responses, Canada’s government has not confirmed if it will retract the proposed logos: Len Westerberg, media relations advisor with the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, told Canadian magazine Marketing  that no decisions have been taken on a visual identity for the anniversary but added: “All feedback, including that which was gained through focus groups, will assist us in creating a design that will resonate with Canadians.”

While Gadoury’s comments have been viewed by Youssef and other designers as belittling the 150 project, he makes some valid points: the initial round of logos posted on the site received a mixed reaction – probably as they were created in just a week –  and critics said they also failed to capture Canada’s diversity and national identity.

But as Youssef stated from the outset, his intention wasn’t to provide a winning design but instead show that there are hundreds of Canadian creatives who could devise something more inventive than the symbols put forward – creatives who should have been consulted about the project.

With half a million visitors and global news coverage, the site has successfully demonstrated that a visual online response will better capture the public’s attention that a strongly worded letter and will achieve immediate and wide reaching results.

But by so openly opposing each other’s approaches, RGD and the150logo creators are missing a trick. Youssef and co are right that online campaigns are the most effective way to attract attention on a global scale. But however dated formal channels are, they can still be a useful method of opposing government schemes. Perhaps if both groups worked together, and invited the public to have their say, they could create a campaign that will force the government to re-think its proposals and allow Canadians and design professionals a voice on how their country should be represented.

Designs (from top): Stefan Dukaczewski, Jason Niles, Lee Wilson, Jill Brown, Jean Francois Dumais, Jag Nagra, David Bromley and Lisa Litz. To view an explanation of each design, click here.

  • andres cabrera

    in chile we had the same problem with a very similar contest.
    a bad and unknow contest that made lots of worst logo’s that represent the city of santiago.
    i think this kind of ideas need to be made for the people and to the people, not a campaign between friends.

    go canada!

  • Adam

    The Graphic Design bigwigs complain about crowd sourcing. Maybe they shouldn’t have come up with options that look like they came from the Microsoft ClipArt Library.

  • Everyone is talking about what constitutes good design, so design is the big winner here (and Canada – eventually). And in many ways both sides are correct – apart from the clumsy comparison to ‘crowd sourcing’. Sometimes a great mark will arise out of a narrative that evolves from extensive research, and sometimes the solution is a moment of aesthetic inspiration. Indeed, good design is about more than aesthetics, but then again sometimes it really isn’t. We just need to be honest about that, and get the context right. I vividly remember the initial furore over here in London, following our ‘2012’ Olympic logo. Not one person on the street could tell you what the logo was supposed to represent, they just liked it or didn’t. In the end the whole country seemed to embrace it, based on the positive context in which it was framed.

    There are no hard and fast rules in creativity, more a collective of subjective views based on context and influence. In essence it seems like this is a logo for the community, as opposed to creative directors and font designers, so an open mind to what ‘good’ design represents in this case, is probably welcome. But these discussions are ultimately good for the creative industries, good for businesses, and good for the societies we serve.

    I’m not even Canadian, but I might move as at least there’s a bit of excitement going on over there.

  • George

    Not sure the whole country embraced the London 2012 logo. More like they had little choice. Not sure about some of these myself. They’re beginning to become a little arbitrary to me. Just my opinion of course.

  • HenriCervantes

    none of the above.

    these design solutions point out
    —the extreme difficulty of logo design, which has nothing to do with the abilities of these designers or the quality of their designs.
    —but making things worse is the generalization (more true than not, unfortunately) that Canada is a design backwater (uh-oh, watch the comments fly)
    —worst of all is that one of these, or another equally mediocre, will be chosen, and it will be “good enough”

  • Pick the one at the very top of this blog.
    The 5 as example look like something I might design if I just was not into it…or the client just would not let me be creative.

  • Nathalie Cusson

    Although I don’t love ALL alternative solutions presented, I still think that they are a million times BETTER that the original suggestions.
    So kudos to all the talented people who gave it a try and said something, instead of accepting bad design passively.
    Of course, they had an unfair advantage: working without the client’s perimeters and pressure and showing “unaltered” options, but still, there are ideas with a lot of merit and it is nice to keep it light hearted. This is about celebrating, after all.
    Bravo my colleagues, keep up the good work.

  • Luciano

    The oval logo, the first at the top, it does not make sense conceptual and aesthetic, the five that follow, can be logos for a sports team, or a casino.
    The best, in my opinion (taste of Italian designer), is to:
    Jill Brown
    Toronto, ON
    Graphic Designer
    Universal Program

    Celebratory, Diverse and Iconic. These words are the building blocks for this Canada 150 logo. The vibrant colors symbolize the diversity of Canada’s many cultures. The multi-colored lines Represent fireworks celebrating the joyous occasion and collectively form the iconic maple leaf.

  • Paula

    I think the logo produced by Greg Mühlböck is lovely.

    There are more to see on the website:

  • bvwjklgr

    First, good design doesn’t take a week. It takes a lifetime of design wisdom. Choose a reputable designer by studying their past work, then let them come up with the best solution based on given design criteria. Focus groups often don’t have a clue, for they don’t know or understand what the design criteria was. Pretty doesn’t always mean it’s on target.

  • Hi, I am a young graphic designer from Bangladesh and I have designed an alternative identity system for 150 years of Canada. The project is at:

  • Americans still have many arguments over crowd sourcing and fiercely debate it, but I have to stand by my reasoning that if something this big (in this case, Canada) requires good design, then it should be about the best design… not the biggest agency. It should be about the client, the quality of the design and if that design meets its purpose.
    I have to agree with the posters above that the original 5 are terribly weak in concept as well as execution. Yet they demand that one of theirs be “picked” over the incredible creative ideas that came from the public? These agencies give “good design” a bad name and seem to only care about their pockets and prestige. They were given their chance… and they failed. Now it’s time to give the little guys, the lesser-known and yet more talented designers, a chance at creating good design for their country.

  • Andy Horka

    Coddling clients with lots of money and designing by committee results in garbage like the original offerings the government delivered. Some of the options presented here are stunning! Shame on the government of Canada and more shame on the the designers for agreeing to put out that crap. And yes, I am Canadian.

  • Susan

    I would like to see something with sort of a banner with the word 150th anniversary somewhere.

  • Robiati

    I’m with Gadoury on this.

    Almost anything created by good designers in angry response to the dreadfulness of the original five proposals would be aesthetically and doubtless conceptually more interesting. Certainly the responses shown here are.

    But are they good and fitting solutions? Would they stand up in the real world? Is what they’re saying about Canada’s achievements and its future really relevant?

    The starting-a-debate argument might wash but only if this goes primetime. The fact that design professionals are debating this on Creative Review and elsewhere is interesting but irrelevant in a wider context. That’s just talking about religion with the choir. Is this really hitting the headlines in the Canadian popular press?

    The underlying issue here is ignorance about how to commission effective and original design. Open competitions for such projects are a cop out in my view. They are horribly inefficient and rarely deliver decent results. Why? Because it is very hard for them not to become superficial beauty parades judged by a committees of people perhaps not best qualified to choose. It’s not a simple matter understanding how a brand identity needs to work and how it communicates over repeat viewings in different contexts.

    So as much as I think Youssef’s actions were for the right reasons and you have to credit his ability to get the response going, I think it sends out the wrong message. And, though I don’t know what real debate this has prompted (I’m not in Canada), I’d take a lot of convincing to believe that it has done anything to redress the underlying problem of ignorance that is at the heart of this story.

  • Some absolute dross on that website, and above.
    Personally, I’d go with Greg Muhlbocks option.
    It’s obviously a trend based logo, but when its only for a year, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to design to a trend. Quite why someone couldn’t make something interesting out of such an icon leaf shape, I do not know.

    Oh, and I’d like to applaud the input from Susan, 2 comments above.

  • Yes, when you actually go to the link you’ll see further concepts. Some of them are very nice and work well for canada’s 150th!

  • Pat


    Oh, that’s already been done 150 times…. Hmmmm.

  • Lionel Gadoury “On one hand, we can appreciate how talented individuals can, in just a few short hours, create marks with aesthetic appeal, but the flip-side is that crowd-sourcing ultimately undermines and devalues our profession.”

    Whilst this is almost certainly true, in my opinion the main thing that really devalues our profession is overpaid idiots in lavish offices and lifestyles to match, attempting to convince clients that good quality design is hugely expensive and extract huge amounts of cash from them on the basis of fairly poor work.

    Whilst I fully understand their motivation (they clearly need cash for their expensive offices, luxurious ‘designer’ sofas and their complicated Italian coffee machines – all to impress the client I’m sure) the fact is that if anything is driving clients towards crowd sourcing design it’s these large design firms charging silly money for their work.

    I’m very happy to charge a reasonable fee to my clients. I base my costs slightly on industry norms but I also relate them to what I actually had to do to create the work. Too many times I hear of companies, big companies, paying staggering amounts of money to design firms for, well, not very much actually. It’s an utter scandal that should embarrass and shame us all.

  • Ed

    I still think they should just adapt the Bruce Mau Design stuff. It’s Canadian, it’s already out there and it’s really bloody good.

    Also, they’re a large agency and their work is great. I have no idea how much they charge, but it seems that to go from ‘Oh! I’ve paid a bit too much to that one agency there’ to ‘I’m never paying for design ever again’ conveniently skips out ‘Maybe I’ll try another agency with a good portfolio who are a bit more reasonably priced’.

    Just because someone’s overcharging doesn’t mean everyone should work for free. That makes absolutely no sense.

    And I don’t see why I should be ashamed or embarrassed that some people are making good money by wrangling huge multinationals with governing bodies, shareholders and employees numbering in the hundreds (if not thousands or hundreds of thousands) into pulling together and making decisions about something as preferential, intangible and debatable as a visual identity.

    That takes a huge amount of tact, salesmanship, patience, expertise, skill and effort – 90% of which doesn’t make it into the press release when they announce the rebrand. To base the amount they charge for dealing with astronomic levels of bureaucracy on whether or not you like the logo at the end of it sort of misses the scope of their actual task.

  • The problem may be the creative brief and not the design team, it’s impossible to say. The designs may be in alignment with what the government wants, and let’s face it, it’s entirely possible they’re out of touch with everyday Canadians.

    I don’t see any of the designs presented as particularly successful, and, as a designer, I disagree 100% with the whole crowdsourcing debaucle. However, if a designer wants to spend their time creating alternative designs for jobs they didn’t land instead of spending that time courting their own clients, that’s their perogative.