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.

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.

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