Canadians have an international reputation for being a pretty mild-mannered lot (one headline-grabbing, logic-defying mayor notwithstanding). We’ve got intense national pride; we just go about it a little quietly. Messing with matters of national identity, however, has turned out to be a surefire way to raise ire—of the design community, at least. Here’s what happened.
In early December, the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, ran a story that encouraged Canadians to vote for one of five logos to represent the country for its upcoming sesquicentennial in 2017. The Department of Canadian Heritage hoped that the designs would evoke "pride, celebration, unity, youth and multiculturalism." Instead, the elicited yawns of boredom at best, and cries of disgust at worst. The public has deemed the marks pitiful, outdated and "the worst ever" (according to one commenter).
The design industry was more pointed in their critique. Shortly after the poll was made public, the country’s Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) issued an open letter to Heritage Canada condemning the poor quality of the designs, and criticizing the decision to hand such a high-profile design task to a firm that runs focus groups.
The RGD’s hope was that its members would raise objections to their local politicians. Instead, designer Ibraheem Youssef, who himself reacted with "shock, disgust, disbelief" took matters into his own hands. Rather than get sucked into the vortex of political bureaucracy, he and a group of likeminded designers did what they do best: design.
The result is The150Logo.ca, a site created by Youssef, an ex-pat living in Boston, that invites designers to offer their best visual representations of Canada. Within a matter of days, he’d received 15 designs that are fresh, inspired and totally unboring—a stark demonstration of how effective professional design truly is.
Youssef says he was driven to create the site after he indulged in Facebook discussions about how "horrible" the logos were. In talking with Dave Watson CD Design, North America at TAXI, Youssef mused about creating a site with one logo from award winning, reputable Canadian Designers. "He said, ‘Build it,'" says Youssef. "From there I garnered my first esteemed industry supporter." Indeed, Watson himself contributed a commemorative mark to the exercise.
The chief criticism of the five official marks is unoriginality, says Youssef, noting that they all use the same typeface, Impact. "They all looked the same. There is zero thought behind the obvious and literal put into these logos. It's like someone thought of a bunch of words associated with Canada and spent five minutes on Photoshop and zapped these out." Instead, he says in cases like these, it’s best to keep it clean and simple. "Minimalism is key. When dealing with a symbol that represents millions of people, less is more."
Since launching the site, Youssef has been overwhelmed by responses. The site received over 300,000 hits in the first two days, and he’s received so many submissions that a second wave of designs will be launched on Monday, December 16.
His goal, beyond promoting the talent of Canadian designers, is for Heritage Canada to take notice, retract the existing logos and open the bid to Canadian reputable design firms. "If Heritage Canada chooses one of the logos from this site, that's nice, but it isn't our main goal as a collective."
Still, in all of this Youssef has not heard from any officials about his counter-designs, but the CBC has reported that the Department of Canadian Heritage will take into account all feedback it’s received when it finally chooses the logo. Whether or not that includes opening up the design process to new ideas is unknown.