Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 and all sorts of preparations are being made for the big shebang. But the sesquicentennial has been sullied by news that the government is being real cheap when it comes to the graphic design.
In-house designs which were tested with audiences in 2013
Back in 2013, the Canadian government first incurred the wrath of designers by releasing five god-awful logos supposedly created for focus group testing. These logos, which looked more like jerseys for future hockey teams, were roundly criticised by the country's top designers, many of whom banded together to propose their own branding for the 150th birthday celebration.
Then insult was added to injury when the government announced it was actually holding a student contest to find the real logo. You see, many professional designers don't believe in the idea of working on spec — the Graphic Designers of Canada crafted a vicious petition calling the contest "exploitative". Design student Ariana Cuvin won the contest and the $US3500 prize, but her technicolour take on the maple leaf has its share of detractors, including Stuart Ash, who designed the maple leaf seen on Canada's flag. Maybe because it looks like something made for the Winter Olympics?
Now the government is in trouble again after typographers discovered Canada is also skimping on the type design for its big 150. Instead of commissioning a custom typeface, Canada has opted to use a free font. The Canadian designer Raymond Larabie had created a free typeface called Mesmerize which includes all the characters for the country's many Aboriginal languages. At the request of the government, he adapted it for free, and renamed it Canada 150.
Larabie's Canada 150 includes characters for languages like Inuktitut
Of course, you might argue that Canada is simply being fiscally responsible. Free fonts and logo contests save money that might be better spent providing citizens with benefits like universal healthcare. Maybe, however, it has to do with the fact that the country apparently has about $US38,500 in the budget for graphic design. The GDC's Adrian Jean says it's not too late to put that $US38,500 to work by hiring a professional designer and typographer to create something from scratch: "It breaks my patriotic heart, it really does," he told The Star. "I love this country, and I hate what's being done with respect to its birthday."
The Canada 125 logo by Peter Gough
If Canadians really want to be outraged, they should compare that figure to what designer Peter Gough was paid for his 125th anniversary logo and branding (wow, Canadians sure do like to celebrate all these milestones; can't wait for the 155th anniversary logo). Gough issued a statement with this #humblebrag to the GDC last year:
In 1992 I created the logo for Canada's 125th birthday. The company I worked for at time billed in excess of $100,000 [Canadian, about $70,000 USD] for that logo and as well picked up the lucrative PR work for the Atlantic region as well as production and media work in addition.
So yeah, I see the problems with the crowdsourcing, but I also imagine that there might be some outrage if the government shelled out that kind of cash today?