Remembering Frédéric Metz

We’ve each had a professor who’s left their mark on our lives - a mark for the better. Someone who imparted their passion and pushed us to reach farther for our goals. For me, that was Frédéric Metz.

 

As we say our goodbyes today to Frédéric Metz, designer, founder of the design school at UQAM and a leading light for design in Québec, we're honoured that Philippe Lamarre, SDGQ president, agreed to let us translate his reminiscence of his teacher and mentor.


We’ve each had a professor who’s left their mark on our lives - a mark for the better. Someone who imparted their passion and pushed us to reach farther for our goals. For me, that was Frédéric Metz. Prior to being my teacher, I only knew him by reputation, through his work and his efforts to promote the graphic design program at UQAM here in Québec and internationally. I waffled between studying journalism and graphic design and the chance to study under Frédéric Metz hugely influenced my decision - one that set me on the path of my career.

I have to tell you that, from the start, I was intimidated by his reputation. They said he was ruthless, not shy to express his opinion, and he had no tolerance for mediocrity. Imagine setting foot in his classroom with this as your context. I don’t know why, but he had a natural leadership style, one that commanded respect. My fears were quickly dissipated, and it’s thanks to Frédéric Metz that I found my way while studying at UQAM.

Meeting him was memorable on many levels. He was the first person to make me realize that design is not a job but a vocation. From the beginning, he set the rules: his courses required discipline and an iron will. There was no room for those who didn’t feel that kind of fire. His passion was obvious – you could see it in his eyes – and he demanded the same from his students. It wasn’t always easy, I admit. But being his student, and the professional relationship I developed with him afterwards, influenced me to the point where it’s an honour for me to write this as a token of the esteem I have for him.

Without Frédéric Metz, Québec would not enjoy the reputation and influence it currently has in graphic design. Our province doesn’t have a rich history in the field, and yet, thanks to Mr. Metz’s successful career, and that of UQAM and its design school, we have a reputation that stretches beyond these borders and reflects on all of Québec. We’re recognized internationally as innovators in the field of graphic design, due largely to the standards of excellence established under Mr. Metz’s leadership of the design school at UQAM and embraced by its faculty.

As Frédéric Metz leaves us today, he can be proud of what he accomplished. He taught and influenced generations of visual designers and encouraged the development of a unique graphic language in Québec. Marrying conceptual rigour with a visual grid inherited from his Swiss roots, he managed to imbue Québec’s graphic design with a fresh look and daring, beyond merely the aesthetic – seeking to connect intellectually as much as be pleasing to the eye – his work did not allow for you to be indifferent. Certainly, Mr. Metz didn’t hold his tongue when sharing his opinion or denouncing others for their lack of visual culture, but it was never done simply to be provocative. His opinions could shock, but it was because he saw clearly and and understood unequivocally that for Québec to take its place as an evolved society, we needed be able to express ourselves equally well via images or symbols as we could do through words.

Through his students at UQAM’s design school, his body of work and his strong opinions, Frédéric Metz positioned his adopted home as a leader in the world of visual communication. He was recognized by his peers as a member of the prestigious AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale), received an Icograda Lifetime Achievement Award, was elected as an Honorary Member of the SDGQ (Society of Graphic Designers of Québec), and was both recognized by and helped jury countless design competitions.  As widely as he was recognized by the media, Frédéric Metz’s shoes will be hard to fill.

I sincerely hope we recognize he changed Québec forever, a society that he helped evolve, both through his work and through his talent as a teacher and communicator.

Philippe Lamarre, DGA
President, Société des designers graphiques du Québec (SDGQ)
Founder, URBANIA et TOXA


Nous avons tous eu un professeur qui marque notre vie pour le mieux, qui nous communique sa passion et nous pousse à nous dépasser et à nous réaliser. Dans mon cas, ce fut Frédéric Metz. Avant qu’il ne m’enseigne, je connaissais le personnage à travers certaines de ses créations, mais surtout grâce à sa réputation qui faisait rayonner le programme de design graphique de l’UQAM tant ici qu’à l’international. J’avais hésité entre le journalisme et le design graphique et la chance d’étudier sous la houlette de Frédéric Metz avait grandement influencé ma décision qui devint par la force des choses un choix de carrière.

Je dois vous avouer qu’au départ, le personnage m’intimidait, car on m’avait dit qu’il était impitoyable, qu’il n’avait pas la langue dans sa poche et qu’il ne tolérait pas la médiocrité. Tout cela se sentait dès qu’on mettait le pied dans sa classe. Je ne saurais dire pourquoi, mais il dégageait une autorité naturelle qui incitait au respect. Mes appréhensions furent vite dissipées et c’est grâce à Frédéric Metz si j’ai en grande partie découvert ma voie lors de mes études en design à l’UQAM.

Ma rencontre avec lui fut marquante à plusieurs niveaux. Il me fit d’abord réaliser à quel point le design n’était pas un métier, mais une vocation. D’entrée de jeu, il établissait les règles : son cours exigera de nous une discipline et une rigueur de fer. Pas de place pour ceux qui n’ont pas le feu sacré. Sa passion le transperçait et pour que l’échange soit équitable à ses yeux, ses étudiants devaient lui en donner tout autant. Ce n’était pas toujours facile, j’en conviens, mais son enseignement et la relation professionnelle que j’ai développée avec lui m’ont marqués au point où c’est un honneur pour moi d’écrire cette lettre en témoignage de l’estime que j’ai pour lui.

Sans Frédéric Metz, le Québec n’aurait jamais obtenu la réputation et le rayonnement qu’il obtient actuellement en design graphique. Notre province ne possède pas une tradition particulièrement riche en la matière, et, néanmoins, grâce à la fructueuse carrière de M. Metz au sein de l’UQAM et de son École de design, celle-ci obtient aujourd’hui une reconnaissance qui dépasse les frontières et rejaillit sur le Québec tout entier. Nous sommes désormais perçus mondialement comme une société innovante en matière de création graphique en grande partie grâce aux standards d’excellence qui ont été instaurés lors du passage de M. Metz à la direction de l’École de design de l’UQAM et au sein de son corps professoral.

Aujourd’hui, Frédéric Metz nous a quittés et il peut être fier de ce qu’il a accompli. Il a formé et influencé plusieurs générations de créateurs visuels et il a favorisé l’éclosion d’un langage graphique propre au Québec. Mariant approche conceptuelle et rigueur visuelle hérités de ses origines suisses, il a su insuffler au design graphique québécois un vent de fraîcheur et une audace qui, bien au-delà de la simple quête esthétique, marquent clairement un désir de frapper l'intellect autant que l’oeil afin de ne laisser personne indifférent. Certes, M. Metz n’avait pas la langue dans sa poche quand il s’agissait de donner son opinion et de dénoncer le manque de culture visuelle des uns et des autres, mais jamais il n’a fait cela avec la simple intention de provoquer. Ses opinions choquaient, mais bien parce qu’il visait juste et savait de manière inéquivoque faire comprendre qu’une société évoluée comme le Québec devait être aussi sophistiquée quand elle s’exprimait avec des images ou des symboles qu’avec des mots.

Grâce aux étudiants qu’il a formés, à l’École de design qu’il a dirigée, aux projets qu’il a réalisés et à ses opinions tranchées, Frédéric Metz a contribué à positionner sa terre d’adoption comme chef de file dans l’univers de la communication visuelle. Sélectionné par ses pairs au sein de la prestigieuse AGI (Alliance graphique internationale), lauréat du Icograda Lifetime Achievement Award, élu membre honoraire de la Société des designers graphiques du Québec, récipiendaire et jury d’innombrables concours, personnalité médiatique reconnue, les chaussures de Frédéric Metz seront difficiles à combler. Je souhaite donc de tout coeur que l’on saura reconnaître qu’il a marqué à jamais le Québec, une société qu’il a contribué à faire évoluer, tant par son oeuvre que par son talent de pédagogue et de communicateur. »

Philippe Lamarre, DGA
Président, Société des designers graphiques du Québec (SDGQ)
Fondateur, URBANIA et TOXA


About Frédéric Metz
Graphic Designer

Upon completing his studies, Frédéric Metz was hired by Bulova Watch, a world-renowned company in Lausanne, Switzerland, whose time pieces were worn by the first astronauts. Working in several European cities, Metz put the finishing touches on the company’s display windows, which featured themes inspired by space exploration. As the host city of Expo 67, Montreal welcomed people from all over the world, including a gangly Swiss fellow who, armed with great ambitions and a diploma in Graphic Design, moved to Montreal from his native Neuchatel.

His design career took off and interesting contracts began to come his way, earning him international recognition and awards. He handled a wide variety of projects such as the creation of a black logo on a metallic background for Browns Shoes in 1969, graphic concept design for Mirabel Airport and Hotel Meridien in the early 70s, and design of the complete graphic image for restaurants in the Royal Bank Plaza in Toronto. In 1989 he created the new international branding for Oscar de la Renta, New York. He was also responsible for developing the UQAM logo (1997) of the Université du Québec à Montréal, where he began teaching in 1977. While holding various directorships at the Université du Québec, he instituted the Graphic Design Program, giving international scope to both that program and to the university’s Design Centre and Fashion School.

Over and above his teaching activities, Frédéric Metz was regularly invited to comment on a variety of subjects both in the press and electronic media. In 2012, he was the originator of a series of twelve major interviews with well known senior designers for the Savoir TV channel in Montreal. He wrote, designed and researched all 800 photographs for his book entitled Design? Published by Flammarion-Quebec in 2012.

He served on a number of juries and panels, and delivered a wide range of lectures and seminars. He is an honorary member of the Type Directors Club of New York and the Société des designers graphiques du Québec, and is also a member of the Union des Artistes and the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI). In 2008, he was awarded the Prix Carrière en enseignement, a prize for excellence in teaching awarded by the network of nine teaching institutions that make up the Université du Québec. He was elected by a jury of his peers to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2013.

 

Images courtesy of SDGQ. Photo: Mario St-Jean