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Ernst Roch, FGDC

Ernst Roch was born in Yugoslavia in 1928 and arrived in Canada in 1953. But it was the years in Graz, Austria, which so influenced his thinking and his work. In addition to receiving an excellent education in graphic design at the Staatliche Scüle fur angewandte Kunst, the rich cultural environment of Europe instilled in him the highest aesthetic standards and the constant striving for perfection which are the hallmark of his work. This training was based on functionalism, where a design challenge was first seen as a problem-solving process emphasizing rational thinking and formal clarity. It was this “international” and “new” graphic design, as it came to be known, which he pioneered in Canada.

Ernst worked for three design firms before opening his own office in 1960, and was the principal and founding member of Design Collaborative in 1965. In 1972 he was a founding member of Editions Signum, a publishing company specializing in limited editions of original graphics, and in 1973 became founding member and president of Signum Press, a book publishing company. The founding of Roch Design occurred in 1978.

His impressive output ranges from trademarks, symbols, posters, and annual reports to complete visual identity programs, from architectural signage systems to thematic exhibitions, from postage stamps and official documents to book design and publishing.

Ernst has been a visiting lecturer at several universities during the last three decades, including the Art and Design School of the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, Concordia, McGill, and Ohio State Universities, as well as the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

To his rational approach, he brings intuition and imagination, and a third dimension, that witty aspect of his design, which makes his best work unique and memorable. The German design publication Novum Gebrauchsgraphik has described his work as “clear, sober, and sensitive.” Prominent Swiss graphic designer and art critic Hans Neuberg has said that in his best work “the definite form consists of a blend of joyful graphic experimenting and intellectual discipline.”

Graphic design is not merely the visualization of information. It is a complex art form where, as Roch says, designers have a social responsibility “to inform rather than mislead, to enlighten rather than frustrate the individual in his daily life.” In his acceptance speech for his honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts in 1988, he pointed out that “the designer has an acute ability to communicate order out of chaos aesthetically, with intellect and wit, and sometimes brilliantly while investing the problem with personality.”

Among his best known accomplishments are the hexagonal symbol and the identity program for the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), the Queen Elizabeth II definitive issue postage stamps (1962–1963), the paper folding kit “Paper Zoo” (1974), the official poster for the Montréal Olympic Games (1976), and the commemorative postage stamps of early Canadian locomotives (1983–1986). He has also organized exhibitions, most notably  “The visual Image of the Munich Olympic Games” in Montréal and Toronto (1972), and the “AGI Posters” (Alliance Graphique Internationale) in Montréal (1982).

His designs have received numerous national and international awards and prizes. They have been exhibited and published extensively in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan, and are in permanent collections in the National Library (Ottawa), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Library of Congress (Washington DC), and the National Poster Museum (Warsaw).

Ernst was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Alliance Graphique Internationale, the AIGA and the International Centre for Typographic Arts. In 1988, he was the first ever graphic designer to be awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in recognition of his professional and artistic integrity and humanism, of his considerable contribution to Canada’s prestige in the field of graphic design, and of his drive and energy in bringing its achievements to international attention.
— article by Michael Maynard from GDC Journal 1, 1993

Ernst Roch passed away on February 21, 2003. With his passing, Canada, and our profession in general, loses one its finest graphic designers. 
— from a tribute by Rolf Harder in