BC

Don't blame Harper for the 150yr debacle… being caught in a fifty year loop is our own doing.

The Canada 150 Logo Design Contest is now closed. While the government rallied Canadians 18 years and older to “show their creativity,” designers across the country implored the government to consider a more formalized and professional design process for Canada's sesquicentennial celebration identity.

Many of these same individuals continue to speak out against the seemingly never ending battle to put an end to spec sourced design solutions. It is a process that exploits the efforts of many and rewards only one. It is a process that assumes a myriad of varied ideas is better than a few well informed ones. However, it is not a new problem. The design of Canada's 100th anniversary logo also started out as a contest. After a failed exercise and a few fortunate twists of fate, we have Stuart Ash FGDC to thank for the simple, meaningful, and well designed logo that marks Canada’s centennial. Yet 50 years later, the design profession still has to deal with these issues: the lack of credibility and a general lack of recognition of the value and impact that professional well-executed design can deliver.

When it comes right down to it, the responsibility for this unfortunate repeat of events lays neither with the government, nor the enthusiastic students who may want a chance to affect positive change. The culpability falls upon an industry that seems to put little value in professional association, and the advocacy, education and awareness that it facilitates - it falls upon those who fail to join or simply choose not to. Over the past 50 years, designers of all stripes who sit loosely under the banner of Graphic Design have not united for the betterment of their profession. They dismiss or deny that professional association elevates our industry, and the perception of it, for all of us, no matter our proficiency, expertise or specialty of practice. And it rests upon a profession that still has much work to do to establish what we do as a valuable and important vocation that impacts business, culture and society.

As an active member of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC®), having served as Membership Chair in the BC Chapter for 4 years and now as Chair of the National Certification Board, I’ve heard all the reasons not to join. "The dues are too high.” “There are not enough perks.” "Being professionally certified doesn’t tangibly affect my business.” "I don’t need it.” "I’ll join when it’s more relevant” - on and on and on. Yet, there seems to be very little thought given to why designers should join: the power and influence of a collective voice, the recognition of a larger body of professionals, the guidance and advocacy of broadly accepted sustainability, ethics and business practices. Who can best speak for all of us when our government opts for a contest rather than a carefully defined design process that employs a vetted candidate who has the qualifications necessary to tackle such a historic, and defining project? I’d argue it is our professional association(s).

Yet, there seems to be very little thought given to why designers should join: the power and influence of a collective voice, the recognition of a larger body of professionals, the guidance and advocacy of broadly accepted sustainability, ethics and business practices. 

It should also be noted that the cost of uniting and empowering a national association to advocate and educate on our behalf is not high. The GDC, Canada’s national professional association for graphic and communication designers has annual fees that are reasonable for every level of membership (as are those of RGD and SGDQ). For the GDC the cost for students is $60 per year and is applicable until one year following graduation. That's 16¢ per day. If one is a professional member, the cost is $200 per year, or about 55¢ per day - effectively less than half of the first minute of the first billable hour per day. A small price to pay daily to have an organization represent what it is one does, provide standards and resources for one's industry, and act as mediary on contentious issues. If one were to pursue CGD™ Certification annual dues would be an additional $100 - an extra 27¢ per day.

Meanwhile, designers continue to nitpick over their title or job description. "I do interface design, I don’t do print." “I’m a UI/UX designer." "I’m an experiential graphic designer." “Oh, I’m not a graphic designer, I’m a communication designer" — all statements akin to declaring one is not a hockey player, but a goaltender. Whether one identifies as a graphic designer or not, we need to acknowledge that we are all descendants of Graphic Design. This isn’t to say that we should all call ourselves graphic designers, far from it, the profession is too broad and the skillsets too varied; we need the specific distinctions. But it doesn’t matter if one focuses on strategy or craft, print or web, or letters carved out of stone, graphic design is at the root of our ancestry. To varying degrees, it is the broad banner that all our individual definitions evolved from - it is the origin of our species.

But it doesn’t matter if one focuses on strategy or craft, print or web, or letters carved out of stone, graphic design is at the root of our ancestry. To varying degrees, it is the broad banner that all our individual definitions evolved from - it is the origin of our species.

And that doesn’t make us all graphic designers - please note the important distinction here; but, it does make us all designers with a common family tree that should not be ignored or buried in our attempt to more accurately define our specific area of practice. If we got over this navel gazing and these seemingly futile attempts to more precisely define exactly what it is we do, and united our voice under a common banner to elevate our profession to be properly understood and appreciated by business and governments, I can’t help but think that we might not be dealing with these on-going issues in the same way.

It is a strange situation to be in. Within our profession there are agencies and designers with the skillset required to accurately position and define the benefits of a product or service. We have the skillset to carefully craft a strategy to communicate those benefits to a clearly defined target audience. We have the skillset to expertly produce the assets required to articulate our message across any and all media with maximum effectiveness. Yet, we remain fractured, and largely ineffective - unable to leverage our varied skills and incapable of articulating what we do and why, for our collective benefit.

Only a small percentage of the thousands of people who signed the Canada 150 petition are GDC members. The opportunity to create a vibrant, respectable and influential national professional association is entirely our own; it comes down to how much we want or value it.

In the short term, I hope that history continues to repeat itself and our government eventually abandons this ill-advised speculative process and works with an established agency or designer to properly address this historic event. But I also hope that designers of all stripes, ones who fit under the broad banner, will join their professional association(s).

I hope that those who are members will take a more active and vested interest in the activities, opportunities, and mandates of their respective associations to help build a stronger profession.

I hope we can work together from all of our unique perspectives to elevate our profession and move forward our collective and very common goals and interests - from that we would all certainly benefit.