The Canadian Design Resource is an incredibly valuable repository of the best of our country's design industry. Todd Falkowsky, the site's founder, and I worked together for a time in Vancouver — he was my creative director. We butted heads a lot then, but somehow we've become friendly over the years, admiring each other's work. So it was a pleasure to give some long answers to his probing questions. Grab a coffee and find a cozy chair and read about what drives me as an illustrator (if you ever wondered).
Once, when I was just starting out as a freelance illustrator, I worked on a dream project, with a motion picture studio, designing hypothetical books as props for a television series that was in production at the time. Being new to the game, I grossly underquoted. But that wasn't the part I regret.
No, it was the fact that the contract prohibited me from showing the work on my portfolio (unless it was behind a password-secured wall) and from naming the client. The work I produced was decent, but the association of my work and this major Hollywood production would have been invaluable. At the time I was so excited just to work on the project that I said yes and went ahead. It wouldn't be until after the project was done, with an amazing project that I might as well have never worked on. I swore to myself that I would never again work on a project I couldn't show.
This week I had an opportunity to work on another dream project. For the sake of not singling out anyone in particular, let's just say it was for a very nationally significant project, one that would be seen by many Canadians over time, and one that would last well into the future. It would have been my chance to contribute a tiny piece of me to my country.
By my understanding, the client, who routinely produces projects like the one I was invited to work on, has to run a sort of competition as part of its selection process. So in this case, they had an idea and then opened it up to a small selection of designers; they were invited to create concepts, for a reasonable fee, for the client's consideration. The client would then award the job to the designer of their chosen concept. An additional fee, commensurate to the work involved, would of course come with the package.
When I was invited to work on this project, it was as an outsourced illustrator through a design studio. So my relationship to the actual client was as a third party. The studio outlined the project, including their client's offer (fee) and the requirement for a total transfer of copyright. While it is laudable to offer a fee for what is otherwise speculative work, the requirement off the bat for the artist to relinquish all ownership and rights to use the work felt a little strange to me, especially at the pitching stage. It sent me back to that Hollywood project and really made me wonder about my principles — are they worth standing up for?
Obviously, it is clear from how I am writing this story that I turned the job down. Today, a day after I sent over my email rejection, I still wonder whether it was worth it. One time, an agent of mine said, "you've got to be in it to win it.". He said that when I was invited to work on a book pitch, where I would be paid a small fee to work on a few sample illustrations with the promise of more follow up fees if the book gets accepted and published. In this case, there were no copyright restrictions on the pitch work, but the fees were low for the amount of work, and again I felt I was being asked to put more skin in the game than the client. And sure enough, after taking on the job and delivering the files, I never heard from the publisher. Sure, I retained the copyright this time, but I did not win the project, which shows me that, although "you have to be in it to win it", being in it doesn't guarantee you against losing it. So I have a heightened awareness of the risks involved with pitch work, and in the case of my most recent opportunity, a lot of skin in the game to lose.
While I cannot fault the client from needing to protect their process (probably for political reasons), and while I do laud them for paying all whom are invited to pitch, I still have to consider what my own needs are as an independent commercial artist with limited resources. I have to be strategic about the jobs I take on. Most importantly, every project I create is an advertisement for more work. Every job potentially leads to another. Projects that don't turn out well or which I am prohibited from using to demonstrate my abilities lose their longterm value. Sure I get paid, but I can get a day job if I'm only in this for the money. As an artist, I am strongly motivated by the promise that others will see the work. I make work to be seen. Commercial art is worthless if it gets buried. Working on a project that people may not ever see is a morale-drainer, a party pooper.
All this being said, I may have agreed suck it up and play the long game — had it not been for the real deal breaker: I wasn't told, even after asking, what the fees would be for the awarded designer. So what was already a risky offer became simply a gamble. Who knows if I'll win? Who knows how much I'll be paid if I do? Why on earth would I pour my time and creativity into bureaucratic, committee-driven black hole? No thanks. I'm blessed to have other work that pays my bills and into which I can freely pour myself into, without such restrictions on who and how I can show it. And at the end of the day, this is what I became a commercial artist for in the first place. I love to make things, and then I love to show them to people. I know there are people who will disagree with me on this, and such people are free to take on any project under any terms they wish. As for me, I believe I made a grounded, thoughtful decision that I can live with. And that is one value I hold strongest as an independent commercial artist: the ability to choose and not choose jobs based on my principles. We are not free when we feel compelled by outside forces to do things we would rather not do. We are most free when we operate according to our deepest convictions, even when it means sacrificing the best opportunities.
I do not present multiple design options to clients as one might a box of assorted chocolates — a selection of various iterations in the hopes that one of them tickles their fancy. This is not actually design at all but an exercise in trying too hard to please the client without regard to intelligent problem solving. I call it the machine gun approach. Shoot at a target with enough bullets and you will eventually hit the target. But it does not mean you're a skilled marksman.
In the design process, the machine gun approach is both damaging and distracting. It damages your authority as the design expert and distracts from the purpose of the design exercise, which is for you to learn as much about the problem you need to solve — and then to intelligently solve it.
The commercial artist must be able to distinguish between failure to provide a good solution from failure to convince the client of having done so.
Providing fewer options is not an act of arrogance, it is the mark of a seasoned commercial artist, one who has a vision and a voice and who truly cares about the art. It's not saying "I am the artist and I will only do it my way." It's more like saying, "this is what I have learned about your problem, and this is how I have solved it." If, after a reasonable number of attempts, the design is not satisfactory, it is either because the artist has not learned enough about the problem to adequately solve it, or it is because the client has not learned how the artist works. The artist, if mature and humble, will use each rejected iteration attempt as a means of learning more about the problem. The client too will gain a sharper sense of what they want. Of course, if, at the end of a reasonable amount of revisions the client remains unsatisfied, there may be little they can do. The artist may have failed to solve the problem, or the client may have found themselves unyielding to the artist's approach. They should both move on.
The commercial artist must be able to distinguish between failure to provide a good solution from failure to convince the client of having done so. Some artists are prepared to undergo further iterations, or even resort to the machine gun approach — a runaway train almost certain to be wrecked. Much credit is due to artists and clients patient enough to work through multiple iterations while maintaining a focus on the true problem and continuing to place a high priority on aesthetic excellence.
Fewer options means higher quality options—more time is spent on each. The artist loves them equally and will as gladly pursue the one as they would mourn the death of the other. While a certain level of distance should exist between the artist and their work (nothing should be too precious), a client should certainly not wish for indifference.
Back to the box of chocolates, a client may quite enjoy choosing a chocolate from a readymade assortment, but it will be a momentary satisfaction, with nothing to savour long after the fact. A commercial artist brings their client into the kitchen, and together they discuss what makes the finest chocolates. The client learns about ingredients or cocoa bean origins or whatever (I don't know anything about chocolateries), and the artist learns about the client's tastes. (It may turn out the client likes Belgian truffles when the artist specializes in American candy bars). This discovery process should happen well before options are presented. If all goes well, when options are presented, the client will pay more attention to and more greatly appreciate them. When the final chocolate is perfected and ultimately consumed, the moment of sweetness is eternalized by the client's experience in the process. Their pride of ownership lasts long after the last taste of sweetness in their mouth.
By providing many design options to a client, you may luck out on something they like. Or you may not. Either way, it places too much stock in their arbitrary preferences (and your ability to strike them). Instead, put more effort up front to learn about the client's problem — and make it obvious to the client that this effort is being made. As a result, you will be able to focus your creative energy into fewer, more intelligent options (perhaps two, or three at most) that the client will appreciate more. They will trust you more because you are demonstrating a professional degree of restraint and vision. If, after three or four revisions, the client is not satisfied, understand that there is no single correct solution for a given design problem: you may have adequately solved the problem, but the client for whatever reason does not agree. Collect your kill fee and walk away.
Design is not like a box of chocolates. It's like that one mind-blowingly awesome chocolate you can never forget.
The crap work you offer in exchange for crap fees will ultimately crap on you.
Good, Fast and Cheap. You can have any two, but not all three. Or so the design industry guru types say. It's an old standard, a design industry dogma, that you're going to hear many times before you're done art school or after you've watched a few designer talks.
You can have good and fast, but it won't be cheap.
You can have good and cheap, but it won't be fast.
You can have fast and cheap, but it won't be good.
The logic of the first is that if you pay me enough, I'll do good work and turn it around in short order, prioritizing it above all other projects. I'm able to afford the sudden shift in priorities and the risks this entails because of the higher compensation.
The logic of the second is that if you can wait longer than usual, I'll do good work and not charge you as much for it. I'm able to put the time in for something good at a discount because I'll fit the job in the free time I have between other jobs. I don't have to prioritize it above others, so it's less of a hit to my schedule and cashflow.
The logic of the third is that you can have the work done quickly and affordably, but it won't be of very high quality. Because you're not paying me a lot, but you also need it quickly, I will by necessity rush it and ignore certain details, prioritizing a form of functionality over any nuance or beauty.
I think some call this aphorism the Designer's Holy Triangle. I don't like that name very much, but let's just go with that for now. While I think there is a lot of truth behind this law, it's not actually very helpful in the long run. Yes, for rush jobs I charge more, and for jobs that will be really really good, I estimate that they will take a lot more time and require higher fees in return. But in reality, nobody wants to produce crap work, and if you're anything like me, it's almost impossible to deliberately do something of inferior quality.
One thing I dread is making stuff that I will later regret. It is almost always the case that I regret something about my work after I'm done. But I can at least stand by the fact that I tried my hardest. My work is precious to me, and I care about what happens to it when it goes out into the world. I don't ever want to see something I intentionally made crappy on Pinterest — or any other place — with my name on it.
I believe that making crappy work for any reason will only hurt your image in the long run. You may not show it on your portfolio, but Google might show it in an image search. Whatever happens, that thing you made because you took on a job you actually didn't want will be seen by others, and some will know who did it. And that's something you can't afford in the absence of infinite time and attention.
You may not love everything you've ever created. But you will not grow by creating deliberately crap work due to a budget. The choice is yours — choose to make good things and find other ways of leveraging the compromise. Maybe the client won't pay for a rush job, but perhaps they will give you other benefits. Perhaps they'll include your name in the credits even though they weren't intending on having credits at all. Maybe they'll mention you or blog about you. Who knows — look for a way to sweeten the deal for both of you. But don't make crappy work, not for you nor anybody else. Your time is limited, and so is other's attention. If they see only your crappiest work, or even just one crappy piece, that will speak louder than you might want or expect.
If anything, the "Designer's Holy Triangle" is pretty passive aggressive and reeks of entitlement. I've never heard this good-fast-cheap axiom spoken out of goodwill toward the client. Like people who declare themselves as "taxpayers" in a sentence*, the sentiment often comes with a whiny, holier-than-thou sense of entitlement.
Should you find yourself faced with the choice to do fast and cheap work, you probably don't actually want it. It makes no sense to take on work that will drain your creative energies and steal time from your more profitable jobs. It also makes no sense to have to explain to your client that you're going to do a crap job for them because of their crap budget. If in fact you do want to take on a champagne job on a beer budget, you probably see it as a good opportunity and a worthwhile sacrifice of your blood, sweat and tears. In such a case, playing by the good-fast-cheap rule would be self-sabotage.
Granted, there may be varying degrees of good in your service and product. There may be some features that come at a premium. But your name goes on every thing you produce, and you want to be sure that all are worthy of your logo — your seal of approval. When you go to buy a car, you don't expect to get a Lexus at a Toyota price, but you know both are good quality products with favourable reputations. A client may not be getting the Lexus version of your work, but the "Toyota" they drive off the lot will still be a vehicle of your reputation and brand. You should always be able to stand behind your product. You and your clients should be able to confidently declare that you do not make crap work. Because not good is not an option.
Every now and then, I entertain the possibility of employment, especially when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of hours I put in as a freelancer. I imagine myself showing up to an agency, clocking in, working more or less normal work hours (which I do try to keep as a freelancer also), and getting paid. But it struck me that what I like about working on creative projects is the collaboration, working with others on cool projects. What I don't like is being dependent on those same people for my living. I will work with and for many people, but I will not be anybody's employee.
There are a lot of us out there — people who are freelancers not only because they want to work for themselves, but also because they actually couldn't hold a so called real job even if they wanted to. There's something in us that, for whatever reason, can't function within a salaried position. For some, it's the freedom to call the shots. For others, it's about the infinite opportunities afforded to those not bound to a single employer with their own bottom line to mind. Personally, I couldn't even hold a retainer contract or sell my time. When people ask me what my day rate is, I cringe a little bit, because I can't just block out a workday to a single employer. I don't work "by the hour". I have bursts of focus but also lots of moments where I need to switch gears and do so called non-billable tasks (like write a blog post).
I do not mean at all to disparage or belittle those who are employees and employers. I do not mean to disparage freelancers who do take on retainers or sell their time by the hour or day. We are all trying to make a living, and we all have our own priorities that make certain situations more advantageous and desirable. But for me, I prefer a relationship to my clients and other business partners that feels less dependent, more collaborative and equal in a sense. I feel stronger and more empowered to make intuitive, non-fear-based decisions when I am working businessperson-to-businessperson. Put me under the roof of an employer, and you just might see me acting like someone who's moved back to his parent's place but still wants to run the house.
My brand new Skillshare class just went live. If you've ever wanted a more hand crafted and personal feeling to your illustrations, this class will be perfect for you. It's also a great way to get an insider's look at my process. For those who are not on Skillshare, you may enrol using this link and gain free premium access!
Here's a description of the class from the site:
Only real, physical media gives us those imperfections we love so much — bleeding ink, wobbly lines, grainy textures — but how to bring them into our digital illustrations? If you've ever wanted to have a more hand-crafted, personal illustration style, this class will be perfect for you. Illustrator Tom Froese is known for his whimsical, energetic illustrations that combine digital techniqiues with physical textures, linework and hand lettering. Join him as he shows you how to illustrate a postcard featuring your favourite tools of the trade — those things you love to use every day to get your job or hobby done.
Tom will walk you through the entire process, from brainstorming to final artwork. Along the way, you’ll pick up some very handy skills in sampling physical marks and textures digitally using a scanner and Photoshop, and of course, have an insider’s look at his personal process. By the end of this class, you'll have a postcard, which you illustrated, to promote your business or hobby.
Every year UnderConsideration announces their next Brand New Conference, I think to myself that I should probably go. And then I procrastinate, and then the tickets sell out. Not this year. No, the minute I saw it was announced on Twitter, I registered, bought my flight, and shortly thereafter, booked my Airbnb. It didn't hurt that this year's conference was in NYC, an incredible city I've had the privilege of studying and illustrating in various projects in the past year.
Although I had no reservations about signing up, I did have a moment afterward where I wondered if I was going to the right conference. After all, this was a branding conference, and I am steadily moving toward doing illustration work exclusively. But there were a three main reasons I knew the conference would be worthwhile for me.
First, I am a designer by training, and a designer at heart. Even the way I approach illustration is influenced by my design process. It's good to keep this fuel burning, to keep abreast of trends in the industry, and to glean insights and inspiration from the industry leaders.
Second, it is designers and art directors who hire me. What better way to rub shoulders with my next clients and scout out studios with whom I'd love to work? When I go to my next conference (which will obviously be ICON9 in Austin), I'll be meeting tons of my own ilk, which will be totally inspiring but probably not very fruitful in getting new work. I know of few illustrators that hire other illustrators!
Third, New York! In the past year, I have illustrated a children's sticker book called Stickyscapes: New York; I designed and illustrated an Herb Lester guide called Party of One: New York, and I had a full spread of a fantastical "Chelsea Mile" in Elephant Magazine. On top of this, pretty much on my way out the door to the airport, another client request came in from an upcoming restaurant in Manhattan. How a lone weirdo who works on a carrot field in the Fraser Valley ever became Mr. New York is somewhat a mystery to me.
Highlights of the conference? Glad you asked. My favourite speakers were those who had more making-oriented presentations (as opposed to strategy or straight-up branding themes). Top of my list was Ty Mattson of Mattson Creative, a self-proclaimed commercial artist, a job description that I myself have embraced. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the after party, and it was refreshing to hear from a respected industry leader that commercial art is an under-valued term. It might have been my utter lack of sleep (the result of jet lag and very late nights), but Mattson almost had me in tears as he exhorted the crowd to stay in touch with our childhood selves. He illustrated his point with a scene from the film Amélie, where she returns to an old man a lost treasure from his childhood. It takes him back to a sweeter time and brings him to tears. I'll be porting some of my long-forgotten time machines to my studio for more frequent trips to my distant past.
Other speaker highlights were Paula Scher (a perennial favourite of mine), Emily Oberman (who seems to have a bottomless supply of hard work ethic, not to mention a star studded client list), and the legendary design trio Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, two thirds of whom proved to me you can still be practicing and relevant well into your golden years.
Now one thing I really enjoyed were the moments between the presentations, both at the conference and offsite. The presentations were of course the main attraction, but I enjoyed and benefitted greatly from being able to hobnob with fellow creatives and leaders in the field who happened to be in attendance. An interesting phenomenon of this digital age is that we make friends we never expect to meet in person. A top quality conference like Brand New attracts some of the finest, most talented people in the business, including many I have befriended and followed online. If anything, it was nice to have lots to talk about right off the bat, without too much of an intro needed. It was nice to also be recognized by others who know me from their social media rosters. It warmed my heart, for instance, to be greeted by fellow Canadian Steve St. Pierre almost the second I arrived on the scene at registration. There were many others I enjoyed meeting, of course, too many to mention in fact! Oh, and it was also particularly awesome to hand-deliver some of my letterpress printed goods to the man behind Studio on Fire and the Beast Pieces blog, Ben Levitz.
So what business does an illustrator have at a design and branding conference? Evidently, all kinds. Thanks to Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit for putting on such an amazing and well-attended event. Brand New proves that conferences can be way more than sponsored snoozefests with dorky lanyards, corporate swag, and free coffee.
Sometimes I work on great projects that don't materialize. However, just because the design wasn't used, it doesn't mean it wasn't good. I'm not saying this is the best thing ever, but I did have a lot of fun working on it. If anything, it illustrates how I go about presenting design work to clients. It's a much more involved process than illustration, with a heavier communication payload up front.
The good folks at Goodforks recently asked me to help them put together a design concept for their client, Six Foods. Six Foods was preparing to launch their latest entomophagic product, Chirps — chips made with cricket flour.
Although personally disgusted by the idea of eating bugs, I thought it was a very cool design challenge, since it is such a subversive food concept, and probably a pioneer in what will become the norm as we clue into the utter wastefulness of our carnivorous diet.
My concept, which was based on the assumption that there was no way around the gag factor of eating bugs for most consumers, was decidedly brash and unapologetic about the product's ingredients.
When pitching my concept, I opened with the above set of images — to demonstrate a Western attitude toward eating bugs. Most images of people eating bugs looked like it was part of dare. You'd have to dare me, that's for sure!
A lot of my own assumptions in this project were based on some great brand strategy research put together by FutureFuture. I was able to put forth this risky concept pretty confidently because the target demographic, their attitudes, and so forth were very thoroughly designed. It was all hypothetical, of course, but design is always hypothetical until it's not. So I came up with three key ideas about this brand that were pivotal in my design thinking, which I presented to the client:
Eating bugs really is disgusting.
Let’s be honest—for most of us, eating bugs is a hard sell. The packaging should appeal to that small set of the population who are predisposed to try something new and who care enough about the planet to put their money where their mouth is.
Instead of saying things to the effect of don’t knock it ‘til you try it, or bugs taste great—we swear which take a defensive stance, cut to the chase by putting the higher purpose forward: “Eating bugs will save the planet.”
Chirps is a platform for social change.
In the same way that The Body Shop stands for No Animal Testing and Benetton spreads the message of diversity and tolerance (both through consumerism), Chirps can become the megaphone for global and social change through mainstream entomophagy.
Taking these key ideas, I summarized the concept with a title (Culture Jammer) and a synopsis statement, followed by a moodboard. I put together the moodboard prior to sketching up design concepts. Doing this helped the client see, through existing examples, the gestalt I was trying to tap into. It also helped give me a reference point when creating, to keep me on track.
I'm probably an over-explainer and risk overwhelming my client, but I do so with the conviction that context is everything. Before showing the work, I needed to communicate to the client that I understood the design problem and that my approach was based on such an understanding rather than whim and raw instinct. (Indeed, had I gone on a whim, the design might have looked more like my illustration work, which is not so much designed as it is conjured.) The hope is to surprise the client with the concept, but not to catch them off guard.
First I showed the logo, and then the logo in a mocked up package. To be honest, I think it would have been really hard to pull off this presentation without a good, realistic mockup. It removes all question of how the flat design would translate to 3D surface. To create these bags was embarrassingly easy. I picked up a script from PSD Covers that built the mockups from my flat files. All I had to do was run the sccript!
So what happened? The client said they loved the concept. They were extremely enthusiastic about it, but it was ultimately killed in favour of a more cheerful and accessible one. I can totally understand why they would choose it over this one. To be honest, I would have been surprised if they went with this concept.
There's been an uproar in the Canadian design scene lately. The government of Canada is holding a logo competition, inviting post secondary students across Canada, especially those studying graphic design, to submit logo concepts for Canada's 150th birthday. The winning logo would be selected by a committee (or "jury") of individuals from a range of positions in the arts, social and public service sectors. Incidentally, none of these individuals are designers. While the winner of the competition would receive $5000 for their entry, the other contestants would have nothing in return for their efforts. This is what we call "spec work", and it is, at least in the design world, a major faux pas. Organizations that procure spec work are frowned upon, and designers, and especially design students, are strongly discouraged from taking on any such work.
Organizations and individuals, particularly the GDC (Graphic Designers of Canada), the RGD (Registered Graphic Designers) and blogs such as The Canadian Design Resource are up in arms about the competition. The GDC in particular has gone so far as creating a microsite with an online petition form that gets sent straight to Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who is responsible for the competition. The words "unfair" and "exploitative" have cropped up on Twitter so far, and these pretty much sum up the typical view of spec work by the design community. "Let's save vulnerable designers from this kind of unfair exploitation." Or so.
I don't disagree that spec work can be unfair and exploitative. And I am glad that there are people and organizations out there watching our backs (as designers) and helping to raise the bar for our profession. I'm not a member of any of these industry organizations, but I directly benefit from their efforts, and for that I am grateful. But here comes the "but". I'm afraid the real and most evil problem with this competition has been completely overlooked. Yes, the government should not be devaluing the intellectual property of so many who might enter the competition. And they should not expect to receive a potentially valuable service for free. But the most disconcerting thing about such a competition is in the complete ignorance by the Ministry in question about the design process altogether.
“The real problem in any design project is political.”
As any professional designer can tell you, where it comes to branding projects, we spend most of our time educating. Educating ourselves (or being educated) of the client's needs. Educating ourselves of the design problem. Educating the client about the design process. Educating the client about how we intend on approaching their design problem. Being educated on why our first concepts completely miss the mark. And so going back and re-educating ourselves of the root design problem and so on. We might also say we spend most of our time persuading or being persuaded. There is no such thing as a client who says "you solve our problem and we will pay you", as only Paul Rand could have ever expected or enjoyed. We are constantly in a dialogue of back and forth persuasion. "Please look at it this way." Even more importantly, all of this requires a relationship. How can we learn about each other, persuade each other, unless we know each other, trust each other?
Instead, there are a thousand anonymous submissions and an isolated group of individuals who are judging the work solely by what they see, and of course, through their own particular set of preferences and sensibilities—and let's not forget—their own political needs to please their superiors. And let's not forget, it goes both ways. Isolated design contestants don't have the opportunity to see the real design problem from the client's point of view.
The real design problem in any design project is political. The client is not always the client — sometimes, it is the client's boss, or their husband, or their ego. And the design problem is not always "design a website that will help change a behaviour" or "create an identity for a national birthday celebration." Sometimes it is (to be crass) "help a group of people look like they've been busy." How could anyone designing from their dorm room, thousands of kilometres away, without a phone call or even an email briefing, have any sense of this landscape? How would they even begin to know how to fine-tune the conversation around these needs? The design process is mostly relational. The better the relationship between designer and client, the more likely both will be satisfied with the end result, and the more likely the designed thing itself will be successful. And to reiterate, there is very little relationship in a logo design competition.
Finally, let me touch a bit on design for government. Anyone who's tried to design for any level of government has surely encountered the frustrating landscape of bureaucracy.* There is no logic — only committees, only "nice" ideas, only the mandate for "inclusiveness" and "diversity", only vague, abstract "objectives". Lots of meetings. Deep pockets. Free lunches. Cross-country flights. Spending quotas. Timelines that drag on. In my experience, even the most seasoned and fully-equipped agencies struggle to produce good work for government clients. One only has to look back in recent history to see that, as a rule, government does not champion nor produce good design.
Take for example the recent rebrand for the Royal Canadian Mint. Or the rebrand for the Government of Saskatchewan. Or these botched predecessors of the very Canada 150 logo in discussion here. I'm afraid that Canada has a poor track record of logo design — unless you go back before the desktop publishing revolution. Which is a whole other blog post.
My point here is this: if even professional design agencies, who are being paid lots of dollars, with all their resources and prowess (who through no fault of their own) have trouble producing satisfactory work for government clients, what chances do the scattered, independent, resourceless, and anonymous student designers have?
In sum, I do want to thank those in the design community who have spoken out about this most recent transgression by the Ministry of Heritage vis a vis the Honourable Shelly Glover. In fact, as of this morning, it appears the Canada 150 logo competition web site has been taken offline. So good work everyone. But I do want all those who see this only as a chance to decry the woes of spec work to consider this: how can we bring a higher awareness to government (particularly) about the value of the designer-client relationship? If we come across as witch hunters, Internet trolls, haters, complainers, a mob of angry design snobs, we may be feared, but we will not be revered. We are listeners. We are researchers. We are guides. And yes, we are artists. But I fear that to some, we are only artists. Somehow the value of the service of design needs to come through. People are getting it more today than ever before, but we still have a lot of work to do.
*It should be noted that I have actually worked with some government organizations to produce some wonderful results. But these have usually been special projects or very particular situations — usually retail oriented — where there are professional marketers involved. In any case, these are rare in my experience.
Wow. Just read about the Road to 2017 Logo Competition. I know I graduated almost 6 years ago, but technically I qualify because I still consider myself a post-secondary student since I never stop learning!
So I couldn't even wait to make my submissions. The ideas just came to me right away, in a hot flash of creative energy. I really hope you guys like it. Please read the rationales below each concept, as I really think they help bring context to my design decisions.
So above is Concept 1. I've incorporated the two red rectangles from our flag, and then substituted the leaf with the number 150, to show how 150 years can symbolize the many provinces and territories that form our nation, just like the points on the maple leaf do. (My first idea was to have a 150-point maple leaf, but it was hard to get the sense of realism at the same time as making the 150 number come through.) Finally, I wanted to have an overall cohesiveness to the logo, so I extended the first numeral, the one, up and made a subtle tweak to make it both a '1' and a 'C'. I think this serendipitously also symbolizes how different "figures" in our country can work together toward innovative solutions.
The next concept, Concept 2 (above), takes the same concept but tries to work everything into a more compact logo/mark, by placing the word Canada inside the zero. I also added a photo of people's hands grabbing onto others' wrists that really speaks both to diversity and unity that makes up the fabric of our country. I think this one would appeal more to younger people because it clearly shows youthfulness in some of the hands.
Finally, above, is Concept 3. Now, I don't often tell my clients which concept is my favourite (since that could cloud their judgment), but I can't resist. This one really encapsulates the spirit of Canada and the inspires celebration. Lots of dynamic things going on here. I added Happy Birthday to the mix, plus set CANADA in a more human feeling, organic font. The colours more subtly (or without the aid of images) play on the diversity aspect. The 150 is made more grand through vertical emphasis. I thought it would be cool to add a slogan as well ("AND BEYOND") that ushered in the next 150 years quite succinctly. It's optimistic.
Well, I hope you like my concepts. I will be submitting them soon, maybe after a few tweaks in Photoshop! For anyone who doesn't know, the jury for this competition includes these individuals with high standing in the Canadian design community. I'm excited about this highly qualified panel of judges, which includes a seniors care advocate and the Private Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, which will be evaluating my design concepts, even if I don't win — it will be great exposure.
Thanks for reading, and good luck to all contestants!