Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Michael Large, "A Flag For Canada"

Michael Large, "A Flag For Canada" In Made in Canada: Craft and Design in the Sixties. (Montreal, Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005) 40-50.

Michael Large's paper “A Flag For Canada” examines the development of some of Canada's most recognizable federal images in the 1960s and the inspiration for the adoption of such designs. Beginning with the design competition to replace the Red Ensign and the adoption of the new flag in 1965, Large discusses how the decision to replace the flag, as well as the choice of the final design, were made in reaction to the cultural and political circumstances of the early to mid 1960s. With increasing calls from Quebec nationalists for more of a voice in not just the affairs of Quebec, but also of Ottawa, as well as a recognition of the growing number of Canadians who were not of French or English descent, the Pearson government wanted to replace the main symbol of the country with something which was not so obviously British in origin and which could be embraced by all Canadians. As Large explains, the implementation of the flag design was only the most noticeable, and likely the most enduring, part of a systematic use of new, often modernist, symbols to represent the Canadian nation. Indeed “more change of a symbolic nature occurred in a few years [in the 1960s and 1970s] then in the whole of Canadian history.” (page 40) The flag represented one step in a review and refashioning of the country’s entire communications structure so as to allow the government to meet the demands of the era.

In addition to the period being one of tensions between French and English Canada, the 1960s and early 1970s was also a period of growing recognition of Canada’s other ethnic groups, a time of social and cultural revolution and experimentation, as well as a period, especially for the baby boom generation, of a rejection of traditional views and ideals. These were also the young new consumers who recognized the importance of individual style which could set themselves, and the products they consumed, apart. In addition, it was also a period when there existed widespread optimism about the economy and the promised innovations of technology. Thus, it is not surprising that many Canadians were receptive to proposed modern changes to the ways in which their country and their government were represented to Canadians and to the world.

That the flag and many of the other government designs of the 1960s were modernist in style is not accidental since, as Large notes, “[t]he start of the [1960s] marked the high tide of the international style, the postwar vision of modernism that believed in rational design solutions and the perfection of form and systems.” (page 41) The international style, which was becoming highly influential in the corporate world, would also come to greatly affect Canadian government iconographic design with the immigration to Canada of European modernist designers Rolf Harder and Ernst Roch, as well as some Canadians who had worked in the field abroad, such as Paul Arthur, who had worked at Graphis magazine in Switzerland. Arthur became the managing editor of the Canadian journal Canadian Art and was responsible for new modernist signage employed at Canada’s federally run airports, as well as for the graphics used for Expo 67. Furthermore, graphics had been central to ideas and movements in Canadian visual culture earlier in the century, beginning with the Group of Seven, who had been originally trained as advertising artists. The country also had several design firms which already had experience creating new, modern corporate designs for some of Canada’s largest companies. Designers such as those at Toronto’s Stewart and Morrison or Allan Fleming, who had designed the new logo for Canadian National Railways, had shown that they could create recognizable, influential, and memorable logos and signage systems.

Recognizing the popularity, attractiveness, and the alleged psychological power of the modernist a design philosophy, the federal government wanted to capitalize on the implied rationalism and order of modernism by incorporating it into federal iconography. Such implied characteristics or rationalism, order, and efficiency appealed to many Canadians who were concerned or confused about what Canada was and whether their government understood them, their interests, and what they wanted their country to be. The imagery chosen by the federal government thus not only imposed ideas of the nation and the government, but it also gave the impression to the Canadian public that the federal government was reacting to the participatory, popular culture of the era.
In the case of the flag, the process of its design and selection reflected both the modernist principles of rationality and precision, as well as the 1960s public demand for input and participation in how its government was run. The participatory aspect was seen in the fact that the flag design was chosen from a public design competition, about which there was much public debate. Rational principles were reflected in the systemized and centralized nature of selection and process and then the meticulous and systematic deployment of chosen symbol throughout the government, resulting in a complete and controlled revision of the country’s identity.
The official competition was preceded by a competition run by the magazines Canadian Art and Perspectives/Weekend Magazine in 1963. The call for a new flag, which had been made numerous times by others since the Second World War, generated 789 entries, many of which were submitted by some of Canada’s most prominent graphic designers, with the majority of such entries being modernist in style. These submissions included submissions by Allan Fleming, Ernst Roch, Rolf Harder, and the typographic designer Carl Dair. The entries were judged by Dr Geoffrey C. Andrew, executive director, Canadian Universities Foundation, Ottawa; Ted Bethune, creative director, Cockfield, Brown Ltd, Vancouver; and Guy Viau, critic and vice-president of the Arts Council of Quebec, Montreal. The finalists were reproduced in the September/October edition of Canadian Art in an article titled "In Search of Meaningful Canadian Symbols." In the text of the article, the judges explained that they had looked for designs which reflected the changing nature of a modern, evolving, bilingual Canada of many cultures and French and English origins.
The official selection of the new flag design was conducted by an all-party committee of the federal parliament, following tempered and passionate debates in the House of Commons over various designs, containing different ethno-cultural, regional, and historic symbols and colours. The designs had been submitted by thousands of armature and professional designers from across the country.

Large claims that the submissions can be divided into three general groups. 1) Traditional: which includes symbols and colours which made reference to Canada’s English and French heritage. These often consisted of designs that included versions of the Union Jack and fleurs-de-lys. 2) Representational: Which consisted of designs that included distinctly Canadian, often natural, images, such as beavers and maple leaves. 3) Abstract: Which included designs consisting of shapes and lines, such as circles, stripes, and stars. The committee, judging the designs, reduced the thousands of submissions down to fifteen finalists, five from each of the categories of three-leaf designs, single-leaf designs, and designs which included references to Britain and France. After another six weeks of debate, the committees chose one finalist from each of the three categories. The first was the heraldic three red maple three leaf from the Canadian shield bordered by two blue stripes (the Prime Minister’s favourite). The second was the single stylized thirteen-point maple leaf bordered by two red stripes, while the last was the same as the second, but it also included a Union Jack. The winning flag, designed by George Stanley, dean of arts at the Royal Military College, was redrawn by the federal designer Jacques Saint-Cyr to have eleven points and was formally approved by the Prime Minister on 9 November 1964. It was then proclaimed by parliament on 28 January 1965 after protracted protest by John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative opposition.

Large claims that the flag represented the core elements of any corporate identity program. Its reference to a traditional, natural Canadian symbol showed continuity with the past. The removal of the Union Jack from the national flag spoke to the country’s distinctiveness. The flag was a highly recognizable symbol, and its dissemination across the country and its reproduction were carefully controlled. The red used for the flag had to be a of a specific shade, the government ensured that its flags were produced on the most advanced and appropriate material, and the Canadian Specifications Board issued detailed guidelines on how the flag, and the highly stylized maple leaf, should be drawn or printed.

The adoption of the new flag, and its protection in law, was followed in the late 1960s by the introduction of other significant federal design changes. These included the adoption of the modernist typeface, Helvetica, as the font to be used for most federal government communications, including written documents and signage. The government also hired the McLaren Advertising agency of Toronto in 1969 to create a new "Canada" wordmark for the Canadian Government Travel Bureau. The wordmark was soon adopted as the official textual representation of the federal government. Furthermore, with the adoption of the Official Languages act in 1969, the government also launched a task force that was charged with examining how information was provided to citizens by the federal government. The result of the task force’s work included the creation of Information Canada in 1970 as the federal body which as responsible for overseeing, and ensuring the quality, control, and standardization of all of the government’s communications with Canadians. As such, Information Canada was also responsible for the implantation and enforcement of a new Federal Identity Program, one of the world’s largest government identity programs which set guidelines and regulated all naming of government entities, the design and use of signage, and the government’s use of specific symbols, including the flag.  
As Large explains, Information Canada had been created out of recommendations set out in a report of the federal taskforce of 1969 entitled "To Know and Be Known." The agency and its Identity Program were to have the federal government follow the trend of large businesses and have Ottawa be symbolically visible to Canadians. Large explains that the Federal Identity Program was to, “to promote recognition of, and access to, government services, to project both official languages equally, to improve efficiency and savings in government communications, and to exploit design as a management tool.” (page 49) Design was thus used to portray an image of Ottawa as, and have Canadians believe Ottawa to be, a modern, efficient, powerful, centralized government which treated all of its citizens equally. This use of design has also been consistently employed for over forty years. Although Information Canada was disbanded, control of the Federal Identity Program passed to the Canadian Secretariat and has made use of many of the same designs, only undergoing minor modifications during the 1980s. Large suggests that proof of the effectiveness of the identity program can be seen in the enthusiasm with which Canadians have adopted the 1965 flag, as well as the various provincial government which, having the same goals of recognition and image control, have followed Ottawa’s lead by adopting their own identity programs.

Parks Canada logo and signage references

Design: Roderick Huggins – derived from Federal Identity Program
Client: Parks Canada – Government of Canada
Date: 1970′s


Designer(s): Stewart and Morrison Ltd. and Jaques Guillon Designers Inc.
Client: Parks Canada, under the direction of Environmental Services Division, Engineering and Architecture Branch, Dept of Northern and Indian Affairs (originally)
Date: 1975


Beatrice Warde, "The Crystal Goblet," 1955.

In “The Crystal Goblet,” a 1955 speech to the British Typographers Guild, the typographic scholar Beatrice Warde begins by comparing the use of different kinds of wine glasses to the use of different typefaces. The contents of wine glasses is, of course, wine, whereas the content of type is linguistic messages. In her metaphor, Warde states that the connoisseur of wine we choose a clear glass which does not misconstrue the color or visual quality of the wine, unlike an expensive golden chalice which, while very impressive looking, almost demands as much or more attention of the consumer than its contents. Her point is to argue that the crystal wine glass plays a similar role to well-chosen type. For Warde, the real purpose of typography is to allow the reader to take in the written message without being distracted by the medium through which it is transmitted.   She argues that fancy typefaces, while in some cases possibly adding to the written message, are often distracting. Although carefully designed, a poorly chosen typeface can cause the reader to spend time trying to decipher the text, taking away from its desired effect. Furthermore, poorly chosen typefaces can also cause the reader to misread, or worry about misreading, the text. Instead, Warde argues that typeface designers should make a concerted effort to design type which is completely innocuous and inoffensive, allowing the reader to focus upon the message provided by the text rather than upon the medium through which the message is to be transmitted. 

Warde claims that her approach to typography, which she argues is the basis of all good typography, is modernist in the sense that it first asks what the type should do rather than how it should look. The purpose of printing for Warde is to transmit ideas from one person to another via text. For her, if one does not begin with this assumed purpose, one may focus too much upon things other than clarity of communication. And while the result may be visually pleasing, it may not get the message across efficiently. Furthermore, Warde warns about the difference between legibility and readability. While it may be shown that some fonts are more legible than others, some are much more pleasing to read, and thus, will not distract the reader with their design. Using the example of Bold Sans, Warde claims that it has been found to be much more legible than, say, Baskerville. However many find the later typeface more pleasing and less distracting to read than Bold Sans.

Clive Dilnot, "The State of Design History: Parts I and II"

Clive Dilnot, "The State of Design History, Part I: Mapping the Field," ""The State of Design History, Part II: Problems and Possibilities" In Design Discourse: History, Theory, Criticism. Ed. Victor Margolin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Clive Dilnot begins his essay "The State of Design History, Part I" by arguing that any discussion of the present and future roles of design cannot be conducted without reference to and knowledge of the history of design. All designs are influenced by what came before. They may be attempting to incorporate elements of earlier styles of design or reacting against certain forms, while also being influenced by other social, economic, political, or physical phenomena around them. The role of the design historian is thus to explain how different kinds of design both developed and were used. His/her job is not to try and explain away the past by collapsing different designers and their styles into large sweeping movements, but to explain the complicated developments in design. Through maintaining these differences, the design historian will also maintain a differentiation between design the practice and the designs, or the concrete results, which are produced by the practice. When the details of design (the practice) is separated from the designed product, as occurs when one creates large categories, which include many different examples of designed phenomena, the activity and particularity of the act of design are lost. Indeed, Dilnot claims that the field of design as a whole can only be understood is one explains, and makes credible, the particularities of the different varieties of design. Otherwise designers could simply be misconstrued as simply being individuals who "imbue products with added desirability." (page 214)

Dilnot also suggests that the field of design history, while an emerging area of study which has and is gaining recognition in a number of countries, does overlap with other preexisting historical fields. These include art history, the history of technology, and the histories of business and the economy. He suggests that the best means of assessing and identifying any significant differences and similarities is to survey the work which has been done in the field of design history. Similarly, an overview of the work done in the field can help to explain why the field has taken so long to develop in comparison to other historical areas of study. Dilnot partially explains this lack of concentration upon the study of design as being a result of the particularly North American popular belief that cultural and physical objects and images are separate. Thus, discouraged from being self-reflexive design, like technology, has been slow to pursue any philosophical analysis of itself. In addition, lacking professional organizations and the belief that it was indeed a field which was separate from manufacturing, design had until recent decades been seen as having little value when compared to other aspects of the production of goods.

Writing from a British perspective, Dilnot claims that before the Second World War there were, apart from architecture, only a few topics of study being pursued by historians which could be included as part of the history of design. One was the history of the decorative arts, consisting largely of the study of the monumental decoration and architecture of great houses. Another was the emphasis placed upon design by Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1936 Pioneers of Modern Design, in which Pevsner argued that the forms furthered by design, the creation of which are rooted in history, have an effect upon society. History also showed, for Pevsner, how society relates and related to the field and products of design. In addition, developments in the printing movement and typeface design during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw an international typographic movement develop by the 1920s, as well as great interest within the movement for the history of typography. However, Dilnot also notes that, as in the other cases of early design history, the history of typography was largely pursued by those involved in the field of design, and was typically conducted in order to answer particular problems posed by designers or to justify or explain unique developments within the field. Prior to the 1960s it was not studied as a field for its own sake. Rather, once problems of the field had been answered through the help of historical research, interest in that research tended to fade. This, according to Dilnot, prompts the question of: "What is implied by the current simultaneous rise of a need for history on all design fronts?" (page 218), a question which he believes can be answered by examining the apparent absence of any significant interest in the history of design between the mid-late 1930s and the 1960s.

In the case of graphic design, Dilnot argues that history seems to have been irrelevant to many in a field which was attempting to escape the historical limitations of the arts and crafts movement and roots in commercial art. These historical influences were seen as a threat which would hamper the development of new styles, particularly modernist design which had already overtaken other areas of design, such as architecture, and thus, did not require historical justifications in order to be adopted. Furthermore, the field of design was not only highly anti-intellectual in attitude during this period, but it was seen as a sub-division of the fine arts, the history of which was already studied by the field of art history. However, interest in the history of design can be understood, according to Dilnot, as being a result of the popular impact of design during the 1950s and 1960s.

With the development of an affluent post-war economy in which image affected sales, the widespread use of design by institutions to express brand standards, the growth in the number of schools teaching courses in design, and the growth of the Western youth popular culture, design was suddenly central to the products and institutions of everyday life to an extent which they never were in the 1930s and 1940s. Advertising and design was now being used not simply to sell people products, but to sell them products which they associated with particular ideas and lifestyles to an extent which had not been seen prior to mid-century. With this recognition of design and its importance, new interest was also created in the history of design in earlier periods, particularly Victorian and Edwardian popular and technical design. Indeed, 1960 saw the republication of Pevsner's Pioneers of Modern Design and the release of Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, which focused upon the history of the modernist design movement and its origins. However, these books were still heavily focused upon architecture, fine art, and what constituted good design, while describing the profession in terms of the "great men" of design. Yet, recognition, particularly from the design education field, that the history of design was not simply the story of the development of modernism, and that the history of design should go far beyond the history of architecture and fine art, led to the emergence of a new design history by the late 1960s ad early 1970s.

Given the lack of a tradition of design history, Dilnot claims that it is difficult, if not impossible, to offer a comprehensive survey of the field. Practitioners do not focus upon core subjects and do not base their knowledge upon an agreed upon cannon of texts. Rather, he claims that the best that can be said is that the field shares four principles and three absences. The principles are that:

- Design history is the study o f the history of professional design activity.
- It is not the activity itself that forms the first layer of attention of historians, but the results of that activity: designed objects and images. (This emphasis is justified on a number of esthetic and archeological grounds, as well as on the premise that design is a practical activity that results in a new thing or image.)
- An equally natural orientation was added to design in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- Design history emphasizes individual designers. Explicitly or implicitly, they are the focus of the majority of design history written and taught today." (page 221)

Dilnot’s three absences are that:

- There is little explicit consideration of aims, methods, or roles of design history in relation to its actual or potential audiences.
- There is little consideration of design history's origins, except in an educational and institutional sense.
- There is a general lack of historical, methodological, or critical self-reflection. Whereas self-reflection might at the very least engender clear statements of position or clarification of aims, the ad hoc nature of most design history means that it is very difficult to define social, theoretical, or methodological presuppositions. This is not to say they do not exist. (page 221)

Dilnot also claims that, as of the late 1980s, when he wrote his paper, one could point to at least four different areas of concentration in the field of design history. These include:

1) The study of the decorative and minor arts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
2) A focus upon modernism, its practitioners, its origins, and movements away from it by the 1970s and 1980s. In particular, Dilnot focuses upon the work of Tim Benton and the Open University's Art History Department for developing comprehensive courses since the early 1970s which focus upon relationships between the history of modernist architecture, seen from a very broad perspective, modernism, and other areas of design. Furthermore, Dilnot claims that the focus upon modern design has also led to new definitions of Modernism. He writes that, according to Pevsner, to be modern was to be aware of design's social role and to attempt to progress design towards a rational universalism. Thus, one was modern if one was aware that one was striving towards an ideal of design. However, for those studying American modernist design, such as Penny Sparke and Jeffrey Meikle, modernism had more to do with design that reflected the progressive aspects of American capitalism. This modernism manifested itself in the esthetic, theoretical, economic, and technological aspects of design. In contrast, European modernism was more disconnected from the market, which could limit design possibilities.
3) Linked to the American interpretation of modernism, Dilnot claims that many design historians focus upon issues of design organization, that is, how design fits into the production process, the two activities having become separated since the Industrial Revolution divided the production process into a series of separate steps and jobs.
4) The final area of focus is related to the study of design's place in the production process. The study of the social relations of various kinds of design examines how and why designs are executed within and in reaction to political, social, and economic relationships. Focusing upon the cultural aspects of design, Dilnot considers the work which has been done on design and representation by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and the journal Block, as well as the influence of the works of Rolland Barthes upon both, particularly his 1957 book Mythologies. This is of interest to a study of iconography in that the work of Barthes examines how images are never free of meaning, but they, or their elements, always make reference to other ideas or images with which one, or one's culture, is already familiar. This can be seen as akin to an iconographic example of Wittgenstinian language games. Where as Wittgenstein recognized that words gain their meaning based upon context and experience, Barthes argued that the meaning of images, or their elements, are specific to individuals and groups who have specific experience, and thus, are able to participate in a kind of language game of images. As Dilnot notes, the study of the use of sensory signs and sign combinations to express specific ideas (or the study of semiotics) has been influential to various areas of media studies. In the case of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and Block, scholars have moved beyond the analysis of only graphic images to the use of and associations made with the products of material and popular culture. Furthermore, Dilnot argues that analyses of the meaning of elements of design can be seen to include feminist design history, in that "[i]t is precisely the feminist analysis that relates the design of things intimately and concretely to the ways in which objects and images affect us." (page 232)

In the second part of his article, "The State of Design History, Part II: Problems and Possibilities," Dilnot claims that there are four main problems which need to be addressed in the process of creating a field of design history. The first of these is for design historians to agree upon what it is they are studying. In addition to being defined differently by those who examine design from its role in industrial, economic, and cultural events over the past two centuries, the word “design” has various meanings. Design can refer to the act of designing, it can refer to the results of such acts, and it can imply a certain added value. In design history, this range of meanings has led to the production of very different kinds of design histories. This is the same point which John A. Walker makes at the beginning of his book Design History and the History of Design. Dilnot argues that glossing over the differences in the use of the term design may have the effect of confusing people as to what designed objects really are and what designers actually do. The second negative effect will be that history will be removed from design in that, not knowing exactly what design is, people will stop questioning what the activity of design is, why it is done, and what it produces. Rather, the field of design history will be reduced to a cannon of "important" works and designers. "Histories" of design could merely consist of retrospectives of the field and not real explorations of the activity and its products. Such retrospectives would not explore the details of different developments in the field, but would offer an overview of design so as to explain the current state of the field and/or product. Indeed, Dilnot claims that Pevsner's Pioneers of Modern Design was such a retrospective overview. Such overviews of the history of design reduce the subject,

to an unproblematic, self-evident entity (Design) in a form that also reduces its historical specificity and variety to as near zero as possible. This reduction also restructures the history of design to a repetition of designers' careers and to the past as simply anticipating and legitimating the present. In the process, the vast range of designing represented in history, professional and vernacular, industrial and preindustrial, is eclipsed to a single developmental model, and the process and activity of designing is largely sundered from its social roots. (page 237)

The second major problem facing design history is, according to Dilnot, the challenge of defining both the roles of the field and its audiences. While not offering any concrete solutions, Dilnot does raise several questions which must be asked. These include whether design historians would be writing for themselves, for professional designers, or for a general audience. He also questions whether the field should constitute an independent area of study, whether it should just be thought of as a subset of history, or possibly cultural studies, or whether it should be understood as an interdisciplinary field which makes important links between fields such as cultural studies, sociology, history, and anthropology.

This leads to Dilnot's third challenge, that of constructing the discipline by defining its subjects and aims. This includes defining the historical approach by which design historians will interpret the past. As of 1989 there had been little discussion of such historiological issues amongst practitioners in the field.

The final challenge to design history, and that which follows from the other three, is to explain the significance of the field. Why do the issues and events of design history matter to the world? What can the field reveal about design and does it matter? Dilnot claims that the value of the field will be determined by the "adequacy, range, and vigor of the questions practitioners ask of their material" (page 241), as well as an authentic recognition of the perspective from which those questions are asked.

Dilnot concludes the article by asserting that the above mentioned challenges will be easier to overcome if people stop thinking about design as being sets of values or esthetics which are embodied in certain individuals or the objects they create. Rather, quoting Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World, he argues that design should be understood as, " 'the conscious attempt to impose meaningful order . . . the planning and patterning of any act towards a foreseeable end', and that sees professional design as a particular historical form of this more fundamental activity." (page 245). Particularly in the case of Dilnot's first problem for the field of design history, this would allow, if not challenge, design historians to avoid the tendency of offering histories of the "great" designers and designs of the past, but would force them to examine all of the past and contemporary phenomena which affected their subjects and led to their producing particular kinds of products which were used in particular ways by particular sets of people within unique environments.