In what is becoming an almost annual ritual, there’s another designer uprising against the design of Canada’s 150th logo. In this episode, the government has launched a $5,000 design contest, with the utterly predictable backlash.

The story so far. Last summer – no the one in 2013 – the Canadian government had some staffers design some logos for Canada’s 150th anniversary/birthday coming up in 2017. The proposals were whittled down to fiver utterly mediocre designs, which were then humped through $40,000 worth of focus groups, where they all received a collective “meh.” The media caught wind, there were howls of protest over the remarkably uninspiring choices. As they are wont to do, Australian contest site 99designs launched another of their risable pretend “community contests” – a whole bunch of Indonesian designers working for free, for an Oz based outfit, to create a logo for Canada was kinda ironic (though a Canadian guy did “win” against all odds and a voting system that said he didn’t.) Designers lost their minds about that. Then, a group of Canadian designers started their own website, The 150 Logo, that showcased some options and graphic design organizations flipped about that too. Canada 150 logo There were petitions, newspaper articles and a bunch of Twitter carping. We used the word “fiasco” as part of the title when detailing the wretched tale here. Early 2014, the story simply vanished from everybody’s radar and other than a gripe here and there, everyone seemed to forget about the entire thing. Until now. Last week, the feds announced they were launching a $5,000 contest for the logo, open to Canadian citizens currently enrolled in post-secondary programs. Cue the scalded cats once more.

Canada 150th logo deja vu.

GDC petition First up, we got ourselves another petition. Then, some print mentions featuring a very serious Graphic Designers of Canada president, Adrian Jean:

Then, the Twitter griping. Shame on Shelly Glover (the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages) for actually putting Canada’s identity “at risk.” (Maple leaves, syrup, beavers and geese notwithstanding I guess.)

Apparently, the contest will even hurt Canada (I dunno. I think we’ll struggle through.)


Design schools were called upon to join the “Logo Spec Fight:”

The issue even made it on the telly:

Anyhoo, you get the idea. A year and a half later, forty grand in taxpayer money down the drain and we’re back exactly at square one – lot’s of bitching, bellyaching and no damn logo.

Engagement or exploitation?

So what happened in the interim? The GDC claim that they’ve been “semi-engaging” with the Government since last year (translation: not much) and that this announcement caught them off guard. This could have been seen a mile away – there were even calls for opening it to a contest last December and frankly, I’m surprised this wasn’t the route the feds took in the first place. Overall, I’m leaning towards non-plussed about the whole thing, having burnt out on it almost a year ago. While I get the zero-tolerance approach to design contests and have been a vocal critic for years, there has to been some wiggle room for fan participation and the like, lest we all look like a bunch of whinging prima-donnas. The public and the business community are simply not going to share – or even understand – designers’ outrage about this endeavor, regardless of how many level-headed arguments get sent their way. While working without compensation on platform contests is a message that might (emphasis on might) resonate, this is fan participation and citizen engagement for an entire country, not some nickel-and-dime logo contest for a new brand of tampons. This is a ‘fire and forget’ variety, not the full-blown design process of commercialized design contest sites illustrated thusly: design contest pyramid It’s different, and if we don’t want to be viewed as delicate snowflakes, we’re going to have to pick our battles a little more strategically (I’m sure some will disagree strongly and this is a discussion we can continue in the comments if anyone is so inclined.) Meanwhile, and moving on, let’s take a look at the brass tacks..

The contest

The design contest rules and entry info can be found here. Standard stuff but without the typical “rights grab” common in such things. Though there is an essay that entrants have to write explaining their logo (that’s me out:)

Creation Criteria. Applications must include a description of a maximum of 150 words explaining how the Entry portrays Canada and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Entries must contain the words “Canada 150” and the dates “1867–2017.” Entries containing any other text or numbers will not be considered. Entries must be non-partisan in nature. Entries containing any political symbol or messaging will not be considered. Entries should strive to evoke pride, unity and celebration. Entries should reflect Canada as a diverse nation with a rich past and a promising future. Other criteria are: compliance with the theme (150th anniversary of Confederation); clarity of message; originality; choice of colours; choice of fonts; legibility; versatility (logo can be used in colour, black and white, reverse and in small or large support material); and overall impression.

That’s a decent brief and this was offered up at the beginning of this entire mess, I don’t think we’d be where we are today.

Participants must be: Canadian citizens residing in Canada or permanent residents living in Canada; 18 years of age or older; and enrolled in a recognized post-secondary Canadian institution (CEGEP, college, technical institute or university), in December 2014 and/or January 2015.

The contest is only open to Canadian citizens or residents (they got that right at least, considering this is supposed to being celebrating all things Canada.) I did find the following disclaimer troubling though:

Right to Cancel, Modify or Suspend If, for any reasons, the contest does not run as planned, the Department of Canadian Heritage reserves the right to cancel, modify or suspend the contest.

While I was originally willing to give this some wiggle room, that the government reserves the right to cancel the contest (and not award a winner) if things don’t pan out they way they want, is a bridge too far. That’s exactly like the design contest sites we love to hate and is exactly the devaluation of design that the GDC guys are beefing about. If you’re going to hold a design contest, at least award a winner and give them the dough. Otherwise, you’re just fishing for ideas without any commitment to participants.

Hand me that pitchfork.