Graphic Design in Canada, Burton Kramer, 1975
Professionalism in Canadian graphic design dates from about 1946 and stems from the accelerated changeover from an agricultural to an industrial-based economy. Not quite 30 years. Prior to World War I1, there was no urgent need within the nation for a community of well-trained graphic designers. In the early days' many fine artists applied their talents to the commercial art area, though they often resented the financial need to 'prostitute' their abilities. As in so many countries, the fine artist became, willingly or not, the precursor of the graphic designer.
In 1948 the Art Directors Club of Toronto was founded and immediately began to make its influence felt through publicizing both the principles and results of good design. This original impetus led to the formation of other A.D, Clubs in Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg which, to a great extent, were based on and received at least moral support from earlier A.D. Clubs in the USA. Annual exhibitions and show catalogues served to promote and encourage excellence, primarily in advertising design. Although the shows did not make it a clearly set-out policy, they have remained agency-oriented (persuasion) rather than designer-oriented (information). Regardless of this, the work of some of the finest Canadian design talent has consistently been shown.
By 1956, the development of the economy in combination with the energies of a small group of Toronto-based designers resulted in the formation of the first professional design organization, the Society of Typographic Designers of Canada. Among its clearly set out purposes were : to enable an exchange of ideas among members, to formalize professionalism of aims and ethics, to promote recognition of design as a vital force in the economy, to actively participate in helping raise educational standards, to increase public awareness of all aspects of design. The Society attempted to further these aims through lecture series, university seminars, exhibitions, publications and radio and television appearances.
In 1957 a Montreal chapter was formed; in 1958 the Society was legally Incorporated. The first of many annual exhibitions was held. These continued, with the financial support and sponsorship of industry, through 1964. With the influx of well-trained, experienced designers from many countries, some brought to Canada by the opportunities and potentials of Expo 67, the philosophy and scope of the Society changed. In 1968 it became the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, a name reflecting the broadened interests and involvement of its membership in all aspects of visual communication. 1968 saw the opening of a major exhibition, GDC 68, held at Design Centres in Toronto and Montreal. The exhibit traveled throughout the nation under the auspices of the Society and the Federal Department of Industry, Trade & Commerce.
The Canadian printing and graphic arts industry cannot but acknowledge the raising of standards on all levels, thanks to the efforts of the design community. Results have been evident through awards and publication of Canadian graphics throughout the world. No discussion of Canadian design development would be complete without reference to the corporate identity program for Canadian National, initiated in 1960. This program, for a major national corporation, functioning in the fields of transportation and accommodation, contributed perhaps more than any other single factor to raising public awareness of visual design in Canada. Since the inception of this program an almost unbelievable acceleration of design activity has taken place: Expo 67, with its overall graphic signage and information-identity program, the totally designed environment; corporate identity programs for banks, museums, railroads, airlines, universities, government agencies, television, a long list of shopping and entertainment centres. The results have not always been consistent quality or exhilarating, but they have happened and will lead the way to finer work in the future.
In 1972 the Société des graphistes du Québec was formed to deal more directly with those problems and interests specific to graphic designers in that province. Today, most of Canada's leading designers are members of the Graphic Designers of Canada or the Société des graphites du Québec. These two organizations have assisted in the development of a new, national graphic design society, as yet unnamed, which was founded in November of 1974 with full participation of designers from all parts of Canada and with the aid of a grant from the Office of Design, Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce.
Professional graphic design education remains a serious problem, yet the need to compete with the rest of the world grows. Design, in all of its manifestations, must be top-notch if Canada is to prosper, if the environment is to constantly improve, if communication is to function. if we are to face up to tomorrow's problems.
Our educational institutions have in the past tended to retain the attitude that design is a slightly vulgar adjunct to an art school curriculum. Until a workable definition of design, design terminology, philosophy and goals in design education is established, positive steps in this vital area will continue to lag. The influence of a strong professional society is beginning to be felt however, as designers acknowledge their responsibilities toward future professionals. One of the primary objectives of the newly-formed national graphic design society is: to propose and pursue a coherent, coordinated education policy for the design discipline. The Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, has stated that the attainment of design excellence must be one of Canada's national goals. Much remains to be done to achieve this goal. The opportunity and the talent is here, in Canada.