What shape Canadian design to discover its visual identity-Qing Huang

The missing part of our textbook would be the golden age of graphic design in Canada, from the 1960s to 1970s. Some of the remarkable Canadian design still see today, such as the CN logo, TD logo, but these designs have been overlooked by most of us. We study European and American design today, but I think we should not forget Canadian designs and the designers behind them. As a student who lives in Canada and studies design here, I knew very limited about the history of graphic design in Canada before writing this blog post until I was inspired by a documentary called Design Canada. One of the designers Burton Kramer who appears in the documentary said: “If I went into a bookstore that specializes in the design and I looked for Canadian design work, I wouldn’t find anything.” So why not put Canadian graphic design history in our textbook?

The most significant work I want to talk about first is the CN logo (see fig.1). Even when I look back today, I still fell its power and modernism. The full name of CN is Canadian National Railway, with its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. Rail lines run across Canada and the Midwest and southern of the U.S. According to an article, “CN logo evolution,” Airey claims that the CN logo has been changed many times. In 1959, this company examined Canadians’ attitudes toward them, and as a result, people thought that CN was an old organization against innovation, which was against the goal of the company. To change people’s perceptions, Dick Wright, head of public relations at the time, decided to redesign the CN logo and the entire visual image. Then this task was delegated to the young Canadian well know graphic designer Allan Fleming (see fig.2). After countless sketches, he got inspired on a plane to New York, and quickly mark his idea on a cocktail napkin. His concept was removing “R,” combine the “C” and “N” in a consonant way with a strong thickness line. The continuous flowing line stood for “the movement of people, materials, and messages from one point to another,” Fleming said (Airey, 2015).


Fig.1. CN logo


Fig.2. “Allan Fleming: Executive Art Director At Maclarens Advertising Co..” Yorkspace.Library.Yorku.Ca, 1964, https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10315/4384/ASC04740.jpg?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 30 Mar 2020.

For me, the design is bold and straightforward, and the fluidity of the letters brings out its vitality. Throughout the development of the CN logo, I saw progress and the symbolic image that representation was tightly integrated with Canadian characteristics. Interestingly, he no longer used maple leaves or any well-known element to represent Canada, but this simple and elegant logo is a symbol of eternity. He won numerous awards in his career and inspired many creators in design applications across the country (“LOGOS + GRAPHIC DESIGNERS | Allan Fleming: Tracing the Evolution of The CN Logo: 50Th Anniversary 1960 – 2010”). He is known as the most talented Canadian designer. It is worthy of being included in our textbook.

Another designer I want to point out that is Hans Kleefeld (see fig.3), who created the most Canadians recognizable images such as logo for Air Canada, Tim Horton, Toronto zoo and TD Bank (see fig.4). To me, he is an excellent role model of who applied European ideas to produce Canadian corporate icon. In an article In Memory of a Friend: Hans Kleefeld (1929-2016), Donnelly suggests that Kleefeld not only designed logos that can be regarded as landmarks for famous Canadian companies but also made outstanding contributions to the design education. He had taught for many years at OCAD University and Sheridan college and is deeply respected and admired by colleagues and students. (Donnelly, 2016)His design spirits should continue to spread. This pioneer of Canadian design is worth to remember. His work is full of modern concepts, and he committed to building a logically consistent graphical practice. His focus is on the development of designing the entire field as a discipline.


Fig 3 Courtesy: Hans Kleefeld


Fig. 4 Hans Kleefeld’s logos (1929-2016)

I think I am lucky to learn about these masters and the concepts behind the stories through some resources and the documentary I mentioned earlier. These symbolic designs exist around us. When I reached more about their stories, I am surprised that the Canadian logo has such a rich and glorious history. As CBC arts said, “It’s the untold story of the images that shaped Canada’s identity, and it’s not just for design nerds.” So I hope that this history can be understood by more people, which is why I think these designs and designers should be selected in our textbook.

Works Cited

“LOGOS + GRAPHIC DESIGNERS | Allan Fleming:: Tracing The Evolution Of The CN Logo ::: 50Th Anniversary 1960 – 2010”. Designkultur, 2010, https://designkultur.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/logos-graphic-artists-allan-fleming-tracing-the-evolution-of-the-cn-logo-50th-anniversary-1960-2010/.

Airey, David. “CN Logo Evolution (Canadian National Rail) | Logo Design Love.” Logo Design Love, 2015, https://www.logodesignlove.com/cn-logo-evolution. Accessed 30 Mar 2020.

Donnelly, Brian. “In Memory Of A Friend: Hans Kleefeld (1929-2016) – Sheridan | Curiosities”. Sheridan | Curiosities, 2016, https://curiosities.sheridancollege.ca/in-memory-of-a-friend-hans-kleefeld-1929-2016/. Accessed 30 Mar 2020.

Durrell, Greg. Design Canada – English Version. 2018, https://ocadu.kanopy.com/video/design-canada. Accessed 30 Mar 2020.


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