How graphic design helped shape our nation

In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, Globe Style did a series where they explored iconic examples of domestic design. One of their pieces discussed the longevity of Windsor Salt’s beloved dot motif box, designed by Canadian Chris Yaneff; it’s a package design that has endured for nearly 40 years. The ability to create such a memorable piece is a true testament to the prowess of our industry.

The field of graphic communications has evolved over centuries. We’ve amassed a rich and diverse history of numerous technological advancements and, with the advent of computers and the Internet, graphic design has rapidly progressed with distinct styles and colour schemes attributed to specific time periods or designers. More importantly, it is the creators of each age who have shaped how society as a whole absorbs the media around them, because graphic communications is everywhere in brands, packaging, typefaces, mail, newspapers, magazines, etc.

There is a growing global initiative to preserve the legacy and recognize the pioneers in our community. From documentaries to books, these are a few of the sources that celebrate a culture of creativity and ingenuity:

Books

VeryGraphic. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, published by Culture.pl the 448 page book is a comprehensive compilation on contemporary graphic design in Poland. The publication contains a chronological record of the work of over 60 prominent polish designers over three distinct time periods.

Just my Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield, is a tongue-in-cheek journey through the history behind popular typefaces, their creators, and their impact on design.

Online Collections

Archivio Grafica Italiana is a visual database of Italy’s branding, posters, signage, books and more. The online archive contains many examples of visual communication along with biographies of influential Italian graphic designers.

Designculture, founded in 2013 by Nicola-Matteo Munari, is a website that aims to promote the culture of quality in design by publishing interviews, profiles, and insights of graphic designers from around the globe.

Documentaries

Helvetica, released in 2007, is a deep dive into the world’s most beloved and ubiquitous typeface. The movie provides a look at the font’s history and the pervasive influence of the typeface in our every day lives.

Linotype: The Film, released in 2012, this feature-length documentary explores how linotype completely transformed the communication of information and affected the world.

Graphic Means premiered at the ByDesign film festival in Seattle in April 2017. It describes the original graphic design techniques and the past half-century of changes the industry has experienced as a result of the introduction of desktop computer publishing.

Future Projects

This by no means is the end to the ongoing efforts to share our industry’s history with the world. Design Canada, a documentary chronicling the history of how Canadian graphic design has shaped the nation was funded on Kickstarter in March and is being executive produced by Gary Hustwit, the director of Helvetica. Set for release soon, it will explore the best examples of Canadian graphic design.

We must look backward to move forward. Thumbing through the archives of any established brand provides a window into how drastically some have changed, and yet perfectly preserved the ethos of their identity – and people thirst for that knowledge. For example, standards manual, a publishing firm dedicated to archiving and preserving design history, has already published graphic standards manuals for the New York City Transit authority, reissued NASA’s coveted 1976 graphic standards manual, and later this year will release the US Environmental Protection Agency graphic standards.

Design is a visual means of expressing bigger, more important ideas. All these sources provide inspiration and the foundation for modern and future design. While there may never be a definitive anthology on all things related to graphic design, the individual international efforts to share and chronicle a history that began with a German who printed a bible are truly awe-inspiring.

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