Ariana Cuvin said at first she tried to stay away from maple leaves, but in the end it was her version of a maple leaf that won a controversial national contest to design a logo for Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation. 

"I was in absolute shock to be honest, I wasn't even planning on answering the phone just because it was a Quebec number," said Cuvin, a 19-year-old global business and digital arts student at the University of Waterloo, in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Wednesday. "I thought it was a telemarketer," she said. 

Cuvin's logo to mark the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary celebrations, is a multi-coloured, pointed maple leaf shape. The four reddish orange diamond shapes at the base represent the four provinces of Confederation in 1867, while the additional nine points represent the rest of Canada's provinces and territories, according to Cuvin's design brief. It will grace all official Government of Canada communications and material related to the 150th anniversary.

"I figured they were going to get a million maple leafs," she said. "I tried doing things with beavers and geese at one point. A lot of the design process involved talking to people." 

Cuvin won $5,000 for her work, which was picked from more than 300 submissions. 

Ariana Cuvin

University of Waterloo student Ariana Cuvin. (Canada150.gc.ca)

She said she entered the contest because she had made a promise to herself.  

"It was January, I'd just come off the New Year's high, I hadn't done a lot of graphic design work during the previous term, so I promised myself that for summer jobs and stuff like that, I'd try and push myself and do more competitions and design work in general," she said. 

Graphic designers object

After Cuvin's winning design was announced, Graphic Designers of Canada, the national body that certifies graphic and communication designers, released an open letter criticizing the government. CDG has been critical throughout the contest, calling it exploitative and accusing the government of failing to recognize the value of good design.

"I am deeply disheartened that our government would choose to exploit students in this manner, despite our efforts to educate the government that contests like these are unethical, detrimental to students, to professional graphic designers, and to Canada in general," wrote Adrian Jean, the president of the group.

Peter Gough, the designer who made the logo for Canada's 125th in 1992, said his firm billed the government around $100,000 for work on that logo, and he was also able to pick up additional work for his firm. Gough said that all of the agencies who submitted designs then were compensated for their time. Cuvin's $5,000 pales in comparison to that fee, and, according to Jean, Cuvin has to hand over all the rights to her design. 

Cuvin said she's aware of the controversy, but she doesn't feel exploited.

"It's difficult for me to really say much about the topic because I haven't been in the design field for too, too long," said Cuvin. "I personally don't feel exploited, I read all the contest rules, I knew exactly what I was getting into."