Why one designer is fighting to reprint a retro CBC design guide
He argues it's an important piece of our artistic heritage, but he'll have to convince CBC first
You know it as the "gem" or maybe by its tastier alias, "the exploding pizza." And if not, just look up. That's it on top of this page — the CBC logo.
But did you know that it first appeared in 1974? Or that it was part of a whole new brand identity created by Burton Kramer? The "C" in the centre of its original version stands for Canada — and yeah, it looks like an planet on purpose. (Think "Canada" broadcasting to the world.)
Yeah, maybe you haven't heard any of that, and if that's the case, we get it.
Adrian Jean gets it, too.
"It's not like you can search online and get a history of Canadian design heroes, that's for sure," laughs Jean, the past president of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. Meanwhile, other places have long-storied traditions — to the point you'd scream "Scandinavia" and "Switzerland" if you got "design" in Scattergories.
'A part of Canada's design history'
"I started trying to answer this question of whether or not Canada has its own design heritage to revive and share," Jean tells CBC Arts, "and that's when I really started looking at all of this work that I'd been exposed to."
It's the work that every Canadian has been exposed to, really, largely through osmosis.
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Graphic design is everywhere, after all — from corporate logos to the flag. And when Jean considered the CBC logo, he realized there were few better examples of homegrown design.
Even the '70s version was stuck in his brain — if only as a "distant, colourful memory." (He was born in 1978.)
"It's part of a really part of a strong identity," he says of the logo. "It's something you can look at and almost trace in your mind, you can see it."
"I looked at the work that [Burton Kramer] did and I realized, 'Here is a Canadian icon.' Yeah, it's changed, it's evolved — as many brands do over time — but here's some work that has truly become part of Canada's design identity."
Jean wants to ensure that it's part of our design history. And to do that, he wants to reprint the 1974 CBC Graphic Standards Manual.
You want to print what?
It's exactly what the title suggests. It's a guide book, just a tool of the trade — 200 pages of design how-to's plus a glossary. Back in the pre-Adobe Suite era, you would have found manuals kicking around the CBC in big, blue binders. (We even found one in the CBC Toronto building after chatting with Jean — though it was stashed away in the archives.) If a designer needed hyper-specific instructions about using logos, typefaces and colours — or making ads and business cards and even station-wagon paint jobs — it was the go-to document.
I realized, 'Here is a Canadian icon.' [...] Here's some work that has truly become part of Canada's design identity.- Adrian Jean, graphic designer
It's also, however, an internal document. So while Jean says he has full blessings from its designer, Burton Kramer, the rights to reprint the thing belong to CBC.
So, Jean pitched the corporate office with his idea earlier this year, touting it as "an ideal heritage project." It would celebrate the CBC and Kramer ("one of Canada's greatest graphic designers"). And as a highly detailed how-to for the entire brand identity, he argued that it's a wealth of knowledge for a new generation of designers and students.
"They came back and said, 'Look, we still don't quite understand why people would be interested in this."
Strange as it seems, especially if you were a designer in the days before "crowdfunding" was in the dictionary, this publishing niche is having a moment. The most successful graphic-design projects in Kickstarter history are both reprints of design guides. (The 1974 NASA manual is No. 1 followed by a New York City Transit Authority book at No. 2.) And if you figure the trend is only happening in the States, a UK man successfully backed a repro of the British Rail corporate identity manual in December.
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Jean says CBC hasn't shut down the idea. They've asked him to prove the project has an audience, and to do so, he started a website in late July. If you're interested in seeing the CBC manual reprinted, Jean asks that you submit your name and e-mail address. He's hoping to collect 1,000 of these "pledges" by the end of August. (Kramer, he says, was the first to sign up.)
If he's granted the go ahead, he'll begin crowdsourcing the print run — which will feature a cloth/hardcover binding that's a bit more luxe than the first edition's three-ring binder. "This project is not a commercial endeavour," he says. "It's a one-time thing."
And so far, his campaign for a campaign is seeing progress. When CBC Arts spoke with Jean, he'd collected 645 names in two weeks.
Some scans of what you'll find inside the book...
More than CBC
Jean's contact at CBC was unavailable to answer our questions, but Allison MacLachlan, director of marketing, communications and publicity for internal and strategic communications, shared this statement with CBC Arts: "This project clearly demonstrates Canadian's attachment to their public broadcaster. We thought the initial idea was very interesting and we look forward to seeing how it evolves."
Interest in the book goes beyond the brand it was made for. At the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, you'll find a copy of the CBC manual in the permanent collection, along with many of Kramer's works.
Its graphic strength helped create a visual identity that bespoke 'Canada.'- Arlene Gehmacher, Curator of Canadian paintings, prints and drawings, Royal Ontario Museum
Arlene Gehmacher, the ROM's curator of Canadian paintings, prints and drawings, tells CBC Arts that many people don't realize how graphic design impacts our day-to-day lives. "Think about how graphic design 'works' on our subconscious," she says. "The idea is to distill complex ideas and meanings of identity into a logo trademark or symbol."
The 1974 CBC logo, she says, captured something unique about Canadian identity in that specific time and space. Canada's centennial celebrations and Expo '67 had happened just seven years prior.
"Canada 100 was a modern moment where we could look forward; and at least for me, in that sense, Kramer's 1974 CBC graphic design is a superb embodiment of those aspirations of looking forward and using graphic design to do so," she says.
"Its graphic strength helped create a visual identity that bespoke 'Canada,'" she says. The manual itself, she explains — with all its instructional minutiae — is "an opportunity to understand an important moment in Canadian design history."
And to Jean, there just aren't enough examples of that history being recorded. The only reason he knew the CBC manual even existed, he says, was because of a book about Burton Kramer by Greg Durrell — a Vancouver designer who, incidentally, has also been inspired to record Canada's design history because nobody else was.
As Durrell told CBC Arts during a recent interview about another project, he's developing a documentary about the major modernist design projects of the '60s and '70s — the flag, Expo '67, rebrands of TD, Canada Trust, CN Rail — and how "the counter-cultural revolution redefined the identity of Canada." Says Durrell: "To me, the Canadian story had gone undocumented, so I decided, 'hey, f*** it, I'm just going to do it." He hopes to release the film in time for all Canada 150 celebrations next year.
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"I think Canadians, we generally feel like we don't like standing on top of a mountain and broadcasting our greatness," says Jean. "But I think sometimes what we lose when we don't do that is the sharing of some of the great work we've done in the past. There isn't really a central repository for that."
A CBC graphic design manual is an example of just one book that could be thrown into the collection, so there's nothing strange about reprinting it to Jean, and nothing new, either.
"If you think about it, in the world of creativity, since the beginning of time, the interest in great works of the past is nothing new. From Michelangelo to Matisse to Lawren Harris. Anyone who's interested in the past wants to learn from the past and they want to use that past to inform and better evolve their work, and maybe contribute to that history."
Learn more about the campaign to reproduce the 1974 Graphic Standards Manual at his website.
Listen to CBC Calgary's interview with Jean about the project.