Shining the spotlight on Canadian design

In honor of Canada Day, we thought we’d take a moment to celebrate Canadian design, both historical and contemporary.

We’re all familiar with the US 20th century design greats—Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, etc.—but Canadian designers from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, of equal artistic stature, remain obscure to many of us.

If you want the full history of Canadian design, look no further than this article from the Canadian Encyclopedia, which covers everything from early 19th century engraving to the present.

Rather than attempt anything of that detail, we will be focusing on the highlights, beginning in the 1950s and moving to the present day. While the design industry in Canada may not be as big as that of its neighbor to the south, there is no question that in terms of sheer talent, Canadian design is off the charts.

Rolf Harder

Canadian design Rolf Harder
Image via Dwell

Rolf Harder, who hails from Hamburg, Germany, was part of a wave of European émigrés who jump-started Canada’s fledgling graphic design culture in the 1950s and 60s.

His designs, which he created independently and then as part of the agency Design Collaborative that he co-founded, clearly bespeak their Bauhaus roots. They are characterized by striking contrasts and grid-based Swiss typography.

Allan Fleming

Canadian design allan fleming
Image via Dominion Modern

Alan Fleming was part of a crop of Canadian designers who in the 1950s and ’60s looked to British design for inspiration. In 1957 the Toronto typesetting firm Cooper and Beatty hired him as typographic director, and in 1959 he achieved fame for his logo design for Canadian National Railways. He is also well known for his designs for the University of Toronto Press.

Georges Huel

Canadian design Georges Huel
Image via olympic.org

Two of the most important events for 20th century Canadian design were Expo 67, an exposition celebrating the country’s centennial, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Georges Huel was at the helm of both of their design departments. His logo for the Olympics (designed in collaboration with Pierre-Yves Pelletier) iconically blends the Olympic rings and the Canadian maple leaf.

Burton Kramer

canadian design Burton Kramer
Image via HeyThere.ca

Burton Kramer cut his teeth in New York, but moved to Toronto to work on graphics and signage for Expo 67 and settled there. He is known for his logos for the Royal Ontario Museum and Canadian broadcasting corporation. His style is characterized by Op Art-influenced geometric motifs.

Nick Shinn

Canadian design Nick Shinn
Image via FontFont

Shinn moved from his native London to Toronto in 1976. He began working for creative agencies on branding work, but soon discovered typography as his true calling, and established his own foundry, Shinntype, in 1998.

He is well known for the font FF Oneleigh, an updated “old style” font that harkens back to the 1920s, when serifs were considered the avant-garde.

Marian Bantjes

Canadian design Marian Bantjes
Image via graphicdesignblg.com

Bantjes is a consummate artist. She has worked as a designer, typographer, writer and illustrator. Currently, working from a small island off the coast of Vancouver, she produces stunningly detailed vector patterns and lettering.

Such work illuminates her 2010 book, I Wonder, a reflection on visual culture. Stefan Sagmeister praises her work as his favorite example of beauty facilitating the communication of meaning.”

Charles Daoud

Canadian design Charles Daoud
Image via Charles Daoud

Boasting skills in everything from branding to typography, Daoud raises the design bar for small shops and corporate giants like Netflix alike. What put him on the map was his typeface Dense, a compact and extremely versatile sans serif.

Jiani Lu

Canadian design Jiani Lu
Image via Jiani Lu

Lu has worked across the field of graphic design, including branding, but focuses on bookbinding and print. Window Farms is a beautifully designed, infographic-heavy handbook on hydroponic window farming—the designer’s personal project.

Vanessa Pepin

canadian design Vanessa Pepin
Image via Vanessa Pepin

Pepin is a Montreal-based designer who works across branding, typography and web design. We were particularly impressed by her complete overhaul of the website of furniture designer Mobilia, featuring elegant sans-serif type, geometric patterns and vivid color contrasts.

Brian Lam

canadian design Brian Lam
Image via Behance

Hailing from Toronto, Lam is a designer with an extremely sharp sense of color and line. Both of these qualities are evident in his Kralle beer packaging project, which puts a very modern spin on traditional German heraldic imagery.

Matt Luckhurst

canadian design Matt Luckhurst
Image via Matt Luckhurst

Born in Vancouver and trained at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Rockhurst is currently representing Canada in Brooklyn, New York, at a design agency. His work in design and illustration takes an emphatically maximalist approach to color and form, as is evident in the optical effects of his branding scheme for Advertising Women of New York.

Pénélope St-Cyr Robitaille

canadian design Pénélope St-Cyr Robitaille
Image via Penelopescr

St-Cyr Robitaille works with precision, simplicity, and a touch of nostalgia for the design products of the pre-digital era. All of these qualities come together in her project for a fictive dairy company, “Meulk”. If it were real, we’d buy it.

Any great examples of Canadian design that we forgot? Make your addition in the comments!

Related articles

33 famous graphic design companies from around the globe

33 famous graphic design companies from around the globe

In the competitive industry of graphic design, it can be difficult to establish a name brand. Nonetheless, there are a couple dozen design firms around the world that have managed to cut through the clutter and gain international prestige. Their roster of clients, impressive portfolio of work, prominence in local markets and international reach have made…

The amazing stylistic history of comic books

The amazing stylistic history of comic books

In a time when audiences were racing in droves to catch the latest talkie and hand-drawn animation was just finding its legs, a new medium brought kids (and adults, let’s be honest) back to reading. Comic books began as a dime-store novelty, and since then, they have gone through countless transformations, artistic explorations, public excises,…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.