Dear Canada: Start Taking Your Creatives Seriously.

As members of a graphic design and marketing agency, my colleagues and I are constantly fighting for the practice of good design, and I’m consistently surprised at how many we have to educate on our value. The idea that money spent on creative services is largely regarded as a waste of resources is a deeply ingrained issue that overlaps all creative fields.

To the contrary: time and time again we’ve proven through these services, whether that’s a website, logo, packaging or marketing, our work consistently leads to an increased Return on Investment (ROI), with results like:

  • Increasing sales leads upwards of 500% in a single year
  • Opening doors to new markets and sales channels through quality branding
  • Doubling organic traffic in as little as 6 months
  • Transforming perceptions on established programs, services and businesses

Design doesn't just make things pretty. Design is a refined tool used to communicate intention and we need to do a better job in Canada of utilizing our creative culture.

The Importance of Design Communications

The power of visual symbols is often overlooked, though we use them daily in transit, mobile apps and wayfinding, not to mention every four years at the Olympics.

If you watched the Games in Rio this year, you might know that a refugee team “The Refugee Nation” was created to enable competition by those displaced from their home countries. The official flag for The Refugee Nation is meant to reference a lifejacket. Simultaneously packed with excitement and heartache, it represents those who’d fled across seas in search of new homes.

Flags are far from the only symbology here: the Olympics has one of the world’s largest design communication systems. Every four years design teams come up with a versatile campaign of imagery, video, medals, directional signs, uniforms and more to comprise this new language. Most important of all, this system needs to provide wayfinding for the multitude of visitors who may not know the local language, where they’re going, or how to get there.

A more regularly used example of this can be seen in municipal public transit. Directing a city’s population through design symbols is a very extensive and complicated process, and one with a long history. Possibly the best example of transit communication is the NYCTA. In the 1900s the New York City Subway was a combination of three systems: the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit), the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) and the IND (Independent), all with separate ways of communicating via signage to the public. In the 1940s when these transit lines conglomerated into the MTA (then the NYCTA), these inconsistent, overlapping and misplaced signs and transit maps created a discord in passenger information. The solution was a redesign of the whole communication system to create the clear and understandable one that remains to this day.

Realize the Power of Canadian Creativity

In Canada we tend to think highly of ourselves and of our reputation around the world, and that feeling is not necessarily misguided. We’re a force to be reckoned with.

Canadians have brought the world:

  • Key Frame Animation
  • Peanut Butter
  • Poutine… mmm, Poutine
  • Hockey, Basketball and 5-Pin Bowling (We work hard and play hard)
  • The Telephone and Walkie-Talkie
  • Wheelchair Accessible Buses
  • Sonar
  • Medical Insulin
  • Egg Cartons, the Zipper, Garbage Bags & Wonderbra (not necessarily in that order)
  • IMAX cinema
  • Justin Bieber

Despite all this, Canada has yet to fully embrace its talented creative field, or recognize the power of utilizing their capabilities, which invariably has an even greater negative impact. We lose our best talent to our southern neighbours, where success tends to come more easily than in the Great White North.

Say what you will to deride our American counterparts (which given their choice of presidential candidates has never been easier), but one thing they have done well is harnessed the partnership between art, design and business through successful companies like Netflix, Apple, and Nike. How’s it goin’ there, Blackberry and Shomi?

How Do We Change the Canadian Creative Culture?

Don't Outsource Work

Good question, random internet commenter. I took the above screenshot from a logo critique blog which posted about Corus Entertainment, a Canadian media and broadcasting company that reached out to an American company to do its redesign. This is not uncommon.

Stop Asking for Free Work

I honestly don't understand why it would be okay to ask any profession for free work. Ever.

Yet it happens ALL THE TIME in the creative industry, including recently with the infamous Canada 150 logo submissions contest. This was disheartening: even the Canadian federal government didn't recognize the importance of hiring creative professionals for a major branding project despite the exact same debaucle in the 1960s over the centennial logo.

A couple years ago, our home province did a similar thing. You may remember that Graphos responded to U.S.-made designs of the Alberta license plate by putting forward our own design that garnered a massive wave of public support.

Invest in Creative Industries

At Graphos we track our results and regard our services as an investment in the client’s success. That's not just tooting our own horn: we have proof and a long list of clients who will back it up. We're not just coffee loving hipsters that just ne-eeed to update that disgusting logo. We're a serious, thriving business that provides insight and results to our clients in long-term business partnership, with a number of our customer relationships going back more than 20 years. We use carefully developed methodologies and work strategically toward results that we actively measure and report back.

Design weighs heavily in how Canadians navigate our world, yet it clearly has not yet achieved critical mass in terms of public recognition or awareness.

So Canada, start investing in creativity and give Canadian talent a reason to stay – besides the poutine of course.

Much Love, Your Creatives.

Inspired by Canadaland

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Laura Erickson is a designer, social media champ and brand advocate at Graphos, the world-class Edmonton web design, branding and inbound marketing agency.

Posted by Laura Erickson on October 11, 2016