Mark Busse: Canadian government exploits design students with 150th anniversary contest

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      The government of Canada is exploiting students, harming the Canadian design industry, and potentially putting the country’s brand identity at risk, all in the name of “engaging youth”.

      In 2017, Canada celebrates 150 years since Confederation. This is an opportunity to build national pride and create a lasting legacy, while showcasing great Canadian design. The government’s first attempt at a Canada 150 logo caused heated controversy and mass media coverage. Apparently, it still hasn’t learned its lesson.

      In the past, Canada has been recognized for design achievement, from iconic symbols like our Centennial logo and Expo 67, to the present day work by top creative firms. We should continue to set our bar higher.

      Instead, Minister of Canadian Heritage Shelly Glover launched an open, speculative logo design contest for students, with a meagre $5,000 awarded to the winner. Other participants receive nothing for their efforts while forfeiting ownership rights to their work. As a Canadian designer, this disreputable practice leaves me embarrassed.

      While I commend politicians who engage youth, Canada’s 150th is a crucial milestone and should not be treated like a fun community project. This deplorable approach exploits a student’s drive for exposure and recognition, and undermines an entire creative profession. Meanwhile, politicians prattle on about the importance of “the knowledge economy” in Canada’s economic future.

      This is not how procurement of professional services is handled. The Canada 150 campaign has a budget of $7 million, and a logo identity project of this nature demands appropriate fees to do right. This ministry is acting penny wise and pound foolish, showing it doesn’t value design or understand the process in an identity project. Instead, it’s wrapping cheap labour in a Canadian flag and calling it youth engagement.

      The Society of Graphic Design (GDC), the association governing visual communication design, issued a press release stating objections. GDC’s code of ethics forbids its members (including students) from participating in speculative contests. GDC’s online petition ( has nearly 5,000 signatories. Nearly a dozen design schools have issued statements of support and are discouraging students from participating. Effectively, Minister Glover has blocked many of the country’s best and brightest design students from participating.

      There is a way to make this contest fair and ethical, if we set aside for a moment the importance of this project and professional services required to execute it. Follow the actual practices of the design profession. Invite students to submit portfolios or proposals in order to be selected as qualified participants. Allow them to retain ownership of their work. Undoubtedly, this will lead to better results. If students were encouraged to participate as a group, as a learning opportunity under professional mentorship, even better.

      I hope the message gets through to Minister Glover, but this contest is another in a series of actions by the Harper government showing it neither respects nor understand the value of design.

      This project is about the legacy left behind. It needs to be a legacy we can look at with pride and satisfaction. A contest in which creative students are exploited is not a legacy we should want for Canada or the next generation of designers.



      William Denis Guest

      Dec 27, 2014 at 11:06am

      Mark Busse's suggestion that Canada's 150th Logo must be paid for is sad, lacking in any scene of National Pride. The only thing that bothers me about the governments student challenge is that it is not open to all Canadians.

      William Denis Guest

      John Larkin

      Jan 5, 2015 at 10:39am

      from the rules:
      "Finalists agree to transfer ownership of their intellectual property rights (including copyright) in the Entry to the Government of Canada. The finalists also agree to waive all of their moral rights in the Entry in favour of the Government of Canada."
      what a load of crap! So they can "short-list" as many logos as they want and then keep all those to do with as they wish. They are really paying $5000 for as many logos as they want to keep. Come on, all you young artists! Show your allowing your country to rip you off. Shameful, but not that surprising.