This speech was delivered by Hugh Stewart, of the Graphic Design Secretariat of Information Canada, to the Design Assembly sponsored by the National Design Council, February 10, 1975. It was one of six case histories that demonstrated design application within the Federal Government. The slides referred to in this speech are not included in this post.

This morning I hope to demonstrate that the government, through Information Canada, has realized the need to communicate more effectively with its public than it has in the past and that it is actively using good design and design management principles to increase the publics’ understanding and knowledge of federal policies and programs. The genesis of our work was the 1969 Task Force on Government Information which reported that generally, the government’s visual communications lacked cohesion and impact and that as a result we just plain weren’t communicating well with our publics. The “Design” section of the Report concluded:

“Design must be considered integral and essential to any information programme or policy. Since design is planning, it should be part of a programme review, and accorded the same concern as any other factors in planning.”

In the past, some individuals within government, by the strength of their personal conviction and taste, have succeeded magnificently But sporadically, to make good design the rule, rather than the exception, the Federal Government requires a reservoir of expertise to advise departments and agencies. In addition, this central and professional reservoir of knowledge could be used to develop design guidelines that would encompass the government as a whole, that would ensure that the Federal Government led the country in design standards, rather than every now and then, more by accident than policy, doing as well as the more enlightened private businesses.”

In establishing Information Canada in 1970, the Cabinet approved the following recommendations of the Task Force:

  1. The government establish a general policy on design, incorporating systems for federal information and guidelines for both federal and departmental identification programmes
  2. The policy and guidelines be developed, and their implementation and review ensured, by a central design group in Information Canada working with departments, agencies and outside experts, with a view to attaining the highest quality at the least possible cost.

To provide a solid base for this work. Information Canada took a vital first step to clear up the visual clutter of identifying symbols by which federal agencies were recognized (or unrecognized as the case may be). Contrary to popular belief, the Coat of Arms was only one of hundreds of symbols used for this purpose. The examples on this slide are only a small percentage of those which were in use. The Federal Identity Program was adopted to bring some order out of the visual chaos and to project the federal presence in a visual sense wherever it is manifest. It was found that one symbol alone was not up to the task. The basis of the Program, therefore, is the rational application of three symbols, each fulfilling a specific need to identify a type of federal function. The symbol to be used for the identification of over 200 federal departments, agencies and corporations is known as the Federal Symbol which consists of elements of the flag – the bar and the 11-point maple leaf plus, where possible, a brief bilingual identifying name. These elements consistently applied and organized into systematic formats with distinctive typography and specified colours will provide a rational, contemporary image of the executive branch of the Government of Canada. The range of applications covers everything from stationery to people.

The Prime Minister, Ministers and their offices will be identified by the full flag symbol, however, the standard formats will be the same as those for the Federal Symbol.

The Coat of Arms will continue to represent the Legislative and Judicial branches of government, and it will be used for certain diplomatic purposes abroad…but even here, new standard formats will be applied.

In addition, special symbols may be required for programs of short duration or a special marketing purpose. In pure marketing terms, these are known as “brand symbols” and may be authorized only if they are created from their conception with, and approved by, the Graphic Design Secretariat of Information Canada. The Canada wordmark is an example. It is used by the Office of Tourism, of the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce, to promote travel to Canada, although the Office of Tourism itself will use the Federal Symbol as its identifying device.

To our knowledge, the Federal Identity Program is the largest undertaking of its type in the world. A program of such broad impact throughout the public service, and of such import to the government and the public it serves, demands leadership and management. Leadership has been provided by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in the form of a series of decisions which detail the Program objectives and give broad policy directives.

Via the Cabinet Committee on Science, Culture and Information, the task of co-ordination and graphic design authority has been vested in Information Canada.

The Treasury Board, the central managers of government, are responsible for the overall management of the Program. Their principal role is to consider recommendations and publish policy directives and design application manuals for the guidance of departments, agencies and corporations, and to ensure that they are in line with related administrative, program, personnel, and official languages policies. Also, their job is to ensure that organizations implement the Program in a timely, thorough and qualitative manner.

To ensure that there is consideration of all factors at a senior level, a Treasury Board Advisory Committee was created, comprised of nine Deputy Ministers of key departments, chaired by the Director General of Information Canada. Recommendations of the Graphic Design Secretariat must be vetted by this Committee before they are considered by the Treasury Board.

Details of Program application are developed by the Graphic Design Secretariat supported by advisory Working Groups made up of technical and design experts from the organizations most concerned with each type of application.

In addition, significant expertise and the experience of other governments, standards organizations, and private sector consultants are brought to bear on the problems. This ranges from consideration of the applicability of international standards, to the use of sophisticated techniques of design validation.

The management system is structured to provide not only improved identification of federal activities through the application of proven visual communication principles, but better ways of procuring, producing and utilizing the vast array of items used by the government.

Typical of the kind of results that can come out of such a system is the new federal signage. The old signs did little to communicate any desirable federal identity. Now a single system of architectural signage is in place. Not only does it reflect the federal identity in a consistent manner, but the signs are actually designed to be legible, visually harmonious with most any architectural style, and read at the required distances. The system is fabricated of cost-efficient parts, engineered to accommodate the various soil conditions and wind loads which prevail throughout Canada and, indeed, the world.

The signs are ordered, fabricated, shipped and installed in accordance with a procurement system which saves administrative and supply time, materials, and installation hassels. The cost savings might not be self-evident to some people, for many are of the mistaken impression that if something is well-designed, it must cost more. Cost analysis on the materials and maintenance for the new signage indicate a potential cost saving of 75% over the use of traditional painted plywood.

The Federal Identity Program forms the basis of a broader task – to upgrade the quality and effectiveness of the government’s visual communications to make federal programs and policies better understood by the people it serves. Working within the management system, the Graphic Design Secretariat will provide a design advisory and co-ordinating role for the benefit of all federal organizations. Typical projects will include research on all aspects of graphic design, the study of the sources of design assistance in the private sector and in government and the orientation to and effective use of design by federal managers. In addition, sophisticated aspects of visual communications will be studied such as computer graphics, microfiche, design validation methods and the motivational aspects of colour, shape and form. A Graphic Design Improvement Working Group will soon be established to advise Information Canada and will bring together, probably for the first time, the many officials whose interest lies in upgrading the quality of design and design management in government.

The principles inherent in this structure are applicable, I would suggest, to design management in the private sector. From our liaison with industrial concerns and other governments, we have found that corporate design programs, if they are to succeed, must have leadership from the highest echelons of the organization. The federal design management system could well apply to most private concerns.

We realize that industry looks to governments for leadership in many areas of design activity, especially where cost-saving standardization of common designs and materials are concerned. Such is the case in Canada, where the government has taken to heart its responsibilities to provide leadership in the achievement of a national system of symbols for the effective communication of information in signs within our industrial and other environments. To assist in this type of work. Information Canada provides membership in the Association of Corporate Identity Managers of Canada and on committees of standards organizations such as the Canadian Standards Association, the Canadian Government Specifications Board, and the International Organization for Standardization.

To provide you with some Idea of the impact of this work upon governments with similar problems as our own, I would like to show you a poster produced by the United States Government. They had invited us to address some 400 federal designers, design managers and senior administrators involved in their Design Improvement Program. In part the poster reads, “Up there they believe that government should have a corporate identity. Not hundreds of different government agency seals or logos or styles – but just one. Select typography, uniform signs, vehicles, a Cabinet-directed Program. That’s Canada; seen from here, it’s just North – but way ahead.” I can only assure you that we had no hand in the writing of the copy for this.

Information Canada is also involved in another major area of visual communications design. Information Canada Expositions, formerly the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission, was in the design business before there was an Information Canada… since 1902 in fact Canada has always found exhibitions to be a profitable and effective medium to reach its publics at home and abroad… even before Confederation, the governments of Upper and Lower Canada showed the country’s wares at the Great Exhibition of the Empire in the Crystal Palace in 1851. Information Canada Expositions has won an impressive number of design awards in addition to providing Canada with an international presence which is envied by other nations. Since 1970, it has been directing much of its energies to the in-Canada co-ordination of the exhibit programs of federal departments and agencies. The design and design management expertise developed over the years was most recently applied to a major exhibit demonstrating federal involvement in the field of aviation at the 1974 Calgary Stampede.

The plan was to link departments together under the federal banner in a co-ordinated exhibit – rather than each department or agency mounting their own separate show in whatever part of the fairground that was, available.

The proposed design was presented to a meeting of information directors and, for the first time, 18 federal departments, agencies and corporations presented their story in a unified fashion.

These shots will give you some idea of the impact that the show had upon the 2 million Canadians reached. The media were quick to note that federal agencies were actually co-operating to explain their activities to the public, and that the well-managed production precluded obvious overlaps in departments’ exhibiting activity. The Calgary fair authority honoured the whole effort with their First Prize for Theme, Design and Presentation. And, to top it off, independent research revealed that in all age groups within the audience, the federal presence and scope of activity got through in a way that had not been previously appreciated.

I hope that we have shown that the government realizes the importance of the effective visual communication of information and of design management within government, and that through Information Canada it is taking steps to provide a leadership role for the benefit of its many parts, and most importantly for the benefit of the public we serve at home and abroad.


A physical copy of this document is part of the federal identity archive.