How Design Happens

The sugar maple tree in our front yard is resplendent this week, something that prompted me to learn more about the species.

On the Canadian flag, for example:

Although many people think a red sugar maple leaf is featured on the flag of Canada, the official maple leaf does not belong to any particular maple species; although it perhaps most closely resembles a sugar maple leaf of all the maple species in Canada, the leaf on the flag was specially designed to be as identifiable as possible on a flag waving in the wind without regard to whether it resembled a particular species’ foliage.

There’s an interesting story about the making of the flag:

On a Friday afternoon in the late autumn of 1964, an urgent request came from Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to the desk of Ken Donovan. Mr. Donovan was then an assistant purchasing director with the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission, which later became a part of the Department of Supply and Services.

The Prime Minister wanted prototypes of the proposals for the new flag to take to his new residence at Harrington Lake the next morning. The three proposals on the table included the single maple leaf design.

The only design samples in existence were drawings on paper. So Mr. Donovan and his team of designers managed to do the impossible. The flag prototypes were assembled in just a few hours. Graphic artists and silk screeners Jean Desrosiers and John Williams were called in to work on the Friday evening. Since no seamstress could be found, the flags were stitched together by the young Joan O’Malley, daughter of Ken Donovan.

The story bears more than a little in common with the story of the late Anne of Green Gables PEI license plate that I wrote about in 2007; from Baxter Ramsay, its designer:

The next time I saw the Anne Plate it was done on a metal plate and all the mistakes were still there: her hair curls were wrong, door on the house in the wrong place along with the windows trees etc… I just did a fast sketch on ink and from memory (which was not very good) and sent it to motor vehicle. I said if it was to be used it needed to be corrected and made to fill in the plate more… Well what you see is what we got…”

I wonder how much of the design landscape is the result of processes like this, how much of what we assume was a long and deliberate process was, in fact, thrown together in a rush at the last minute.


Oliver's picture
Oliver on November 1, 2021 - 05:20 Permalink

I had to look up and compare the flag leaf against the Air Canada and Petro-Canada leaf logos. They're all different, and I think I may never have noticed before. I guess copying the flag leaf exactly might be illegal