Sometimes the best design is design that doesn’t get noticed at all. With Canada Day only a few days away, it occurred to me that the Canadian flag was a great example of “invisible” design.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the maple leaf is not recognizable or that Canadians will not display it proudly all over the country this week.
Rather, it’s just that the red and white design is so seamless – so effective – that people often take it for granted and never really learn about the creative process that brought it to life.
So I decided I would share some of the history behind the design of our national flag.
A Brief History of the Canadian Flag
First, I should start by mentioning that Canada did not have its own national flag until 1965. After Confederation, Canadians used a hybrid flag that combined elements of the Union Jack with symbols of each province. This flag, known as the Canadian Red Ensign, served as Canada’s unofficial national flag.
In the early 1960s, with the Canadian Centennial approaching in 1967, Canada’s government decided to adopt a new and distinctive national flag. Canadians were invited to send in their ideas and a committee was established to determine the best design.
After reviewing hundreds of options, and sparking a national debate in the process, the Committee finally settled on a design by George Stanley, a professor of history in New Brunswick. And the new flag was officially inaugurated on February 15, 1965.
But there’s more to the story.
The maple leaf, which had already been used to represent Canada since the 18th century, was chosen to appear on the flag over other Canadian symbols to celebrate the country’s nature and environment.
The stylized image of the red leaf with eleven points was selected by the committee over other proposed images of maple leafs after wind tunnel tests showed it to be the least blurry when tested under high wind conditions.
As for the combination of red and white, it was favoured over more colourful designs to reflect the official colours of Canada as proclaimed by King George V in 1921.
Design Has Deep Roots at BSL
Personally, I find that reading about the creative process and the reasoning behind certain design decisions can really influence the day-to-day work I do as a graphic artist for BSL. But there’s another reason why the history of the Canadian flag is so fascinating to me.
Recently, my family and I were going through old photos and documents at my parent’s house and we discovered a drawing done by my grandfather.
To our great surprise, we realized that it was a design that he had submitted for The New National Flag competition back in the early 1960’s.
His design (right) may not have won, and its detailed multicolour look might not fit the modern criteria for “invisible” design, but it’s obvious that it shows the pride my grandfather developed for his adoptive country after emigrating from England.
And by the way, that’s another key to great design: passion.
Happy Canada Day everyone!