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Detail of Ariana Cuvin’s winning design for the official logo of the 150th anniversary of Canada

Government of Canada

Only in Canada would a government be criticized for letting a university undergrad design the logo for the country's 150th anniversary. What seems on the surface like a nice thing for the federal government to do – holding a design contest open only to postsecondary students and giving the winner $5,000, not to mention a huge start in life – has been called exploitative, cheap and a tarnish on the birthday celebration.

That's all a bit much.

Graphic Designers of Canada, a certification body and lobby group, says the contest exploited the 300 students who took part because they received no compensation for their submissions. But isn't that how contests work?

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The same group also says handing the job of designing the logo for the country's 150th to an amateur reflects an indifference to the importance of graphic design.

"Unfortunately, it represents a glaring reminder of this government's significant lack of understanding of the value of design, the creative process and the design profession," said Adrian Jean, president.

It's true that design is critical, and that it should not generally be handled by amateurs. Beyond the imagery and skill involved, the logo for Canada's 150th has to work across many platforms: digital, print, television, T-shirt and coffee cup.

But the winning design, by Ariana Cuvin, a second-year student in business and digital arts at the University of Waterloo, actually works well. It is basically an updating of the logo created for the 1967 centennial. It's not as elegant as that one, which used 11 colourful triangles to create a modernized maple leaf, but it certainly won't offend anyone.

If professional graphic designers had their way, the process of creating the new logo would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. There would have been months of elaborate discussion about telling Canada's story and celebrating its virtues. And then a winning logo would have been unveiled and half the country would have hated it and been offended by the money that was spent on it.

Ms. Cuvin's success tells a better story than that. She read the contest rules, put herself out there and produced a winning design while juggling her studies. If that offends you, it's not her problem.

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