Mon beau Montréal

1976 Montréal Olympics, Georges Huel

I recently judged a competition for the GDC in Canada. Much of the work was from Montréal, and it was darned good. There's some cracker jack stuff happening up there in the cold north. I've never been to Montreal, but I've been lucky enough to have been invited to many other parts of Canada.

If you've never been, it's like this: imagine that you go back in time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. You step on that one butterfly, and sure enough the butterfly effect happens. Once you go back into the time machine and return to the present day, everything seems the same... almost. That's what Canada is like. It seems just like home, but then there are little things that are just slightly different, like a different dimension one step away from our reality. Of course, there is different money. They speak English, albeit slightly differently. The stores are sort of the same, except you can buy really cool lumberjack kind of stuff at Roots. And they look like us, but they're incredibly nice.

One of my favorite Olympics programs, or programme to our French Canadian friends, is the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Georges Huel created a harmony of elements that are exuberant and tightly controlled. What a wonderful time it must have been in 1976. A designer could design with flawless Swiss typography, staying on the grid, aligning photos to the golden section. Nobody made accusations of post-modern referential appropriation. Swiss typography in a pure form was a just a swell solution. Judging by the photo of Huel's team, I imagine lots of long lunches drinking Harvey Wallbangers and chilled white wine..

 

Design Team: Georges Huel, Léo Chevalier, Marielle Fleury, Michel Robichaud, John Warden

 

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Treasures from the Great Northern Place

When Graphis did a story on us soon after we started the firm, we said, “We’re interested in making a good cake, not just nice icing.” Since we were both 29 years old and too cocky we thought this was incredibly clever. A few years later at a conference, a designer came up to me and said, “Yeah, I saw that article in Graphis. Everyone at my firm hates you. And you stole that quote from Burton Kramer.” Back then, I was still under the impression that I should remain polite and try to understand what was really driving this criticism. Now I would I simply say “Go to hell you mother@#$%ing mother@#$%er @#$%face.

 

In reality, Burton Kramer had said this in 1972. But, in my defense, I didn’t know this. I love Kramer’s work. Today, we get mired in post-modern analysis of irony, pastiche, and contradiction. Kramer’s solutions are so crystal clear and cutting. They are rational, perfect, simple, and elegant. But they are never cold, or without a sense of the human touch. The Canadian Broadcasting Company logo is complex and precise, but is optimistic and about infinite possibilities. Kramer’s identity programs are sublime. They are a testament to a time when designers had the time and skill to fine tune every tiny detail, as opposed to some of the slapdash icons created from a batch of Illustrator shapes. When I look through Kramer’s new book, I find the most difficult issues is to not inadvertently steal more of his wisdom.