Applied Arts—Spring 2018

You Don’t Know Me: 
The importance of anonymity

 
 
 

You work for them: an online source for design resources and also a philosophical reminder of what we do. As a designer, I understand—somewhat—the use of the service, though I have yet to use it. As a phrase, however, I interpret it as both inspiring and incomplete. Three simple words: you, them, and work.

When I hear “you work for them,” I initially think of the client-contractor relationship. Upon mention of this phrase, Dominic Ayre, creative director at Hambly & Woolley, pointed out something that had not yet occurred to me: “With Hambly & Woolley, my name is not on the door—so arguably, I’m working for somebody.” Let’s unpack this. Work is a means to earning an income, a place we go to and the products we produce. Like Dominic, I am employed by someone. My business is not associated with my name, neither will it, nor should it, be. It’s simply not relevant. Perhaps this touches on the crux of this article: I neither work for acknowledgement of what I produce nor to be recognized for my place of employment. For whom I work, however, I do care.

Lionel Gadoury, principal of Context Creative, is succinct in his summary: “We are hired to solve a problem.” Agreed. We are commissioned as discipline specialists and subject matter experts, and, Lionel says, “We’re hired to solve a client’s needs and objectives. We’re hired for our ability to understand the audience, and what it’s going to take to engage the audience to help clients achieve their goals.”As designers, I hope we can all agree on this perspective. Do we?

Clients recruit us for our insight, and for our ability to engage audiences. As Dominic states, “In the simplest way, when it comes to a financial business agreement I work for them [an employer]; when it comes to the work that we do, we work together.” Both designers and I agree: they (clients) hire us (contractors) to help with a job.

At the core of every contractor-client relationship is, or rather should be, the concept of collaboration. It’s what inspires Alison Garnett and business partner Carolina Soderholm. Together, they have built a firm based on collaboration and craft. In fact, it’s what inspired the name Field Trip & Co.. Together, they have a deep sense of curiosity, and like any field trip, “If you change the view, the view changes you,” Alison once told me. I very much relate their approach of “empathetic listeners who believe that understanding customers is essential to a brand’s success.” Design is not letting attitude and taste taint solutions; rather it’s about being open-minded when listening. As Lionel tells me, “It’s that ability to respect and understand the user experience, and understand the audience. It’s about our insights and our empathy.”

I have an additional perspective on the phrase “you work for them.” Designers are hired to listen, to learn and to create. We are not hired by a patron to accord us the privilege to pursue our whims and fancies, to express a unique personal style, to recite common themes, or to explore new ideas at the expense of the client, or worse, the audience. As designers we are anonymous; there is a greater good to consider.

I believe in the client-contractor collaborative relationship. I believe in a discovery process that generates a clear definition of the problem, a design evolution that sheds light on the user and solutions that are responsive to client and user. I find inspiration in a process that allows me to feel empathy for the individual or the collective for whom the design is intended to serve.

Lionel and Dominic individually have built careers around establishing relationships. Likewise, Alison tells me, “We don’t enter a new project without knowing the client, knowing the audience.” Her firm has built a practice around a process that yields that understanding. However, I also believe the designer’s responsibility, in addition to finding a solution to the client’s problem, is to advocate for anonymous. When I hear the phrase “you work for them,” I equate “them” as the groups not at the table—the audiences rarely considered, and the groups left out of typical conversations, discovery processes and user research. For me, “them” are also those without a voice. They are the multiple audiences for whom I also work for. The anonymous.

A designer’s insight and ability to engage audiences should also be harnessed as a means to remind our design team and client to address topics that may otherwise not receive attention. Our role is to identify stories of underrepresented groups, stories that challenge conventional narratives and stories that may be painful or difficult to tell. For this designer, that’s why I find the phrase “you work for them” to be both inspiring and incomplete.

You don’t know me, nor should you—ever—and certainly not for the works I create. As a designer, I strive not not let my output in any way be recognizable as crafted by me. I wholly believe I should be anonymous in the products I craft. Designers should be at the table as representatives of the the overlooked, the voiceless, the anonymous. I see a future where the work we produce is recognized for the audiences it serves, not for the individuals who created it. “You work for them” is not a statement of what we do, rather a reminder of who we do it for.


 

APPLIED ARTS MAGAZINE
time, vol 18, no 4

Applied Arts is Canada's premier magazine of visual communications. Applied Arts explores the strategic and cultural forces driving creativity in Canada and features the resulting work—whether groundbreaking, unusual or otherwise exceptional. Printed quarterly, the magazine is written for, and by, thought leaders and emerging talents in the visual communications field. Since 1986, Applied Arts has delivered gorgeous imagery, strong opinion, timely information and essential industry insight to a readership of 46,000 creative and marketing professionals.

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Summer 2018 Issue This issue suggests that in addition to our insight and ability to engage, we are also hired to represent all audiences.

 
 

Association of Registered Designers—22 May 2018

Why is John deWolf an RGD?

 
 
 

From student to peer, I am often confronted with questions related to the Return on Investment in RGD and similar organizations. “Is it worth the fees?” and “What do I get out of it?” are often the questions fielded. For this designer, joining RGD is less about how it will benefit me, and more about what benefits are provided to all of us. RGD, GDC and other industry-based organizations are here for us. They organize events suited to our interests; they give us the opportunity to meet industry heavyweights; they commission research important to our industry and they advocate for us when others devalue our services.

As a professional, I believe it is critical that I be a Member of those organizations that are champions for the industry in which I practice. Quite simply, we should support organizations that support us. Cost, value and perks are not part of the equation. My decision to join RGD is based on community and advocacy.

It is a cliché that “you only get out what you put into it,” but I believe it wholeheartedly. Organizations like RGD expend great effort organizing events, bringing the community together, raising awareness of what we do in our day-to-day work. The ability of these organizations to do what they do depends on our involvement and engagement. Our regular participation allows organizations like RGD to run more events, have a wider reach and attract the best in the industry. And, our feedback ensures the organization is providing content we want.

The first week, I joined RGD, I was welcomed by the Executive Director and shortly thereafter by other staff and volunteers. Encouraged to fill-in my profile, I did. Asked if would be interested in contributing a case study, I was. Invited to participate as a judge for the So(cial) Good Design Awards, I accepted. I look forward to other opportunities that I expect will arise in the future. At this point, I have so enjoyed the opportunities RGD has provided, I cannot see turning down any request they might make for my future involvement. The more actively I engage, the more I get out of this relationship. 

 

Living on the East Coast, away from the centre that is Ontario, I don’t have access to the same quantity of events and opportunities, however the staff and volunteers have worked to bridge that divide, ensuring I feel—no, I am—part of a greater community. If I have questions, or need to contact a designer with a special expertise or area of knowledge somewhere else in the country, RGD has been there to connect me, via their online directory or through requests to help make connections.

Take advantage of the great opportunities RGD offers. Go to an event, contribute a case study or new project, mentor an emerging designer or get involved on a Committee. Our involvement creates a stronger design community. And this is perhaps the greatest reward of Membership:  deeper sense of community. 

I joined for greater exposure for my company. But I do not measure ROI in RGD based on that. For this designer, joining RGD is about becoming more committed to an industry. It’s about getting to know your peers and letting them get to know me. It's about making lifelong connections and having support on issues that matter to us all. I feel pride in being a Member of the RGD community, valued for my many contributions to the growth of our community as for my annual support in Membership dues.


 

RGD | Association of Registered Graphic Designers

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers is a non-profit, professional Association represents over 3,800 design practitioners, including firm owners, freelancers, managers, educators and students. Their vision is for a graphic design profession that is broadly valued for its contribution to life, commerce and society.

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Why RGD? Our involvement creates a stronger design community.

 
 

Landscape/Paysage—Spring 2018

A Memorial Writ in the Landscape

 
 
 

THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A STORY ONLY THE LANDSCAPE CAN TELL

ON DECEMBER 6, 2017, Halifax marked the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, with the opening of Fort Needham grounds as a Memorial Park. At 9:04 a.m., hundreds gathered for a minute of silence; ships’ horns sounded; a cannon blasted from Citadel Hill. And around the assembled crowd, even in the drenching rain, the memorial landscape told its story, evoking intimate images of the disaster so long ago.

WHEN BRITAIN IS AT WAR, Canada is at war. There is no distinction,” stated Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1910. But the First World War, when it came, churned on, and neither Laurier nor Prime Minister Borden could have predicted the profound consequences at home, or on December 6, 2017, in Halifax.

During the war, military and merchant ships mustered in Halifax’s Bedford Basin, many destined to make the dangerous Atlantic crossing to the European theatres of war. On that tragic December day, two ships in the Narrows collided: the Norwegian SS Imo, a merchant vessel headed to the U.S. to load supplies for Belgian relief, struck the French SS Mont- Blanc laden with the raw goods for the production of explosives bound for Europe. The collision generated the largest non-nuclear explosion of the twentieth-century. In the blink of an eye, the community of Richmond was wiped from the face  of the city. One in twenty-five succumbed to the disaster; one in five suffered injury, many with lifelong afflictions, and one in ten were left homeless.

Today, no human witnesses to the tragedy remain. But the Memorial Park on Fort Needham Hill, with its vantage point overlooking ground zero of the explosion, will forever be tied to that devastating event.

THE STORIES THE HILL COULD TELL

When our teams began to prepare the hill for the centenary, we launched a joint process in awakening memory. Ekistics Planning & Design had shaped the site’s Master Plan with two clear goals: to significantly enhance Fort Needham’s power as a memorial for the city, the province and the nation, but also to meet the needs of the community for an improve local park. As the design took shape, we asked a single recurring question. Could we let the hill tell the story? We believed we could. This was the shared vision of our two teams—the Ekistics landscape architects and the experiential graphic designers of Form:Media—and the basis of our interdisciplinary approach.

Norwegian researcher Alexander Refsum Jensenius suggests an interdisciplinary approach to design differs from the collaboration of multiple disciplines working together to achieve a single goal. Interdisciplinary suggests a synthesis of approaches where knowledge, methods and process are integrated. The landscape architects of Ekistics Planning & Design looked to integrate thematic content into landforms, while the experiential graphic designers of Form:Media considered swales and retaining walls as much as they did words of interpretation.

Through materiality and form, our two teams worked as one. The design features two corten steel retaining walls, each the length of the two ships, which are pierced with the ship’s specifications: length, width, and place of origin. Simple wooden benches along the length of the “Mont-Blanc” wall indicate the content on board. Further inspection reveals the weight, volume and cost of these dangerous goods.

On the new Richmond staircase, which leads up the hill to the Memorial Bell Tower built some three decades ago, ballustrades are placed like shards of warped steel as if rained down upon the earth, each punctured with the name of a school, church, or business lost. Here, interpretation does not consist of verbose, didactic panels of lengthy prose. On one memorial wall of text, the upper half is perforated and light, while the lower half uses rivets of steel to complete the text as if below a waterline, an anamorphic experience. The narrative is further evoked through lighting on the monument.

Interpretation is not education. Visitors will come seeking diverse experiences, and perhaps—while walking a dog or checking out the playground—discover provocative details that pique their historical curiosity. Discovery can be as effective as a history book, perhaps more so.

The Fort Needham Memorial Park invites visitors to freely contemplate the 1917 explosion their own way. The experience, for many, will grow deeper with time. The power of that annual moment of silence lies in the landscape.

Authors John deWolf and Adam Fine are experiential graphic designers who worked with Ekistics Planning and Design to implement the park’s master plan. Their story is a follow-up to “Community and Commemoration,” by Sandra Cooke, in LP’s “Time” issue, 2016 winter (vol. 18, no. 4).


 

LANDSCAPES | PAYSAGES
time, vol 20, no 1

Landscape/Paysages Journal is a bilingual Quarterly publication of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. Landscapes/Paysages is the professional journal of landscape architecture in Canada. It presents a Canadian perspective on professional practice and provides a forum to discuss and debate matters related to design, culture and environment, as reflected in our landscapes.

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Photos: Scotty Sherin

 
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Photos: Scotty Sherin

 
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Photos: Scotty Sherin

 

Applied Arts—Spring 2018

Judged and juried: It’s time to take a more holistic look at design awards

 
 
 

Recently, I was discouraged when reviewing the fine print of a graphic design competition entry form, not entirely for what I read, but because I could not decipher the type. My current pair of glasses did not pass muster. (A trip to the optometrist confirmed that multi-vision lenses would aid in seeing different views.)

For over 25 years, I have been scrutinizing everything from interpretive planning documents to location plans, message schedules and construction drawings. The type of work I do—experiential graphic design—has been partially responsible for a shift in my vision.

Perhaps the close read of the entry requirements only enhanced some of the issues I have with design competitions. While new lenses helped to better understand the scope of each classification, better sight did not improve my ability to discern the correct category for our work. For a designer who operates on the periphery of many design disciplines—branded environments, signage and wayfinding, and design for narrative environments—I can rarely find a category that is a best fit.

Full disclosure: I have juried and I have been judged. So too have Edmund Li and Udo Schliemann of branding and environmental commmunications firm Entro, both of whom I spoke to regarding this opinion piece. I am currently a judge for the RGD, and a past juror for Applied Arts; I do hope this column does not preclude me from any future opportunities to appraise design work.

Competition season is upon us, and so this year I have an opportunity to take a critical look. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in competitions. They are important for our clients, for the industry and for the individuals who contributed to the project.

Certainly I cannot be alone in questioning competitions. Aside from what category best relates to our work—or if categorization is even necessary—I have other questions. Why are we submitting? Are competitions the best way to recognize work? Is it even worth it?

The close view: most typical brand categories include visual identity and related material, usually print. But if brand is about a promise and aligning expectation with experience, then why not enter an interior design or even a civic park into a branding competition? The issue then is in communicating how that project supports the brand.

One problem: the requirements. For example, “If you have a wayfinding project, and only eight images,” says Schliemann, “and you produced 20 sign types and 1,000 signs, you can’t describe your project properly with those limitations.” Udo, Edmund and I agree. It is difficult to communicate complexity, as Schliemann notes, “with a short text and the visual repertoire that we are asked to provide.” Personally, I prefer competitions that accept longer texts and supporting images that illustrate the depth of the solution.

As an entrant, you must anticipate for juror fatigue, Edmund and Udo reminded me. Perhaps this gets to the core of what we do, you and I. We are communicators. The audience for the products we create is different than jurors and industry readership. We must, as designers, tailor the message to the audience.

What should the juror focus on? As much as we want to document every detail, we can’t. Therefore review, remind yourself of the big picture and refine. Regardless of the complexity of the project, there is a way to communicate the submission’s core idea within the requirements, such as a video or a great copy editor.

A benefit of competitions is the process. “There is a moment of reflection when you look at your work,” says Li, and, “during your own selection process, you may realize the things you could have improved. When you see a very strong entry, there is a reminder about why the project is working.”

Recently, I entered a project in a competition. I found it interesting that when viewed through the individual lenses of graphic design, architecture and landscape architecture, the design was good, possibly very good. However, when the “design” solution was viewed as a whole, I thought it was “awardworthy.” But would others? Does it even matter?

From another perspective—the long view—the main issue I struggle with is choosing a category—or using the intradisciplinary lens to evaluate a multidisciplinary project. Applied Arts and Azure have introduced new categories—like experiential graphic design—into their programs for a broadening design field. Thanks, we EGDers appreciate this!

Perhaps the shift to multi-vision progressive lenses gave me a new perspective after all. Udo suggests more categories are required to capture the periphery of communication design. This is where he and I do not see eye to eye. While intradisciplinary judging levels the playing field, I believe industry as a whole is moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach to design. So too should competitions.

Edmund, Udo and I do agree on many points: we enter awards to thank our clients for considering design, as a sign of appreciation for staff and to push the envelope of the design fields. Udo laments, however, that those things “always used to be part of our profession—the social impact, the social-political impact of what we do. That has somehow gotten lost. It’s really more about things of beauty, or the latest tools.” I could not agree more.

What competitions would I like to see? To enter? I want to judge and be judged on good, not just good-looking, design. I believe in high standards and positive outcomes, and I care less about beauty. I would like to believe the industry shares some of my opinions, as we witness design organizations recognizing how positive action through design can meaningfully impact how we live. (Kudos RGD and its So(cial) Good Design Awards.)

Ultimately, I envision a competition that is less intradisciplinary in evaluation, and more focussed on how we solve problems through design to benefit society. GDC, RGD, RAIC, IDC and CSLA: it’s time to take a more holistic approach to design awards. Let’s collaborate, in an interdisciplinary way, to envision competitions that celebrate outcome and process, regardless of discipline. That’s a vision of the future I see.


 

APPLIED ARTS MAGAZINE
time, vol 18, no 4

Applied Arts is Canada's premier magazine of visual communications. Applied Arts explores the strategic and cultural forces driving creativity in Canada and features the resulting work—whether groundbreaking, unusual or otherwise exceptional. Printed quarterly, the magazine is written for, and by, thought leaders and emerging talents in the visual communications field. Since 1986, Applied Arts has delivered gorgeous imagery, strong opinion, timely information and essential industry insight to a readership of 46,000 creative and marketing professionals.

March2018.jpg

Inaugural Issue This is the first of what I hope to be many opinion pieces for Applied Arts Magazine

 
 

Landscape/Paysage—Winter 2016

Branding Heritage Landscapes

 
 
 

When we brand a landscape, are we just turning it into a commodity or are we building a sense of place? According to a recent article in Forbes, brand is a term that is “widely used but unevenly understood.” Agreed. Brand expert Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, describes brand as a gut feeling. It is the emotional connection they—the public—have when traversing a street or trail, that we—landscape architects and experiential graphic designers—have a role in building. When done well, landscape architecture and branding both strengthen emotional connections to place.

Experiential Graphic Design is located at the intersection of landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning and communication design. According to the SEGD (the Society for Experiential Graphic Design), the industry “create[s] content-rich, emotionally compelling, experiential spaces for a wide range of environments” to fuel a dialogue between users and the spaces they inhabit. Experiential graphic designers orchestrate familiar elements of design—typography, color, imagery, form, light and sound—to communicate themes and narratives by means of fixtures in the environment, including signage, panels and objects. Like LAs [Landscape Architects], we consider how and when information is delivered to evoke emotional connections. 

As practitioners, our work is made more challenging when the landscape is considered special because of its historic or cultural significance. In these heritage landscapes, integrity and authenticity are key to our understanding of time.

A QUESTION OF AUTHENTICITY

The same question challenges so many heritage towns: how do you add anything to your community, such as buildings and signage, which respects the past while being relevant to the present? Old Town Lunenburg, for example, is one of the few spots in Canada used for 19th and 20th century period films because it lacks many artifacts of the present-day. Time, however, has taken a toll, perhaps irreversibly on the offshore Atlantic fishery. As traditional industries vanish and society adapts to socio-economic change, communities like Lunenburg must, by virtue their UNESCO designation, carefully protect the fragility of their historic fabric.

When our experiential graphic design firm, Form: Media, began to work with Lunenburg to develop a place brand, it was well understood by the town that we “should” use period fixtures and design wooden signs with rope and wrought iron, in keeping with the tradition of boat building, regional design vernacular and the fishery. That said, the sincerest form of flattery may NOT be imitation. Today, material and craft differ vastly from that of over a century ago. When the work is not truthful—fake old—the lack of authenticity impedes the visitors’ ability to understand the value of the artifact—the town.

Signage is a modern necessity for most communities, and in cultural heritage landscapes, promotion and interpretation are essential. Taking time for contemplation, Lunenburg chose instead to respect the integrity of the UN designation by implementing signage which would contrast with the town’s historic background, not mimic it. The design team purposefully choose modern typefaces suggestive of eras past, and a colour palette that would not detract from the town’s brightly coloured houses. The signs share historical information and directions to historical buildings of note and the area’s main attractions. Each includes not only the street name and town and zone map, but also UNESCO information and buildings of significance in the immediate vicinity. The zone map in particular, highlights the town’s 18th century rectangular grid pattern plan. The sign’s slender vertical design fits within a very narrow pedestrian corridor: visible when required, inconspicuous when not. The form easily allows for film crews to temporarily disguise signage when the town is used as a film set. Map kiosks sited in open areas give an overview of the town and communicate events and amenities. The reverse side uses period photography to establish how little the town has changed. Hence, from a visitor’s perspective, the signage directs and informs, supporting the notion of authenticity by not undermining the heritage landscape.

EVOKING EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS

The Landscape of Grand Pré is a living artifact: an historic polder landscape; a preserved community-based land management system; a heritage landscape inhabited by Mi’kmaq people and European settlers; and a cultural landscape that serves to commemorate the Acadian diaspora. If brand is about evoking emotional connections through design, then this program overtly interprets the cultural landscape to enhance understanding, even elicit feelings of empathy. Whereas the landscape of Old Town Lunenburg is a protected urban fabric, the Landscape of Grand Pré bears testimony to those who formed, harvested and lost, and continue to work this artificial hydrological entity. 

The 1,300 hectare site now has a unified signage program to welcome guests to the land, to direct them to points of interest, and to interpret the environment. Because integrity was key, the work required a light footprint on a landscape already dramatically shaped by human activity, however imperceptible those past interventions were to the modern eye.

History and reflection are of great importance to the community. A painterly brandmark features the Acadian memorial church, the dykelands, agricultural silos, and Cape Blomidon aims to form an emotional connection with the landscape. Interpretive signage improves the visitor experience by encouraging understanding of Landscape of Grand Pré, while directional signage provides clear directions to destinations that are important to residents and visitors. Together, these build an emotional attachment for those that experience it.

HONOURING THE PROMISE

Integrity—according to the United Nations World Heritage program—is a measure of the wholeness and intactness of cultural heritage and its attributes. Red Bay, Labrador is recognized as the most extensive and best preserved example of proto-industrial processing of large-scale production of whale oil rendering, anywhere. The site once bustled with 16th century activity centred on whaling, holding rendering ovens, cooperages, wharves, and temporary living quarters. Today, little historic evidence remains on the landscape, aside from an interpretive centre.

Strictly through the lens of brand, there was a disconnect between what visitors expected—the promise of a 16th century Basque whaling station—and the current town of Red Bay, mostly built in the mid-20th century. Visitors to Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (BWS) will largely experience the latter, while interpreting the former. For the town of Red Bay, Form:Media’s place-branding focussed on enhancing the destination, and revealing an unperceivable history of place. Essentially, the work advocates for the visitor by addressing another aspect of brand  and the built environment: aligning the promise with the experience.

Honesty is therefore paramount. We had to be cautious about how to represent Red Bay Basque Whaling Station. From a purely graphic perspective, the use of a modified 16th century woodcut, paired with photographs of the current Red Bay landscape promises an experience which can actually be delivered: indoor interpretation of Basque whaling heritage with rugged outdoor experience. 

The designers’ consideration of the landscape was deliberate, fuelled by the promise of a contemporary experience. Central to the wayfinding system are the monuments, which relate to observation posts used by Basque sailors to spot whales coming through the Strait of Belle Isle. These monuments of blackened steel evoke plumes of dark smoke which would have wafted from the tryworks where whale blubber was rendered into lamp oil. 

The monument design is a work of signature architecture, and as important as other aspects (assets) of the brand (its logo, typeface, symbols, colour scheme). The structures are meant to be prominently shown in photographs, yet are best seen in person. Texture and colour echo the dark oily skin of the right and bowhead whales. Their mirrored top is a contemporary reflection on the Basque sailors’ use of fire to signal whale pod sightings.

For Red Bay, integrity was again the paramount criteria. The landscape, relatively unaltered for recent centuries should remain so. Situated sparingly within the natural environment, the monuments are meant as contemplative spaces for the visitor, to elicit notions of time in the present-day, and that of five centuries ago. We describe them as portals, a notional view to the past. The monuments frame points of view, both towards an ocean once circumnavigated by the Basque sailors and back to a community continuing to operate as an outpost. 

When designers brand a landscape, we are aiming to influence people’s perceptions. The cultural heritage landscapes of UNESCO World Heritage sites are fragile environments, and we recognize that in these places, we can help shape society’s understanding of the passage of time. When visitors connect emotionally with these places, then we know we have NOT commodified space, but rather built a stronger place-brand that can help preserve these landscapes for future generations.


 

LANDSCAPES | PAYSAGES
time, vol 18, no 4

Landscape/Paysages Journal is a bilingual Quarterly publication of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. Landscapes/Paysages is the professional journal of landscape architecture in Canada. It presents a Canadian perspective on professional practice and provides a forum to discuss and debate matters related to design, culture and environment, as reflected in our landscapes.

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Located at key corners and junctions throughout the town, the signs share historical information and directions to historical buildings of note and the area’s main attractions. 

 
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A unique challenge: to create an efficient bilingual word mark. A star replaces the hyphen used only in French, while also symbolizing the significant Acadian heritage of Grand Pré. The logo pays homage to Glooscap and the high bluffs of Blomidon, the 17th century Acadian dyke system, current day farming practice, and the Acadian memorial.

 
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In Red Bay, the brand and the built environment are inextricably linked. In this system, a single metaphor (the “portal”) and a unifying set of proportions guides the form of everything, including the Red Bay logo, the shape of the monument, and the form of all signs in the system.

 

Landscape/Paysage—Winter 2016

Telling a landscape’s story

 
 
 

As Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations unfold this year, it has been important not to overlook pre-Confederation history and Aboriginal people’s heritage. By way of example, in an effort to help strengthen ties between the federal government and Saskatchewan’s Métis Nation, Form:Media recently ‘dressed’ Lot 47—site of the once-thriving village of Batoche in central Saskatchewan—with an environmental graphic design (EGD) project, which uses signs and related components to tell the tale of the settlement’s history.

The history behind the project

At the centre of this history is a dispute between two opposing methods of landholding: (a) a linear, river-oriented allotment by an agrarian people versus (b) a less natural grid-based system devised and imposed with a lack of regard for local geographic features. The story proceeded from non-issue to conflict to entente to formal collaboration.

For millennia, the Plains were traversed by Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwa, Assiniboine, Nakota, Dakota and other First Nations. The South Saskatchewan River region, in particular, came to be seen as the physical, cultural and political home of the Métis Nation, which was formed through the mixing of Indigenous and European peoples and, as such, was distinct from Canada’s other Aboriginal peoples. In the late 19th century, a decline in the bison population diminished hunting for the Métis, forcing a transition from a semi-nomadic to an agrarian way of life. The consolidation of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company also meant fewer Métis traders were employed, so they made do by settling on the land.

In 1872, a small number of Métis from the Red River area near Winnipeg (then Fort Garry) established Batoche at the junction of the South Saskatchewan River and the Carlton Trail, a 1,500-km (932-mi) overland route connecting Fort Garry with Fort Edmonton. It was also near a third major trading route, the Humboldt Trail.

The town’s name was derived from its founder, Xavier ‘Batoche’ Letendre, who established Lot 47 with his home, a store and a ferry across the river. The approach taken to land division accounted for the importance of trade routes and the relationship of the settlement to the river.

Inspired by French methods, the Métis divided the land so every family would have some river frontage. Most lots were about 200 m (656 ft) wide at the riverside and up to 3 km (1.9 mi) long. The settlers used just the riverside land at first for agriculture, then expanded inland to graze cattle, grow larger crops and tend woodlots.

Batoche quickly developed as the commercial centre of the overall settlement area, which was home to 800 residents by 1883 and 1,200 by 1885. It had come to be considered the heart of the Métis Nation.

After developing their own unique culture throughout the 19thcentury, the Métis were a strong, politically organized force in defending their rights. Throughout the 1880s, they came into confrontation with the newly established government for the Dominion of Canada over a variety of its policies.

In particular, the Métis—along with First Nations and white settlers—became concerned about their allotted properties being resurveyed and potentially redistributed under the federal government’s grid-based land survey, which was being conducted across Western Canada. After the government ignored their concerns, the Métis declared a provisional government of Saskatchewan—essentially an independent nation—in March 1885.

In response, the federal government dispatched the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), the forerunner to today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP), to bring an end to what it considered a rebellion. Several battles, including a decisive one at Batoche in May 1885, led to the defeat of the short-lived provisional government.

Some Métis families dispersed as Batoche was subjugated and appropriated by a government that saw the village as a commodity over which to exercise its authority. Most left later due to disease and economic factors, such as the building of the railway, which bypassed the village altogether.

Yet, even as the Dominion tightened its control of Western Canada, the linear lots on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River remained, as a testament to the community’s resistance. Similarly, the Métis have flourished throughout Western Canada following their dispersion. Today, more than 400,000 people identify themselves as Métis.

Investing in infrastructure

Shortly before the completion in 2015 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Parks Canada undertook an interpretive design process for the national historic site, to help support the Métis’ sense of pride by honouring the pre- and post-battle story of their time in Batoche, in the interest of improving cultural relations. As the federal government agency suggested in its management plan, the site conveys a strong sense of place and importance to both the past and the present, but while it is rich in history and ecology, it has become grossly underused. Given the agency’s mandate to increase visits and revenue for national parks and historic sites across the country by 2017’s Canada 150 celebrations, there was a desire to establish Batoche as a must-see destination for both locals and tourists in central Saskatchewan, with the understanding doing so would require a substantial investment in infrastructure.

Over the years, the agency had increasingly found common ground with Aboriginal peoples regarding the establishment and management of areas of natural and cultural significance through constitutionally protected land claim and cost-sharing agreements. In the case of Batoche, the settlement area was designated a national historic site in 1923. Today, it is Crown land managed by Parks Canada in conjunction with the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, with a shared management board serving as an advisory council.

The 955-ha (2,360-acre) landscape of aspen forest and remnant fescue prairie has revealed pre-contact Aboriginal cultural resources dating back more than 6,000 years, though it remained best-known for its evidence of Métis history and the village of Batoche. Several buildings were restored, helping to depict where the village’s inhabitants lived, travelled and fought, but while both Parks Canada and the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan agreed the site conveyed the battle story quite well, they also agreed on the need for a more comprehensive account of Batoche’s culture. So, they commissioned a large-scale outdoor interpretive exhibit.

Following symposia and community discussions, a program called ‘Story on the Landscape’ was developed, encompassing a number of related projects, including the acquisition of a shuttle bus, a series of interpretive rest stops, a viewing platform and an interpretive play area. A collection  of documents for these projects formed the foundation for a request for proposals (RFP), issued in January 2015.

On a raised platform, interpretive panels describe early life in Batoche and illustrate how its river lots were used.

A unique design approach

The historic land dispute served as the primary source of inspiration for Form:Media’s concept for the EGD project, with the goal of guiding visitors to a better understanding of a wider cultural story, of which the 1885 battle was just one component.

The design firm, which is based in Dartmouth, N.S., and specializes in signage, exhibits and other systems for museums and interpretive centres, set out to unite Lot 47’s landscape through the architectural integration of a small number of conspicuous exhibitry placements, rather than imposing a larger number of insertions of smaller signs and graphics throughout the 1,650-m2(17,760-sf) project area. The surviving relics of the past, including building foundations and cellars, would still do most of the storytelling; it was simply a matter of curating the visitor experience with interpretive touches to explain the story further.

The client, Parks Canada, required the project to be unique, architecturally interesting and interactive, incorporating historic themes and activities of Batoche in ways that would engage adults, children, families and caregivers. Instead of treating the land as inanimate and placing EGD elements at points along a route, Form:Media worked with the client to showcase the landscape—including the river, the land and the sky—as the central character in the story, reflecting the sacred relationship between Indigenous cultures and nature.

Parks Canada’s design brief also emphasized construction using environmentally friendly processes and materials as appropriate. There were also early discussions of making the exhibit ‘period appropriate,’ but as the project progressed, Form:Media chose instead to contrast the site with a contemporary palette. Durable materials, including weathering and galvanized steel, cedar and stone, were chosen to evoke themes of permanence and help minimize the need for future maintenance.

“We didn’t look at it as just a signage project, a landscape project or an architecture project,” explains Chris Crawford, lead architect. “As a team, we used each of those disciplines to work together.”

A simple mowed/burned strip motif was chosen to reinforce the linearity and direction of the seigneurial river lots. An innovative cedar batten joinery was developed to significantly reduce the size and quantity of fasteners.

“Like a woven textile, the inset battens act as structural support, minimizing our need to rely on fasteners,” says Crawford.

A wooden panel system was chosen to finish the interiors of the structures, providing an armature for the mounting of the interpretive panels. Visually, it also serves as a reference to the red and white weave of the ceinture fléchée (arrowed sash) of Métis culture.

Skyline Atlantic Canada fabricated the interpretive panels and wooden liners, Elance handled steel fabrication and Mennie Design & Build installed all of the components. The structures themselves were raised up on piles, to reduce direct impact on the historic site.

“There was good planning on the part of the client,” says Crawford. “They had done extensive research beforehand and knew precisely where to place the structures.”

The visitor’s journey

The first structure a visitor encounters when travelling to the village site is the ‘viewing lens,’ where cedar planks represent a series of river lots running parallel to each other. This interpretive node sits atop a hill, providing a vantage point to introduce the landscape. A two-panel informational sign on one of the walls provides context.

A 730-m (2,395-ft) walk west down the linear path—or ride on the shuttle bus—toward the river leads the visitor to the next structure, the ‘platform,’ which comprises two bodies of weathering steel connected by a wooden stage. Stairs take the visitor up into the first chamber, an open-air enclosure where a pair of interpretive panels set to the left side—combining clear acrylic with screenprinted aluminum—describe how Batoche was chosen as a place to put down roots and what early life was like there. Illustrations show how the river lots were used.

After reading those panels, the visitor turns and walks along the stage as a bridge to the second steel chamber. A 6-m (20-ft) long and 300-mm (12-in.) wide handrail uses screenprinted and clearcoated aluminum to illustrate Batoche’s central position among the trade routes over land and water. It allows the visitor to visualize what the village would have looked like, by superimposing photos of buildings on the landscape.

In the second chamber, which opens to the sky above, a 5.3-m (17-ft) tall timeline provides an overview of the settlement’s history, with bent metal strips screenprinted with dates and information in English and French marking 50-year spans. By projecting up through the opening, it is meant to suggest an infinite future for the Métis. In addition, the Métis flag—which features the infinity symbol—flies above the tower.

A handrail superimposes photos of historic buildings on the landscape to help visualize what the village of Batoche looked like.

After exiting the platform, the visitor returns to the land and ends the journey in the family garden. At the centre of this area is the trade route playground, a three-dimensional (3-D) scaled map that demonstrates how people and goods would have moved across Northwestern Canada. Major trading posts and Métis communities are indicated with large, upright log markers, which also serve as beacons above newly introduced saskatoon berry hedgerows. Horizontal half-sawn logs symbolize the main trails.

In the family garden’s picnic area, raised countertops feature ‘placemat’ graphics of the foods that were eaten in Batoche. These panels are evocative of 18th– and 19th-century posters, but provide modern cooking techniques and ingredients for traditional fare, including boulettes, bannock, chokecherry syrup and Saskatoon berry crumble. A nearby sandbox demonstrates food preservation techniques, including root cellaring and the use of a pemmican stone to pulverize dried meat.

Fulfilling the vision

Parks Canada’s multi-faceted goal for this project was to allow the landscape to tell the story of a thriving culture, strengthen ties and serve as a destination. Through a combination of interpretive planning, graphic design and architecture, Form: Media found a way to fulfil that goal.

The site opened in August 2016. The following June, it was honoured both with a People’s Choice Award in the inaugural experiential graphic design category of the seventh annual AZ Awards and as a finalist for the annual Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) Awards in the U.S.


 

SIGN MEDIA CANADA
October, 2017

Sign Media Canada is dedicated to serving the Canadian sign media community. In addition to an established audience of sign professionals, Sign Media Canada reaches companies in the print graphics, digital imaging and advertising fields—reflecting the growing stature of signs as a hot, new advertising medium. Sign Media Canada’s audited circulation represents the largest audience of active buyers in the Canadian sign industry. Sign media publishes 8 issues per yea

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A handrail superimposes photos of historic buildings on the landscape to help visualize what the village of Batoche looked like. Photo by John deWolf, Form:Media.

 
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The design process involved determining how informational graphics would be incorporated into the exhibit architecture. 
Drawings Form:Media and Ekistics Planning & Design

 

 
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The visitor’s journey begins at the ‘viewing lens,’ where a two-panel informational sign provides context.Photo by John deWolf, Form:Media.

 
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On a raised platform, interpretive panels describe early life in Batoche and illustrate how its river lots were used. Photo by John deWolf, Form:Media.

 
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In the picnic area, raised countertops’ panel graphics explain modern cooking techniques for traditional dishes. Photo by John deWolf, Form:Media.

 

SEGD—July 2017

John deWolf's Sketchbook

 
 
 

Earlier in the day, I was asked to submit images from my sketchbook. I thought: How did they know sketchbooks mean so much to me? Did I say something? Perhaps it was an uncanny coincidence. Only hours earlier I remarked on a student’s sketchbook and their progress exploring and collecting ideas. Maybe it was leaving the house sans keys and wallet, yet with sketchbook in hand?

My sketchbooks were for intended for me—and few others—until now, as I have been asked to share them. I view my sketchbook as diaries to express an interior monologue. Any given page represents half-thoughts and impressions I may have about a project, but page after page reveals the evolution of a concept. Leafing through, I often recall what I ate, whom I was with, or where I was when I made a certain mark, regardless of the journal’s age. (And yet, I cannot remember to leave the house with everything I need for the day!)

I put little care into my mark making. I have fleeting moments to explore ideas, thus quantity and speed of exploration over the quality of line work is my maxim. My books are neither pretty nor at times legible—coffee or wine stain, bent cover and lost spine are not issues for me. While not precious, losing a book, however, might lead to months of anxiety. Thankfully, I believe I still have ALL of them.

 

They also serve as scrapbooks and wallets; on this day, my journal revealed cash, receipts for reimbursable expenses and a dental appointment card. In addition to being a diary of the affairs of work, my sketchbooks are a means to keep my desk tidy—though rarely it is—the sounds of paper torn and Scotch tape pulled are often heard from my office. Members of the staff jokingly suggest, “scrapbooking?” I rebut, “trying not to lose track of things.” To me, a napkin, drink coaster, even a receipt all are paper waiting for a “eureka” moment.

Perhaps my sketchbooks are a loose visual storyboard of me. A collection of scribbles, Post-it notes, and torn paper my sketchbooks reveal an approach that is loose and methodical, scattered and multi-tasking, exploratory and iterative, obvious and ambiguous. 

Explore John deWolf’s sketchbook, or find out more about John deWolf on the SEGD's website.


 

SOCIETY OF EXPERIENTIAL GRAPHIC DESIGNERS (SEGD)
JULY, 2017

SEGD exists to "educate, connect and inspire" the global, multidisciplinary community of professionals creating experiences that connect people to place. The two presentations linked below explain who we are and what we do. Use these presentations to explain SEGD at schools, colleges, chapter events and to clients.

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“Speed of exploration over the quality of line work is my maxim.”