Thursday, December 1, 2011

1001 symboles du Québec / Gérard Bochud

Gérard Bochud, 1001 symboles du Québec, Montreal: Presses de l'Université du Québec, 1994.

This is the second book concerning Quebec symbols written by Gérard Bochud, a professor of design at the Université de Québec a Montréal. The symbols, logotypes, and signatures it highlights come from the work of graphic designers at design firms, freelance designers, art directors, and advertising and communication agencies. While the author tried to identify all of the designers whose works are included, he was unable to identify them all. Some design agencies and companies refused to offer the names of the designers of specific works, while other organizations no longer existed, making identification of specific creators more difficult. Those works for which the creator could not be identified are labelled as "unknown." However, Bochud claims that he did, where possible, try to identify unidentified creators by comparing symbols with unnamed designers with the style and aesthetic qualities of other designs for which the creators were known.

In his brief discussion of how one can judge the quality of symbols, Bochud notes that interpretations vary. He simply claims that the most important quality should be legibility.

While the book was compiled by Bochud, the introduction is by Gilles Robert. Robert begins by noting that symbols are designed to convey certain messages through their use, combinations, and manipulation of text, drawings, textures, blank spaces, and illusions. They allow for the communication of sentiments, and not just words or typical images which represent an institution or organization. Robert also notes that each symbol reflects a particular approach to a topic, a kind of business, an institution, or a cause, as well as the design styles of different eras. Referencing Philip B. Meggs' History of Graphic Design, Robert notes that the designer of each symbol was also informed and influenced by the approaches and creations of earlier symbol designers.

Robert explains that the use of stylized symbols, used to represent particular individuals, groups, or institutions dates back thousands of years. Ancient Roman bricklayers would sometimes identify their work through a stylized marking of their name, as did potters. Referencing a sixteenth century merchant from Dijon, Robert explains how this businessman devised a signature which incorporated numerous symbols of hidden meaning. He also notes that, from the Middle Ages on, noble families devised coats of arms as recognizable symbols that would allow people to identify the family’s property, presence, or influence.

Robert next examines the different words often used to describe different symbols so as to ensure that each term, and how it is employed in the text, is thoroughly understood by the reader. The four branches of signs are: symbols, logotypes, signatures, and pictograms. He defines symbols as a "[g] raphic element more of less complex in its structure, more or less abstract in its treatment which, in itself, in intended to call to mind a service, a company or an organization." (p 10) Symbols can include initials as part of the larger image, but they are typically stylized images which are designed to bring to mind the activities of the service, company, or organization in question. An effective symbol references ideas which are commonly held by the public. Such ideas are not always easy to determine and the design process can involve long and costly marketing strategies. As Robert notes, while one may design impressive symbols, they will be ineffective if they do not reference commonly held ideas.

While Robert admits that in common parlance, the term "logo" is often use to identify any graphic design which is used to identify a particular company, product, or service, the term "logotype" is much more specific. It refers to a word, a small group of words, or an abbreviation which is rendered in a specific manner so as to create a personalized, and standardized, form of graphic identification. While a preexisting typeset can be used, the arrangement of the characters, and any other stylistic alterations, are consistently maintained in a manner which causes the characters to, not only act as characters, but also as part of an illustration or in a manner which suggests a specific form, and not simply a feeling or attitude. However, Robert also notes that, while logotypes can consist of modified characters, the greatest effect is often achieved with the least, and most subtle modification(s) possible. Robert interestingly claims that English is especially well suited to successful logotypes, possibly since the designer does not need to be concerned about the inclusion of accents which can unbalance words. Yet, regardless of the alleged greater usefulness of English, he offers examples of, what he judges to be, good French and bilingual logotypes created by Quebec designers.

While having the same purpose as symbols and logotypes, signatures are either combinations of characters and images where the text and the image are not interlaced, or simply characters which have been stylized so as to suggests a specific attitude or feeling, but not a particular visual image, as in the case of a logotype. In the second case, the text can be accompanied by a symbol. Thus, as Robert argues, signatures are combinations of symbols and logotypes.

Robert declines from discussing pictograms, the case of the last category of signs, claiming that they are irrelevant to Bochud's study. This is because pictograms are rarely used as signs for companies, organizations, or services, but are typically used to represent a specific thing or kind of thing. They are typically not designed to represent the ideologies or activities of particular groups of people. Examples of pictograms include instructional signs, which are designed to represent particular activities which one should or should not do, or can or cannot do.

Following Robert's introductory section, the rest of the book offers 1001 examples of symbols designed by Quebec graphic designers. For each symbol Bochud gives the name of the designer (if known), the name of the client, and the year it was created.

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