OCAD Identity Begs, Borrows And “Steals”?

May 24, 2011

So OCAD has a brand spanking new visual identity. Many have already commented on the approach, and the comments are… well, mixed. I will resist jumping into the fray and spare you my own subjective views as relates to its aesthetic merits. It doesn’t matter much what I think of the new signature, whether I find it attractive, effective or even appropriate for OCAD University. Instead I would like to address the concept itself. But before I do so, I must put my cards on the table right here and tell you why I have an axe to grind with OCAD with regards to the new program just unveiled. What you first need to know is that Ove Design, my former employer, was one of four firms shortlisted – following a short qualification process – to submit a proposal to OCAD for the development of its new visual identity.
The premise for my following argument is predicated on whether one believes a brand identity is primarily characterized by the appearance of the logo, or, as I believe, that the brand narrative – the concept that underpins the visual identity – is the real identity.
So here it is:
Along with my colleague Michel Viau, CEO of Ove, I came to OCAD on August 13, 2010, and presented a “groundbreaking” strategic approach to a distinguished OCAD identity review committee. Now, calm down fellow designers! I assure you that no “spec” creative was presented. What we proposed instead was a pioneering concept that expanded the idea of what a visual identity is and does, and showed how a visual identity itself can truly embody the brand. The idea we presented eschewed the usual static and centralized brand identity conventions and transcended a visual identity development exercise to become a bona fide stakeholder engagement program, and, in the process, embody the very essence of art and design.
You may have already guessed where I am going with this. We presented an approach we dubbed: “the identity in constant motion”, providing the opportunity and visual platform to OCAD stakeholders to become co-creators in a constantly evolving visual identity for OCAD University.
The new identity approach from Bruce Mau Design with its “canvas” to showcase the work of OCAD students, is simply too close conceptually to what Ove presented, to be mere coincidence. Even the language used by Mr. Virtue to describe the concept, appears to be lifted straight out of our speaking notes. To put your mind at rest about the possibility of BMD having “wowed” OCAD at pitch time with a similar concept, when Mr. Virtue informed me that Ove’s submission had not been successful, he told me, and I quote: “Your (Ove’s) approach generated a lot of interest and conversations but everybody realized that more discussion was needed and our process didn’t allow for that.”… “Your approach was very gutsy but one issue is that it could not ‘land’ because you could not show us how this had worked for other people you had worked with, (which was kind of the point) so we felt there might be too many risks.” “We went with Bruce Mau Design in this instance. We felt they really hit it out-of-the-ballpark with the case studies they showed us… very relevant to us.” We were of course disappointed. No one likes to lose, especially when you present a really strong idea. But we understood that even a celebrated art school purporting to “foster imagination, creativity and innovation” and to “showcase leadership in defining the essential role of art, design and collaborative research in the 21st century”, can flinch when confronted with the opportunity to embody its declared values.
Daring ideas need time to mature and gain acceptance. Almost anyone would agree with that. However, the question for us – for all of us – has to be this: Should a client, any client, be allowed to appropriate a designer’s (or a firm’s) original idea – what should be, by right, their intellectual property – if they rejected their submission in the first place without any form of compensation, while hiring another firm to execute it? The issue is one our profession has had to deal with time and again. But what is most shocking here is that this transgression was committed by “one of us”, not by some uncaring, unethical or otherwise unwitting corporate entity, but by an institution that is the Alma Matter to so many of this country’s most distinguished and talented designers and artists, myself included.
To be clear, I hold Bruce Mau Design somewhat harmless in this instance. However the Ove concept was re-introduced in the conversation, re-assessed, became “internalized”, and ultimately came to be held as the winning approach, … one may never know. But one thing is certain: every person on the OCAD identity committee who was present on August 13, 2010, when Mr. Viau and myself pitched the concept to them, knows where the approach originated.
I am writing this post on my own behalf and do not purport to speak for Ove Design presently. I also feel no compulsion to provide evidence to support my claim though I have a good mind to post the August 13, 2010 presentation on line so that you may be able to reach your own conclusion. Alas, I can no longer claim title to it, so I will spare all involved any further embarrassment.

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