17 Nov 2011
Lossless Toronto – Name behind No Name
loss·less [?lôsl?s] Adjective: refers to a data compression technique where the file quality is preserved and no data is lost
toronto [tuh-ron-toh] Noun: the city you know and love
Lossless Toronto is a bi-weekly column that seeks to keep you informed about all things design happening in Toronto, from technology to typeface and back.
At George Brown College’s School of Design campus this week the Communication Designers Association Toronto presented a retrospective in the career of brand designer Don Watt. The CDA has published a booklet on what it considers the Pioneering Desiners of Toronto, Watt being one of those profiled. As the booklet says, “Since the design scene tends to showcase the latest and greatest, it is easy to forget about the early designers who laid the foundation for modern communication design practices. It was these Torontonians who helped define a design discipline and some of Canada’s most recognizable brands.” If you don’t know Watt by name you still know his work.
It’s up for debate as to whether Don Watt was the one behind the design of the Canadian flag or not. It would seem that Watt himself was the only one saying so, claiming it was Lester B. Pearson who choose to keep this fact from history. It’s just one smug on an otherwise impecable nearly 50 year career as a brand designer. You might be willing to forgive the man for trying to take credit, due or not, because he essentially did brand Canada. Some of the most iconic and Canadian products available were touched by his legendary black pen.
Born in Regina Watt attended the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art & Design University) for Industrial Design. His frist job following graduation was working on the ill fated Avro Arrow for A.V. Roe. Later in his career Watt would do work for Expo 67, the World’s Fair held in Montréal in Canada’s Centennial year, help brand Nestlé and Kraft. In 1973 Watt was hired by Loblaws to help strengthen it’s then fledgling identity and this is were Watt’s best known work, No Name, was born. So trusted by Canadians is the brand that when the global rescission hit in 2008 Loblaws brought the yellow label with black Helvetica back full force, expanding from the original 16 products under the banner to 300. Watt’s grocery branding wasn’t limited to Loblaws, his hands touched Metro, Super C, Food Basics, and the US Safeway among other international chains.
Watt’s work outside of Canada includes brands like Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Choice and Great Value, Nescafé, and Homedepot. Because his work is so ubiquitous and almost ingrained in our consumer landscape in North America it goes unnoticed to the average shopper. Just as awe-inspiring is to note that Watt worked in such far-flung places as the animation department at Warner Brothers, working on Bugs Bunny, and as an illustrator of children’s books. But in the early 70′s Watt was approached by Dominion and the inexperienced and colour-blind animator was given the chance to rebrand himself as a corporate designer. The gamble paid off for all involved.
The rest is history now. Watt passed away in 2009 following a stroke. A man how didn’t design for the awards but won more than his fair share anyway, Watt changed the face of grocery stores and in time this country.