The study of graphic design in Canada suffers from a scarcity of written sources and collecting institutions. Interviews conducted by one researcher suggest that, far from preventing the formation of an active design industry or any sense of an historical canon, Canadian designers draw on international examples from a variety of sources and pass values on in a largely unrecorded fashion, almost like that of an oral tradition itself. Canadian designers have a largely coherent and shared, if vernacular, sense of which works and individuals are of historical importance. Because the process of gathering and recording graphic design history in Canada currently leans heavily on recording oral histories, it is framed by many designers’ memories and collections, in interaction with critical and practical analysis of what design history is. The implications of the theory and practice of oral history for design are explored, as is the importance of maintaining the difference between memory and history. Locating that existing, vernacular canon, it is suggested, is the best way to locate and study the post-war history of graphic design in Canada.
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