07/17/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/16/2016 05:59 EDT

Canada 150 Logo Called 'Confusing' By Centennial Logo Creator

Gov't of Canada
The Canadian designer applauded for his celebrated Centennial logo in 1967 says the Harper government's choice of logo for Canada's 150th birthday is too complicated and confusing.

Stuart Ash is also largely unimpressed with the 16 other student designs that became finalists in the Canadian Heritage Department's controversial contest to produce branding for 2017 festivities marking Confederation.

Through the Access to Information Act, CBC News obtained colour copies of 17 designs, winnowed from 302 entries, in the contest that ended Jan. 23 this year. A panel of six judges chose the finalists, and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover picked the winner from that pool.

Ash, who opposed the decision to create a contest, agreed to provide CBC brief critiques of the 17 finalists, including the winning design that was announced April 28. (Names of the finalists were withheld by Canadian Heritage.)

"It has adopted the same content and idea as the Centennial symbol," he said of Canada's new official logo, another stylized maple leaf.

'Complicated, confusing'

"However with the Centennial symbol at that time there were only 10 provinces and the Northwest Territories, therefore 11 equilateral triangles forming a bold Maple Leaf. This design contains 13 triangular elements, becoming complicated, confusing and a very decorative Maple Leaf."

The designs of all the finalists, and Ash's brief critiques of each, can be reviewed in the photo gallery on this page. Read more about what the entrants had to say about their designs in the Canadian Heritage document.

The search for a sesquicentennial logo has been fraught from the start. Five proposed designs were created in-house at Canadian Heritage in 2013 and tested on nine focus groups, at a cost to taxpayers of $40,000.

The reviews were lukewarm, with complaints one design looked too much like a hockey puck, another was too military, another too boring. Commercial graphic designers, in a fit of pique, demanded the government hire professionals. They also set up their own website with alternate designs.

Canadian Heritage later abandoned its in-house project and ignored the professionals, instead launching a contest Dec. 5 last year for students age 18 and over, with $5,000 for the winner.

"Each logo should strive to evoke pride, unity and celebration," said the rules. "It should reflect Canada as a diverse nation with a rich past and a promising future."

Ariana Cuvin at the University of Waterloo took home the prize, but her image drew criticisms from the graphic design professionals. Some design students also objected to being expected to work for free unless they won.

Cuvin told the Toronto Star in April: "I understand why people are upset. It does kind of suck for a professional, this big project being given to a student. I know there's been a backlash.… People are upset about it. Sorry. There's a client, they chose what they liked, and it happened to be my design.''

Cuvin now works for Canadian Heritage, and referred CBC to that department about any further questions.

Ash, revered as a design pioneer in Canada, is critical of the winning logo, but equally dismissive of the Harper government's approach to arriving at a final design.

"Treating the 150th anniversary without a strategic base and not commissioning a strategic design concept from the best design firms is a missed opportunity," he said.

Called an oversight

"It illustrates how politicians are not in touch with the realities of the marketplace.… To not place any value on the significance of this opportunity is truly an oversight politically."

Canada's 150th birthday needs a symbol "to communicate a bold memorable idea that upon first impression captures the viewer's attention and is paramount in establishing the basis of a strong brand," Ash said.

He notes that the federal government also launched a logo contest in the early 1960s, but abandoned the idea after submissions proved to be "banal, predictable or clichéd." A firm that employed Ash was later hired to do the job — and the rest is design history.

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