The North Shore by design
If good industrial design is invisible — letting something's function flow seamlessly through its form — then perhaps British Columbia's stealthy profile on the design front is, well, by design.
Maybe its function is to let homegrown creatives create unselfconsciously, removed from the larger centres of industry influence.
More likely, B.C. has flown under the design radar because few have taken the time to curate and catalogue our most worthy achievements in the field.
All that has changed with Made In BC: Home-grown Design, a retrospective of the province's standout talents and trends in manufactured items dating from before the dawn of the machine age to the present.
"I wanted to help define design in B.C.," says curator and Emily Carr University of Art + Design professor emeritus Sam Carter. "I was concerned the general population of British Columbia had no idea what design excellence is here, or what design even is."
Today, when many think of design they think of Apple and the company's products as near-perfect marriages of form and function into a clean, simple and intuitive experience.
But visit Made in BC at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives and think not of Apple, but the arrowhead.
These pre-contact First Nations tools of the hunt are where, for all intents and purposes, design in B.C. begins.
Focusing almost exclusively on design as it originated on the North Shore, Made in BC traces the aesthetics of utility and vice versa from the arrowhead to the railroad, the snowboard to the modern mountain bike.
Standout pieces include a Moodyville schoolteacher's dress circa the 1890s and the first seal of the City of North Vancouver — from 1907, it prominently sports a large stylized beehive as a signifier of the city's industry and growth.
Then there's the Cowichan themed sweater commemorating the doomed Pacific Great Eastern Railway, also known as the "Prince George, Eventually," which, begun in 1912, took four decades to arrive at its northern terminus and was primarily used in the interim as a slow commuter train between North and West Vancouver.
But not all the exemplary designs on display in the museum are necessarily very conceptual nor very old.
There's a cardboard headdress from the Tomahawk Grill, a bicycle frame from Cove bikes, some magazine cartoons by West Vancouver writer and artist Douglas Coupland and a Windsor secondary yearbook from the 1970s.
All were constructed for a first and perhaps second look at their detail, but little more.
Still, these and all the designs at Made in BC convey something profound about who we are — and who we think we are.
"Everything you're looking at is either managed or made by people," Carter says.
And while there exist mistakes and design flaws, nothing in the modern manmade world is the way it is accidentally.
"Design is the life force — it's almost sexy and always functional," Carter adds.
To come full circle, Carter credits Apple's wonderfully economically designed products and software with "giving access to the tools of my dreams and fantasies."
Yet, he offers too a digital warning to B.C. designers of the future.
"You have to learn to create in real materials," he says, holding up his hands and gripping at the air for emphasis. "You have to actually cut and paste — not just on the screen."
Made in BC: Home-grown Design runs until May 27 at the North Vancouver Museum located in Presentation House, 209 West 4th St., North Vancouver.