We all know that traditional print and publishing is on a steep decline, and that this format is embracing a digital shift. Similar to the evaporation of CD and album sales in the 90’s, book publishing is turning a corner. The evolution is positive, opening up better access, excellent interactive and live content, broadening the conversation and critique and stimulating intellectual growth. However, Canadian design content is lacking online, with our history lagging in the digital translation and pick up, slipping into the past with content collecting dust on library shelves. Let’s reverse this trend. The following is a basic reading list of the classic and influential books in which all Canadian designers should be fluent. We know the importance of building creative output on the foundations of the past, and have compiled a reading list of the must-reads to boost your Canadian design chops.

Design Canada

Released in 2005, Design in Canada: Fifty Years from Teakettles to Task Chairs by Rachel Gotlieb and Cora Golden delivers an excellent overview of industrial design in the country and the archives of The Design Exchange in Toronto. The book is extremely well researched, with curatorial attention to detail paired with excellent photography and background materials. It traces the major forces and trends that gave rise to post-war Canadian design. A greatest hits, we do not get bogged down in excessive detail or opinion, rather the authors carry us through the highlights and show us the development of the industry and how the past is feeding the present. Buy your copy here.

design au Quebec

A serious deep dive into the design scene of Quebec. Authors, Marc H. Choko, Gérald Baril, and Paul Bourassa cover the major areas of design from the province, including industrial, graphic and fashion, show us how they influence each other, and how unique the Quebec creative contribution is. Buy this book here.


A gorgeous coffee table style book is designed by Orangetango agency that was launched in 2012. This is a eye popping visual celebration of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ (MMFA) design object collection (the top design collection in Canada). The book is packed with essays from forty experts, and presents these lovely insights with richly illustrated content that connects and contrasts Canadian design objects with design from around the world. You can buy this amazing book here.


This exhibition catalogue from the influential exhibit Art in Everyday Life Observations on Contemporary Canadian Design at The Power Plant in 1988 is a snapshot of design of this moment in history. Curators Peter Day and Linda Lewis discuss present-day design, and its promotion between 1967 and 1987, exploring the cultural context and how major issues like funding and appreciation are disconnected. Supporting the editorial are first hand interviews with contemporary designers, that give us an insiders feel to the design of the period, helping us get past the surface and into the background of how design in Canada is working. A must read for any design buff wanting a serious education on where we are today and how much (or little) has changed over the past few decades. Copies available here.


A stunning visual biography of the nation’s symbol, A Flag for Canada: The Illustrated Biography of the Maple Leaf Flag by Rick Archbold thoroughly traces the maple leaf symbol from its original colonial origins to its modern use on the flag and across the country. This is a serious slice of the Canadian experience, and the author presents a serious conversation (with loads of wonderful photographs and archival content) on why the leaf was chosen. Produced by Stanton Atkins & Dosil in 2008, you can buy your copy here.


 The catalogue from the first retrospective on the short career of Tobias Wong that was curated by Todd Falkowsky in collaboration with SFMoMA and The Museum of Vancouver. Hugely influential, the designer pioneered a new design method, blurred the lines between art and design, and reinvigorated the techniques of Marcel Duchamp, conceptual design and Readymade. The catalogue for Object(ing) The art/design of Tobias Wong is designed like a fanzine/fine art book by the talented Monnet Design, and is packed with insights from Paula Antonelli, Ellen Lupton, friends and family, and many others on Wong’s creative output. See the exhibit here, and some copies are still around (but order quick, they will be gone soon) at the MOV in Vancouver.


A look at modernism in the Canadian design scene from 1940 to 1980, The modern eye: Craft and Design in Canada by curator/collector Allan Collier outlines the viewpoints and tactics used by prominent designers from the period. This book is packed with furniture, ceramics, and household items that best illustrate the modernist preoccupation with form, colour, texture, experimentation, functionality, and honest use of materials. A companion publication to the exhibit from 2012 of the same name, it can be purchased here (limited copies left).


in the words of AGGV’s director Jon Tupper, “a clear sense of Canadian design and a strong desire to make it part of everyday living.” – See more at: http://www.canadianart.ca/see-it/2011/09/08/modern_eye/#sthash.4qBKB8BD.dpufwas published by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and was designed by Michael Erdmann. Buy a copy here.



Souvenir of Canada is Douglas Coupland’s first in a series of books on the ephemera and common items of Canada (from stubby beer bottles to Windsor Salt), and “how it feels to be a Canadian right now and speculating what it might feel like to be a Canadian in the future”. More fun than serious, we are toured through the material life of the country and how these objects inform who we are and how the world sees us. Produced by Douglas & Mcintyre in 2002, buy it here.



This book was the exhibit catalogue for Habitat Canadian Design Now produced by the Winnipeg Art Gallery. A gorgeous book, designed by Karla Burr and Chris Clarke, the collection attempted to put a face on Canadian design today. The curator Helen Delacretaz works to explains how design reflects a Canadian sensibility and style. Sadly this one is out of print and you will be forced to dig up a copy from vintage book sellers.


Modern Furniture in Canada – 1920 to 1970 by Virginia Wright is a serious history on the depth of the furniture industry in Canada. A little dry, and written in the style of an academic, the book still manages to entertain with stories like the first production of plywood seating (predating Scandinavian design) and the world’s first moulded  plastic furniture produced by the National Research Council in 1946 – three years before the more well known designs by Charles & Ray Eames in the USA were revealed. Purchase through Amazon.

alan elder

Curator Alan C. Elder’s excellent Made in Canada CRAFT AND DESIGN IN THE SIXTIES explores design and Canadian identity from the decade. Design in the 60’s exploded in Canada, with support from the Government and population who were keen to present Canada as a sophisticated and autonomous nation to the world.  The essays look at how design responded to this growth, and created objects and solutions that celebrated an emerging Canadian national dream, look and attitude. Buy this book here.

If this list feels incomplete, and you want to suggest some additions, get on twitter and drop us a note @The_CDR




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