In Memory of Rolf Harder (1929-2013)

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Graphic Designer Rolf Harder (1929 – 2013) was born in Hamburg, Germany and worked for German agencies before relocating to Canada. In 1959 he opened his own design office in Montreal, Design Collaborative Montreal Ltd., with Ernst Roch.

In 1969 Graphis wrote the following about their work:

The first discovery made by anyone who undertakes a study of Canadian graphics is that there is no such thing as real Canadian graphic design, even if due consideration is given to the antipodean achievement of the late Carl Dair and the so far uncrowned king of Canadian graphics, Allan Fleming.

This absence of any national individuality in the graphic field is no doubt due to the fact that most designers and art directors are of foreign extraction. Another point that cannot be overlooked is that Canadian advertising graphics — for all their emancipatory aspirations — are strongly influenced by what is being done in the United States. Toronto and Montreal are only a short air ride from New York, and in the continuous exchanges that result it is the Canadians who are mostly at the receiving end. But a palpable contribution also comes from Europe, and particularly from Switzerland.

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Among the most significant forces in modern Canadian graphic design are two native Europeans, Rolf Harder and Ernst Roch, both around forty, the one hailing from Germany, the other from Yugoslavia. They both received their artistic training before their immigration, and both went to Canada because they saw the makings of a promising future in a young and culturally expanding country.

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They had both won numerous awards and had their works exhibited widely when they decided, some four years ago, to form a creative coalition under the style of Design Collaborative Montreal Ltd. They have no reason, nor for that matter any desire, to conceal their European origins, but they have succeeded admirably in adapting themselves to Canadian needs and objectives.

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Everything Rolf Harder and Ernst Roch have turned out since their professional merger — a wide range of work in which catalogues and booklets, trade marks and symbols are predominant — bears the distinguishing marks of visual clarity and direct, effective communication. Yet their designs still embody an unmistakable style which is perhaps best characterized by saying that it combines constructivism with a leaning to playful experiment. The graphic and typographic formulations of these two finely attuned partners are based on the principles of clear and often geometrical organization of the available space, yet they never become narrowly dogmatic in their approach or show the least sign of repetitive sterility. It is easy enough to see why they have come to specialize in industrial graphics and have done some outstanding work in the pharmaceutical field.

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Whether this seems wholly desirable to every observer or not, the fact remains that the seeds of graphic theory, knowledge and technique brought over from Europe have sprung up and borne fruit in Canada. The concentration on an austere and almost puritanical form-language, which is only sporadically in evidence in the United States, has become a distinct force in the narrower field of Canadian graphics, and might almost claim to be the dominant influence. Rolf Harder and Ernst Roch are two of its most successful exponents, whose productions over the last decade leave a bright and positive impression. ~ excerpted from Graphis No. 143, Volume 25, 1969/70, written by Hans Neuburg (Zürich)

A low resolution pdf of Graphis 143 is available free to Graphis Members in our store. A high resolution digital copy of Graphis 143 is available for iPads and iPhones from the Graphis App found here: Graphis on iTunes.

One thought on “In Memory of Rolf Harder (1929-2013)

  1. Roch and Harder were two great Canadian design pioneers, true giants in their field.
    I was fortunate to be working in Montreal when they were there. Now, in Ottawa, it was a sad day this year when the National Arts Centre discarded Ernst Rock’s classic logo and identity.
    Poor Ernst must be turning in his grave. BRAVO to Roch and Harder for leading the way for all those years.

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