Burton Kramer: Design Luminary, Illuminated

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Burton_Kramer_ThumbnailSet for release this spring, Greg Durrell’s captivating documentary is a stunning and provocative response to Burton Kramer’s life of design and éclat. The film offers a fantastic follow-up to Durrell’s biographical retrospection of Kramer’s work, published in May 2011, and is sure to be a monumental tribute to one of Canada’s leading graphic designers. Seeing examples of Kramer’s design functioning in cities and media across Europe, India, the Middle East, the US, and Canada, and hearing Kramer’s own interpretive insights, is the ideal inspiration for both budding and veteran designers everywhere. Furthermore, it speaks to the influence of modern creative and cultural industries, and the eminence of the artists they employ.


Photo courtesy of Greg Durrell

Burton Kramer was born in New York City, 1932. It was at the Institute of Design in Chicago, where he was particularly moved by the Bauhaus movement, that he first discovered a passion for graphic design. He completed his graduate’s degree at Yale, where the likes of Joself Albers and Paul Rand instructed the graphic design program. He then set his prodigious career in motion by aiding the installation of Upjohn Pharmaceuticals’ Cell Exhibit in Will Burtin’s New York studio, redesigning the Architectural Record magazine, and working in the advertising division at Geigy Pharmaceuticals (now Novartis). From there he became the Chief Editor at the E. Halpern Agency in Zurich, right as the Helvetica movement began to broaden the minds and ideologies of modern graphic designers.

Images courtesy of

Kramer returned to Canada in 1965, bringing with him the influence of “International Typographic Style” (or Swiss Style) – a modernist approach to graphic design favouring the bold cleanliness and stark objectivity embodied in typefaces like Helvetica and its predecessor, Akzidenz Grotesk. Two years later, he established his own studio, Kramer Design Associates, in Toronto and became renowned for the comprehensive brand and graphic identity programs he created for his clients. Through his work for prominent ventures such as Reed Paper, Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Clairtone Sound Corporation, Expo 67, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Kramer catalysed the infusion of International Style into Canadian Design and effectively revitalized the graphic design community. His eminence earned him the Lifetime of Achievement Award from Arts Toronto in 1999, the Order of Ontario in 2002, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2003. Today he continues to hone his artistic ken through abstract painting.  His work can be viewed in galleries across Canada, Europe, Mexico, Columbia, and the United States.

Syncopation 3
painting (2010).  Courtesy of Mason Journal.

“Design is not just something you do on a piece of paper. Design is how you think, how you see, how you act. What you buy, what you own, what you surround yourself with. What you listen to, what you don’t listen to; what you watch and what you don’t watch. Design, for me, is a kind of way of life – and perhaps a substitute for any other kind of religion.”


Trailer on YouTube

OR see Greg Durrell’s original trailer here: Burton Kramer Film Trailer from Greg Durrell on Vimeo.



We at Kihada are especially inspired and awe-struck by Burton Kramer’s contributions to contemporary graphic design. His vision of a world enhanced by functional design aligns masterfully with our own, and his advocacy for fully-integrated branding echoes in the fundamental principles we embrace. We too believe a brand isn’t “just a matter of logo” but “every way of identifying [one’s] self”. Just as these ideas embolden Kramer’s unique and edifying signage programs, street furniture, and media architecture, Kihada’s kreative approach seeks to distinguish a name and its meaning. Find out for yourself and follow us today!

Written by Alison

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