Ulrich was born in 1930 in Berlin. Upon completion of his studies, he chose a career in agriculture and trained and studied in Germany. In 1953, he emigrated to Canada as a “fully qualified farm worker.” After a short stay on a farm in Ontario, he settled in Montreal and worked in the service sector and telecommunications industry. In 1959, he changed direction and started formal design training at schools in Montreal.
His design career began in 1964 when Ulrich joined the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission in Ottawa. Four years later, he accepted a position as graphic designer at Statistics Canada, where he was responsible for the design of publications and material for the national census. In 1973, he joined Information Canada to work on the new corporate identity program of the government (Federal Identity Program). The following outline of the program’s history and scope helps to explain his roles and responsibilities as a senior design advisor.
The government had introduced the program in response to recommendations of the 1969 Task Force on Government Information. Several historical events preceded this decision, namely, the adoption of the Canadian flag in 1965, the centenary of the Canadian confederation and Expo‘67, and the proclamation of the Official Languages Act in 1969.
All these events focused attention on Canada’s national identity and, consequently, on the government’s visual identity.
The scope of the program proved to be extensive, and it is considered to be one of the largest corporate identity programs undertaken by a national government. During the eighties, an estimated 18,000 facilities, 16,000 government vehicles, and a multitude of forms, stationery items, published material and advertisements were identified in accordance with the program’s guidelines. Now in place for over three decades, the Federal Identity Program continues to be applied by over 100 federal institutions in all regions of Canada.
Initially, Ulrich’s work focused on the development of design standards for the various applications such as stationery and signage. This work was based on considerable research to get a clear understanding of government operations and methods to identify the various services and facilities. It soon became apparent that implementation of the new identity would be a major challenge for the small design office. At the time, the concept of corporate identity was unknown in government; moreover, anything related to graphic design was being perceived as temporary and bound to change when a new administration came to power.
In 1976, the Treasury Board of Canada took over the program and its focus changed. To implement the new identity effectively, a policy was needed and Ulrich’s role expanded. This meant acquiring additional skills to develop a new policy on visual communications, corporate identity and design. Being a first, the policy of the Federal Identity Program attracted considerable interest among provincial governments, public institutions, and also some foreign governments.
His work was challenging, because the program also had to meet political objectives of the government. In 1980, the “Canada” wordmark was introduced as the government’s global identifier. This required changes to the policy and design standards, and further broadened the program’s scope. In addition to his responsibilities for the corporate identity, Ulrich applied his knowledge in other areas. For example, he helped to develop the government’s first communications policy, was the advisor on the creation of titles for government institutions, and developed guidelines on the use of plain language in government communications. In summary, Ulrich helped to develop one of the largest and most complex corporate identity programs undertaken by a government. His association with the program ended after almost two decades when he retired in 1992.
Ulrich’s involvement with the GDC began in 1978 when he helped Eiko Emori and others founded the Ottawa Chapter. He served on the first executive board and assisted in raising the profile of graphic design in the capital. In 1983, he joined the National Council and contributed to a major revision of the Society’s constitution. During years when the GDC was without a national secretariat, he provided logistical support in Ottawa.
In 1993, the GDC decided to publish a national journal on graphic design. This led to a new task for Ulrich when he joined Mary Ann Maruska as co-editor of the Graphic Design Journal. Published from 1993 to 1996, the Journal tried to encourage dialogue on design issues, to promote excellence in design practice and education, and to record the history of graphic design in Canada. At the time, it was an ambitious undertaking for the GDC.
He served on various Canadian and international standards committees in the area of signs and symbols. The international standardization of graphic symbols was his special interest, and he became a recognized resource on the subject. Over many years, Ulrich made important contributions to standards on graphic symbols by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and to the Canadian standard on signs and symbols for the workplace. In the course of this work, he collaborated with the late Paul Arthur, with Walter Jungkind and Jorge Frascara.
In the course of his career, Ulrich came into contact with designers and experts around the world. He was a member of the International Institute for Information Design (Austria), and the Information Design Association (United Kingdom), and he participated in congresses of Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) and the Design Management Institute (Boston). Ulrich wrote articles for national and international journals on aspects of corporate identity, signs and symbols, and design management, and made presentations on these subjects to audiences in Canada and abroad.
In 1983 he was named a Fellow of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada in recognition of significant contributions to Canadian graphic design. Ulrich passed away January 11, 2017, aged 86, at his home in Gatineau.