Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.14

April 21, 2005


Media scholar uses graphic design

By Lina Shoumarova

Nigel Rapport

Matt Soar, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, stands beside images of the Montreal skyline which form part of his ingenious internet project,, and a poster he designed.

How do you relate to the logos and signs in this city? Matt Soar, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, would like to know.

He and a team of students from the Master’s program in Media Studies are building a flash-based website, Logo Cities, which features the beautiful skyline of Montreal photographed from four vantage points.

Highlighted on the website are the major logos perched on top of the city’s most prominent high-rises. Among them: the signs of Desjardins, Hydro Quebec and Farine Five Roses, as well as the brightly lit cross on Mount Royal.

“These logos are there, obvious, but unquestioned,” Soar said.

The ingenious website, which is to be launched at the beginning of this summer at, will allow viewers to pan over the city’s image and find out more about each illuminated logo.

Clicking on it will reveal information about when it was built, who designed it, and why it is mounted on that particular building.

“This is a first step in providing information that many people perhaps never thought about before,” Soar explained.

With the intention to de-familiarize the obvious, Soar will interview “all kinds of people who are directly involved or whose lives are affected: architects, city planners, sign-makers, designers, people who work or live near these huge signs and buildings.”

What he is looking for are stories about people’s relation to the signs in Montreal. “I want to find out what part logos play in our experience of living in the city.” Soar said anyone who would like to share stories is welcome to contact him.

This project is just one component of a larger, three-year research on logos for which Soar received a SSHRC research/creation grant. The full title of the research is The Cultural Lives of the Logo: Critical and Creative Explorations of Trademarks and Branding Devices in a Hypercommercial Media Environment.

Currently, Soar is working on another website, also part of this research. It is to be an interactive, public site called Brand Hype, which takes a critical aim at the practice of product placement.

Product placement has overtaken Hollywood movies. “It involves putting brand name products and services into the frame often adjacent to one of the stars,” Soar explains on his personal website, where he has assembled various examples of product placement in recent Hollywood films.

Soar hopes that Brand Hype will become a useful tool for students, researchers and media literacy advocates alike. It will feature a database where examples of product placement will be easy to find by year, film, actor, and movie studio.

“Anyone can help to build the database, and it's designed to be as easy to use as possible,” Soar said enthusiastically.

“The hope is that it will increase awareness about this practice by promoting discussion, debate, and further research.”

As a practicing graphic designer in addition to being an academic, Matt Soar believes graphic design has a deep political significance. His work confirms his conviction.

Matt Soar received a degree in Building from Nottingham Trent University, because engineering runs in his family. He then went to an art school and worked as an art director for an advertising agency in London, England.

His next stop was Vancouver, where he took a communications course in advertising and began to develop a critical perspective on media, culture and society. He got his MA from Simon Fraser and then went to University of Massachusetts Amherst for his PhD.

While doing his doctorate, he got involved in the Media Education Foundation, which Sut Jhally, the well-known media scholar and critic, had founded at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Soar worked as the in-house graphic designer there under Jhally’s directorship.

Now he creates political graphics, book covers for colleagues, and posters for university events.

When asked how he reconciles his two seemingly different roles as an academic and graphic designer, Soar said he has no problem whatsoever. “This is just a brilliant situation for me.”

Soar’s website features a personal blog and portfolios with his inspiring creative and research projects. It will also provide links to his two upcoming websites when they are launched.

You can contact Matt Soar at