For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

We’ve all seen posters/signs that make us shake our head and mutter “whoa, what were they thinking”.  It’s usually an amusing typo or a grammatical error that raises our eyebrows. Occasionally it’s the layout that causes us to stop in our tracks and ask “wait, what?” We all lay clangers and, sometimes, we don’t spot them for months. It’s not easy catching your own mistakes, which is why a ruthless proofreader is worth their weight in dark chocolate.

A sign making the rounds on the Internet lately that had me blinking a few times in a bit of disbelief.

A badly designed poster example that appears to advocate abuse, rather than prevention

Proofing isn’t just about catching typos and grammatical errors. It’s also layout and how the product flows. And oh boy, a fresh set of eyes would have caught this before $ were spent.

I’ve made a couple things that looked ok on the monitor but when printed, it became obvious the layout altered the message. I find it endlessly fascinating the difference between design for a monitor or small screen and print. What works for an iPhone may not translate well to a large poster and vice versa. The above sign drives home how tricky even a basic sign can be. Our eyes follow natural paths that can have unintentional consequenses. A bad case of designer tunnel vision can blur the message. Everyone involved in the poster design knew what the message was, but didn’t stop to see it through new eyes. Lots of words to incorporate, really want to stress the primary message and not seeing how the words flow.  “We Support” is great – nice use of a friendly font that draws the eye to it. Then the mistake occurs. The focus is on child abuse not prevention. Such an easy mistake to make. Shrinking “child abuse” would have solved the problem. Increase size of “prevention” so it fills the sign, bumping month below to match the other 5 letter words would have created an interesting flow that would have emphasised prevention, which is kind of the point.

I have a folder with signs and posters that should have worked but didn’t for a variety of reasons. I keep them as a teaching tool for myself. I filter through them trying to figure out how a small change would have made a difference. I also have a folder holding what I think are spectacular examples of beautiful layout. I spend quite a bit of time looking at them, trying to figure out what makes them so successful. I have a thing for professional designers. Their work can have a profound impact on how we see the world around us – signs on buildings, posters, movies titles, magazines and books but we’re oblivious to the person(s) who created the work. Most of us flatter ourselves we can whip up a poster in no time because hey we have the software and a computer. But good design is so much more than knowing how to use the software. It’s an eye and feel for the work. It’s knowing how to communicate with an audience. Good design also means good proofreading. You can’t have the first without the second.



Chipmunk Lear – the unutterable cuteness of it all

Chipmunk Lear – the unutterable cuteness of it all

Toronto based theatre company, Canadian Stage is in the middle of their summer season. Poster for Canadian Stage Company's Shakespeare in the park showing a chipmunk wearing a crown

I stopped so hard to look at the season poster at my local coffee shop, I nearly fell over. Above is their earlier volunteer poster, I couldn’t find a straight up season poster anywhere to download. I tried to snag a photo of the original, but it was too high and the photo looks like crap. So,  we’ll look at their similar offering. It has the same font and images,   and conveys the same message.  I adore it for many reasons! The rich colour balance, clear fonts that promote readability and the undeniably adorable chipmunk in a crown pretty much scoops any audience in. Unless you are a chipmunk hater, there’s no way you can pass this poster by and not feel the itch to check out what it’s selling.

The photoshop job on the crown is excellent. The shadows, placement and integration is well done. Kudos to the graphic artist.  Getting back to the font, (another huzzah for the graphic artist), it was a good choice. There is a lot of written content on the poster, but the choice of the clean sans serif and spacing promotes incredible readability. It’s an example of how you can include lots of vital information without feeling cramped. The poster that caught my eye, was about 5″5″ up (way above my eye level) and over a counter. Despite that, it was easy to read.

As far as a selling point, well, it wins on many levels. First and foremost, it makes Shakespeare feel approachable, which is no easy job. It also conveys two ideas – theatre and nature. For those not familar with High Park, it is a 400 acre swath of green in the heart of Toronto and a perfect place for theatre in the park. Anyone in Toronto will instantly catch the reference. Nicely done. Finally, the obvious – cute sells, no doubt about that.

An all around fun, attractive poster.

You can read more on Canadian Stage here

Check out  High Park here

I guess it’s too much to hope for chipmunks in the staring roles.


A little blast from the past complete with a natty little mustache

A little blast from the past complete with a natty little mustache

Image of an ad from Aerial Age Weekely Magazine 1918 advertising goggles

Interesting isn’t it?  Although the basics of ads hasn’t really changed much over the decades, font styles and fashions do. Not the best laid out ad I’ve ever see. It looks a bit slapdash in the layout department. But that mustache! All you need to see is that little, stylish Poirotesque ‘stache and you feel compelled to look. The ad does scream early 20th century but in 1918, when it ran, the pilot would have been quite fashionable. Flying was still a gentleman’s obsession – it took money and time to pursue and this ad is definitely targeting gentleman pilot market.

What’s equally interesting is the font. Not sure what it is, but it pops up in Aerial Ace Weekly a fair bit during WW1. It seems to be their font de jour and it’s a mess of inconsistencies.  Just the title alone seems to use 3 seperate fonts.  It’s a bit of an odd pairing in my opinion. The font is fun and erratic, the pilot is dashing and whimsical, but the product is pretty much life and death. Whimsy, cheer and a bullet to the eye – bit of a mixed message here.

As well, the advertiser squeezed far too much info into the space and it came out lopsided. It’s like the layout department lost their rulers and eyeballed everything. But somehow I suspect the reason doesn’t lay with the printers. What makes me think the ad was ready for press and the customer decided to add more details. The last paragraph looks shoe horned in … “just one more paragraph, come on, you can squeeze it in”. Nothing changes.

So, what do you think? Does it work for you? I’d like to hear opinions on this, especially about the main font.


Pissy little rant on misconceptions about old printing styles

Pissy little rant on misconceptions about old printing styles

I’ve been chewing over a font that is getting under my skin lately. Take a look: Photo of Old Printing Press font from Font Factory

It’s Old Printing Press, created by Font Café in 2011, or as I call it Olde Printy Presse (OPP for short). I’ve used some of their fonts in the past, and like their work, they do great stuff, except for OPP. They promote it with this “Stop the press! Bring back the Renaissance with this old style typeface, great for documents needing an enduring antique look”1. ARRRRGGG! Nothing in Olde Printy Presse is remotely similar to Renaissance printing. Here’s the font table:

Old Printing Press alphabet

I’m going to assume, based on OPP, the Renaissance never printed numbers or at least managed to master printing them correctly. Why is there an assumption printers, prior to the magical digital age, produced sloppy, unreadable work?  Just one peak at the Gutenberg Bible tells the casual viewer this is absurd:

Page from Gutenberg Bible courtesy British Library

 Page from Gutenberg Bible courtesy British Library

They were works of art:

Page from Court of Honour printed 1679 Court of Honour, or, The Vertuous Protestant’s Looking Glass. 1679.  

Old isn’t unprofessional.

Printers were professionals who trained for years as apprentices.  What Old Printing Press looks like is a mimeograph copy. Remember the mimeographed handouts we used to get? All the millennials can go sit in a corner while the oldsters have a chuckle. The world was divided between those who snorted the fluid fumes from the paper and those who held the still damp handouts by fingertips, flapping the offending document in the air to dry.  Some of those handouts were brutal and looked like OPP. Hard to read, wrinkles embedded in the copy, wretched … yea, those old high school memories!  Anyone who’s grown up in the age of photocopies, won’t understand how truly dreadful mimeographs were.

Anyway, the assumption printing presses were sloppy astonishes me. My great, great, grandfather was a printer who apprenticed in England.  He came to Canada as a young man and set up his own printing business. He passed that onto his sons who continued his business and moved it onto a full publishing company that produced a well-known newspaper.  Unfortunately, the printing company was a dusty memory by the time I appeared onto the scene. Over the past decade I’ve looked at what they produced and discovered a latent appreciation for their work. Typography, layout, production – all were done with care.

Which brings me full circle back to my pissy little rant. Any printer worth their salt, would not have sanctioned anything like that font represents. I can see a great deal of fun in the typeface (one day I’ll learn when to use font and when to use typeface, but in the meantime, humour me). It has a purpose, but holy Hana change the name to Mimeograph, Sans Addictive Fluid not Old Printing Press. It is not an authentic representation of old printing presses, from the 1920s or the Renaissance.

Sure there were bad printers. I’m not saying there weren’t. My point is, the font misrepresents old printing as somehow amateurish and slipshod.  Even the lowly little Victorian era chapbooks, looked better: Chapbook printed in Scotland

Stories of Bewick and Graham [ID: 104186035]

The Berkshire lady’s garland. And Margaret and the minister.

Probable date printed: 1840-1850

Granted, not all were well produced, but by and large, the printing was very good. As the British Library points out, the printer took pains to choose the right typography and style for each little book.2

I think what the designer was trying to do was replicate this:
Image from chapbook - poor quality printing
Account of some imginary apparitions, the effects of fear or fraud

From various authors. Dunbar : Printed for and sold by G. Miller at whose shop may be had, a variety of small histories, sermons &c.
Catechisms, ballads, children’s books and pictures. Whole sale and retail., [1795-1804]. Book National Library of Scotland

The print above is a example of a poorly produced chapbook, poor print quality, seriously foxed paper and not aging well, but it’s still infinitely easier to read than OPP. Old Printing Press exaggerates these flaws to such an extent, it is a pale caricature a printing press and it certainly does not represent the Renaissance.

I’ll end this with one of my favourite example of early print: Aldus Mantius’ Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1499, a masterpiece from the maligned Renaissance era:

Page from The Strife of Love in a Dream in 1499 (Colonna, Francesco). Printer Aldus Manutius of Venice

Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed by Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1499).

Aldus Manutius of Venice printed Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (The Strife of Love in a Dream) in 1499. Everything about the book is quality – from the layout, to the choice of font and actual printing. There’s a flow to the layout, and energy. And not a sign of sloppiness to be seen.  There is nothing in Old Printing Press that resembles the Rennaissance.

Art in the form of the printed page.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more on the history of typography, let me know by leaving a comment or hitting the FB like button.



2. The National Library of Scotland and the British Library have a delightful selection of Victorian era chapbooks on digital display. and