Hobo Hauntings

Over the last few weeks I have felt that I’m being stalked. Based on the overwhelming popularity of IBD (the book and the blog) I have had to consider hiring a bodyguard. I watch a lot of episodes of TMZ and now realize that you haven’t arrived until you have a supersized man walking behind you and a dog that fits in a purse. I would hope that Paul would have my back if we were together at one of our favorite scenes (like hanging out an Office Depot) and it turned tragic (Paul asked where they keep the Apple computers and they tell him they don’t carry them), but based on my experience with graphic designers they will turn on you in a heartbeat.

Over a year ago I made a decision to change a typeface in a logo that I was designing for the upcoming NAI Region VI workshop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. As with many of the design projects that I work on, I send them to Paul for a review, comments, and suggestions. Paul’s reaction was “Is that Hobo? No Hobo!!!” Based on the number of exclamation points being used I knew that Paul (a chronic over-punctuator) was serious about the use of Hobo and I would have to change it at the very least to avoid any additional chastising. I have never dealt well with peer pressure. Ever since I made that decision I can’t but help noticing the removed typeface in conspicuous locations on a daily basis. Perhaps it is less of a stalking and more of a haunting a sort of “ghost of typefaces past.” That typeface is Hobo.

Created in 1910, Hobo is a sans serif that is known for its lack of descending straight lines and overall casual feel. Created by Morris Fuller Benton, who as a typographer worked for the ATF (American Type Founders, not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), designed over 200 typefaces. According to Benton’s biography on Wikipedia the “large family of related neogrotesque sans-serif typefaces, known as ‘gothics’ as was the norm at the time, includes Alternate Gothic, Franklin Gothic, and News Gothic. All were more similar to, and better anticipated, later realist sans-serif typefaces such as Helvetica than did the other early grotesque types of his contemporaries.” As a park ranger I’m not sure what that really means but I think it is saying something about Benton being really great and designers today who like black lipstick, skinny jeans, and black fingernail polish.

I know exactly what you are thinking, “Didn’t Paul write about Hobo in his post Get to Know a Typeface: Hobo on Monday, March 29, 2010?” Yes, he did and I’m impressed with your knowledge of IBD posts. I’m still not satisfied with my decision to drop Hobo and use N.O. Movement Bold. In fact I still kind of like Hobo. I think it has something to do with all of these Hobo cameo appearances that are constantly reminding me of a design decision that I made. Which should actually be working the opposite way, much like the ubiquity of Papyrus and Comic Sans, to reinforce that I made the right decision to drop an overused font? The difference is that Hobo is not that bad of a typeface it is just overused. Hobo (much like Papyrus, Comic Sans and Paul) has websites that display others’ disdain for them (I Hate Hobo).

I have to admit that I’m happy that a logo I created didn’t land on one of those websites but why can’t I find peace with the decision I made? Because Hobo was what I looking for in a typeface that represented the unique style of Eureka Springs while still being easy to read in the negative space (or counterform, for those fancy pants non-Hobo using graphic designers who live in Fort Collins, Colorado) of the exclamation point. I think the lack of straight lines, decenders, and the overall casual feel and roundness is as eclectic as Eureka itself. I understand why the change needed to be made and I am being constantly reminded of that same reason.

In the mean time I’m going to order this pledge provided by Lure and hang it in my office.

I still like Hobo.

I mentioned peer pressure earlier in the post. There will be an informal gathering of IBD readers at the NAI National Workshop next week in Las Vegas, Nevada  immediately following the Superstars of Interpretation on Wednesday night. This idea actually came from a reader/commenter known as Joan (we cannot confirm or deny that her name is actually Joan). Paul and I will be looking for the closest Office Depot to the Las Vegas Strip so we can discuss the pros and cons of metal and plastic paperclips.  Seriously, there will be a gathering, location to be determined. Check the IBD Facebook page during the conference or ask us. Help us make it go viral at the workshop, without the flu-like symptoms.

Papyrus’ Avatar in Avatar

Since December 18, 2009, I have been checking the IBD website daily, patiently waiting for someone to ask a question or post a comment about the use of Papyrus in the movie Avatar. Until July 19, 2010, at 10:17 AM, I had been following rule number three of many unwritten rules about this blog, which states: 3. Quit writing about Papyrus because people will think you are an obsessive freak and may confuse you with Paul. The number two rule is: 2. Sausage is an acceptable commodity for the exchange of ideas and/or information in relation to IBD the book not the blog. The number one rule is: 1. Show total disregard for the proper use of the serial comma in order to annoy Paul.

Cal Martin (whom I will refer to in this post as Cal, the Chosen One, Chosen, or the One) finally posed the question on our Ask a Nerd! page. The question made me happy on multiple levels. First and obviously he asked about the use of Papyrus in the film, and second, there is someone who actually saw Avatar after me. Due to the age and number of children that I have, along with a wife with no interest in going to the cinema to see a movie that doesn’t involve talking dogs or sparkly vampires, see a movie like Avatar is a practical impossibility. I digress, here’s the Chosen One’s question/comment. Cal Martin says:

Hi nerds!

Okay, this is embarrassing. Or else I’m extremely rebellious and worthy of great praise, depending on your world view. I just saw James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. That’s right – half a year later on DVD on my 27 inch tube television. It felt like I was right inside the picture!

Anyway, please, please tell me that I didn’t just see subtitles in Papyrus throughout the entire movie. I wanted to scream, “Good God, no! Papyrus?!?! Kill me now!” but I was afraid that it might expose me as a geek, and result in my sleeping on the couch.

My question – do you have other examples of huge projects (movies, large scale exhibits, multinational company signage, etc.) that had budgets of millions of dollars, yet made a basic gaffe such as this?

Cal

One, it wasn’t that long ago that I too saw Avatar at home and had that same reaction. I had heard about the unfortunate choice of Papyrus being discussed in certain design circles. (On occasion Paul and I hold hands, a perfectly acceptable custom in India; it forms the design circle of which I am referring to.) For this reason I had purposely avoided the movie. That, along with an unfortunate dream I had involving Smurphs when I was younger, has forever changed my view of blue people.

Chosen, I did make the mistake that you avoided in post-film conversation with my wife by saying it was pretty good despite the Na’vi speaking Papyrus. To which my wife replied that I had successful ruined everything. Which, in my opinion, is a bit presumptuous.

Back to the question at hand, the typeface used in all promotional materials, posters, and even the subtitles in the movies is not exactly Papyrus (seen above in yellow) but some sort of adapted version of Papyrus (seen above in blue). What is surprising to me is that movie with a budget well over $450 million (including promotion) didn’t search from a more original typeface to represent the film. Paul and I would have gladly provided the producer James Cameron this same advice for an amount much less than $10 million.

At the very least someone tried to alter it some in an effort to customize the typeface. Upon closer investigation you will notice that elements of Papyrus have been slightly altered.

The problem isn’t really Papyrus itself. In fact I think it represents the Na’vi and the movie well. As we have stated before in conversations about Comic Sans and Papyrus, it is the overuse that has made it ubiquitous. The real problem is that is also represents Italian restaurants, coffee shops, massage parlors, and churches. As a standard default font found on PCs and Macs worldwide the typeface has found its way into countless designs and lost the intent it was created.

My personal complaint with the use of the version in Avatar is that the subtitles are just too difficult to read. The first goal of subtitles should be legibility. Now if you were watching it at an IMAX theater you could probably read it better than on my or Cal’s home theater screens.

The One, I don’t really have an answer to the second part of your question. I don’t know of any other gaffes that have had an impact in the design community as much as Avatar and Papyrus. It is a really good question and perhaps some other members of the Nerd Herd can provide examples. In the meantime this is a reminder that we should consider every design decision we make important.

If someone had placed more of an effort into researching the use of Papyrus and shown Cameron this connection, I have no doubt that more effort would have been placed in finding an original typeface.

Rule number three has been re-implemented for the future of IBD. Oh yeah, if you haven’t seen it (Avatar not The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course) the movie is really good.

Style and Sweat Pants

Several people turn to Paul and me for style tips on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for us to be asked questions like “What should I wear today?” or “Does this match?” or “Does my hair look crazy?” Of course most of those types of questions are from our children. They depend on us for latest in style and then depend on our wives to correct it. Everyone has his or her own unique style.

After attending Arkansas State Parks’ Annual Interpretation Workshop last week I was reminded at how important style is for interpreters and designers. As an interpreter I have found myself in a comfortable place within my interpretive style and the programs that I present (which happens to be the fashion equivalent of wearing sweat pants in public places – only caring about what feels good or is easy for you). I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone (bow tie and PowerPoint presentation or uniform and guided archeological site tour) by two inspiring professional interpreters.

Wil

The workshop was highlighted by keynote presentations from Sarah and Wil (pictured above in front of the Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park) Reding. The Redings (http://www.rentaramblingnaturalist.ws) have distinct interpretive styles that involve characterizations that are enhanced through the use of props and costumes. Their talent, senses of humor, and passion are infectious. I see elements of their personalities in their interpretive styles, but that is not the only component leading to their style. Influences on style can come from many directions, including personal experience.

wilreddingThe Redings have gone to great lengths, literally, for experiences that add to their style. In 2006, they re-traced John Muir’s 1,000-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico, beginning in Indianapolis, Indiana, and finishing at Cedar Key, Florida. They completed the “long walk” in 53 days. An experience such as this will forever impact their interpretive style and presentations for years to come. Their presentations have inspired me to change some elements of my interpretive style.

As interpreters we can draw from our personalities, personal experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities to help develop our interpretive styles. Interpreters are accepting of various styles and even encourage unique approaches to communication. For designers this is not always the case. If a designer takes too many steps beyond Helvetica and the grid, they could be facing ostracism from the school of thoughtful design (for the record I am a fan of both Helvetica and the grid).

Designers can be put in difficult situations. We may have an opinion about what something should look like or what the end product should be, but when it comes down to it we have to please our clients, supervisor or the interpretive site itself. This may lend itself to us making design decisions that we wouldn’t normally make to meet various needs. I have even been known to change something, despite my opinion about it, in order to simply complete a project (which also happens to be the fashion equivalent of wearing sweat pants in public – not caring what people think any more).

When I look back at interpretive products that I have created over the last few years I do see a similar style. A large part is personality driven closely followed by becoming a slave to the grid. I have even changed my style despite my personality. I have really gotten over centering and my innate need for everything to be balanced (Paul may not agree that I’m over it). I think everything has a place and it belongs in that place, and my wife tells me that it is okay for me to think that way.

Our personalities, whether we like to admit it or not, shape our designs. Much like the Redings, personal exploration/experience has also allowed me to develop my style as a designer. A good friend always said to me that the day he stopped learning is the day he would die. I have to agree with this, we need to continually learn and experience new approaches to improve our styles. Take the time to explore elements of your field that could provide you with a new perspective. Don’t be afraid to step out and try something new, use a different typeface, or even wear sweat pants in public from time to time.  The cotton and drawstrings are liberating.