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.

Exclamation Points! Their Time Has Come!

Typographically, exclamation points derive from stacking the letters in the Latin word io (exclamation of joy). And though they have been around for a long time—since the 15th century—there was no separate key for exclamation points on typewriters before the 1970s. For as long as I can remember, grammarians have told us to use them sparingly, if at all. I’ve always thought of them as the Comic Sans or clipart of punctuation.

Yet, only four short decades after the exclamation point got its own spot on a typewriter, a new style guide called Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home suggests that we should use them as much as possible (at least in emails).

I’m always deeply suspicious of any correspondence that uses too many exclamation points. I’ve considered setting up a filter on my email that blocks any message with multiple exclamation points in sequence (“!!!”). One of my favorite quotes from Terry Pratchett’s humor-fantasy Discworld series (now on its 157th book, or so it seems) is this one from the title character in the 1990 book Eric:

Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.

There’s a generally accepted rule among my male college friends that no correspondence among any of us should ever include an exclamation point (though this rule is frequently broken in any message referring to Las Vegas or attractive dental hygienists).

And in spite of all this prejudice against the exclamation point, I frequently find myself staring at work-related emails that I am about to send, wondering if I should change “Thanks” to “Thanks!” And I frequently do.

Granted there’s a difference between using an exclamation point in an email and in a professional scenario—as in a business letter, formal writing, or interpretive media. Author Elmore Leonard, detailing his 10 rules of writing, says, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” If you are writing the text for an interpretive exhibit and sticking to the generally accepted rule of 150 words per panel, this means you are allowed one exclamation point roughly every 220 to 330 panels. If you use three exclamation points following “OMG” in a text message, then you are done with them for 999,999 more messages (a week and a half, if you’re some people I know).

If it’s true what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke,” then the people of Hamilton!, Ohio, must think they’re pretty funny. In 1986, the city of Hamilton, a town of more than 60,000 happy residents, changed its name to Hamilton! to generate publicity. And you know they’re laughing over at Yahoo! When you click on the exclamation point in the logo at www.yahoo.com, it plays the Yahoo! yodel jingle.

By Leonard’s and many other people’s standards, a lot of people overuse exclamation points, not just in personal communication but in professional writing. Some people refuse to use them altogether (like Elaine’s boss in a very funny episode of Seinfeld), while others can’t update their Facebook statuses without at least three of them. You’ll see me use them on this site occasionally, but I doubt I’ve ever used one in an editorial in Legacy magazine.

I tend to think of exclamation points the same way I do about swearing. They’re crutches people use when they can’t think of words to better express their thoughts—but sometimes it just feels right to let loose. In interpretive writing, I can see justification for using them sparingly (exclamation points, that is, not curse words), but when you’re reviewing your writing, I’d encourage removing them first and seeing if they need to be added back in. If you really need the exclamation points, maybe you don’t have the right words yet.

Well, that’s it! See you next week!

Get A Grip: Interpreting Baseball

This is a big week for Paul and me. We are celebrating the return of baseball! (I seldom use exclamation points, but in this case it is worthy.) I love new beginnings. For me, a New York Yankees fan, the start of this season comes off a World Championship, in an awesome new stadium, setting the stage for years to come. For Paul, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, the season marks an opportunity to meet the Yankees in the World Series and fall short yet again. So, how can I write about baseball for a second time in one week without ostracizing our audience with another baseball-related post? I should have asked this same question prior to posts on Star Wars, NASCAR, and Walmart but I didn’t.

Baseball is in my blood. My grandfather was a huge New York Yankees fan, which led to my love of the Yankees despite the distance from Yankee Stadium to my house (1144.26 miles to be exact, just to save Paul the trouble of researching it for the comments section). With satellite television, he never missed a game. As I grew up, keeping up with the Yankees was an important part of staying close with my grandfather. I kept up with the smallest details of players, statistics, and games to converse with him and hopefully add something insightful to the conversation. I never got one up on him.

He was a talented athlete as a child, adult, and even later in life. I never have been. I remember the disappointment in his eyes when he took me to purchase my first real baseball glove and I wanted the pink one. I also remember seeing the disappointment after he attended one of my peewee baseball games and realized that I was going to be better suited for playing Super Mario Brothers. I played in the catcher position not because of my throwing or catching ability but because I served as the best backstop. My husky disposition was effective at stopping balls especially when I closed my eyes after each pitch.

One of the greatest memories that I have of me and my grandfather came years after peewee baseball when he taught me how to throw a knuckle ball. Again I was playing catcher. The knuckle ball is a remarkable combination of skill and physics. Much like the great New York Yankee manager Joe Torre said, “You don’t catch a knuckle ball, you defend against it.” I still couldn’t catch; at least I could blame the knuckle ball this time around. He never let these details get in the way of our personal relationship or our relationship with the game. The great thing about baseball is that anyone can be a spectator and I’ve got that position covered.

The more you learn about baseball, the more you want to know. I was excited to see an exhibit in the Museum of Westward Expansion, a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, more commonly known as The Arch. St. Louis is a great baseball town and the exhibit “Baseball’s Gateway to the West” was a welcoming sight to me. The exhibit immediately caught my attention. A portion of the exhibit that I had a hard time walking away from reminded me of my grandfather teaching me to throw a knuckle ball. The simple exhibit was a creative tactile approach for explaining the various grips of types of pitches. St. Louis entrepreneur Ted Kennedy created a mail-order correspondence-type course for learning various baseball techniques. Taking on the topic in some other way would have otherwise been too complicated to explain in text and graphics wouldn’t have provided this type of experience.

As you can see, baseballs are attached to self retracting lanyards that are embossed with a “T” for your thumb and two other spots for index and middle fingers. I’ve seen explanations of various pitching techniques written and on television, but this approach brought it home. This is the next best thing from having Ted Kennedy or your grandfather teaching you. As with most interpretive experiences, personal interpretation is preferred for effectiveness and non-personal approaches run a close second.

The other portion of the exhibit that I found interesting was about the St. Louis invention of the Knot Hole Gang. The Knot Hole Gang got its name from not having tickets to the games and watching what could be seen through knot holes in the fence. The Cardinals created, as a bonus to their stockholders, the first Knot Hole Gang where tickets were handed down to children to attend games.

The designers of this portion of the exhibit took an interesting approach to interpreting the story. Instead of just graphically re-creating a fence in the compressed laminate, actual fence boards were used to make a fence complete with knot holes. When you peer through the hole you see a historic picture of a game in progress.

For a moment, I relived parts of the 1928 World Series where Babe Ruth went 10 for 16 and the Yankees swept the Cardinals. I could have relived the 1926 World Series, where the Cardinals beat the Yankees in an effort to develop empathy for Paul and the 2009 World Series, but I decided that it would be too painful.

Both of these concepts remind me that the thought, design, and innovation to interpret the story doesn’t always require a high-tech, sophisticated approach to be effective. Oh yeah, one doesn’t have to live near New York to be fan of the Yankees, a pink glove is okay for a boy, and you don’t have to be athletic to be a spectator.