Play to Your Strengths (and Take Advantage of Your Friends)

On a recent trip the east coast, I was reminded why I don’t go to Italian restaurants in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s not that the Italian restaurants in Fort Collins are bad; it’s just that the Italian restaurants on the east coast are so much better.

I take food seriously, so when I go somewhere, I want to experience that place’s strength. In Fort Collins, we have great microbreweries and brewpubs. On a visit to Texas earlier this year, I sought out Mexican food and barbecue. (You know any Texas barbecue place with a hand-painted sign is going to be great.) In Los Angeles this summer, Shea and I enjoyed seafood and, of course, Roscoe’s Chicken ‘N’ Waffles. A couple years ago, my wife and I had sushi for breakfast in Japan at the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo because we knew it would be the best sushi we would ever eat. (We were right.)

Each of these places excels in at least one area of cuisine, and my goal as a consumer of food is to take advantage of the best options available.

It’s the same in the world of design.

When I was in graduate school, I was told by one professor that I should work to improve my “level of craft.” By this, he meant that, in the course of constructing three-dimensional projects like models or packaging samples, I should try to avoid accidentally gluing my hands to the table or impaling myself with an X-Acto blade. Other students in the program would construct elaborate scale models of the Parthenon out of corrugated cardboard in the time that it took me to get the dried glue unclogged from the bottle of Elmer’s.

From this I took it that perhaps my strengths as a designer lay elsewhere. I developed a particularly strong interest in typography, because no matter how tightly you kern, it’s pretty hard to injure yourself with a keyboard and mouse.

One of my responsibilities as a designer is to know what resources are available to me—not just where to get good photos and fonts, but utilizing the knowledge and expertise of fellow designers. Not every designer is going to be great at every aspect of design. Just as certain locales will specialize in a particular type of cuisine, certain designers will excel in a particular area, like color, composition, type, animation, and photography, to name a few. There’s real value to understanding the strengths of designers you know and getting feedback from them. (Just make sure you go to the right person for specific feedback, or else it’s like eating sushi for breakfast in Texas and Mexican food in Japan.)

I’ve found, as I’m sure it is with any profession, that being a designer is most rewarding when you can set aside ego and competition and open yourself up to ideas and inspiration from fellow professionals. (I probably don’t even have to say that to IBD readers. I’ve always admired the way interpreters inspire and support one another, rather than tear each other down.)

I would encourage designers—those new to design in particular—to add one more resolution for 2011: Keep an eye out for work that you like and talk to the people responsible for it. One particularly great place to do this is at an NAI event like the International Conference or National Workshop, but even if you can’t make it to an event, pick up the phone or fire off an email to someone whose work impresses you. I can guarantee the conversation will be worthwhile.

And now if I could just get a few restaurant owners here in Fort Collins to pick up a phone and call my people in Philadelphia, maybe we could get a decent marinara out here.

Happy 2011!

Get to Know a Typeface! Papyrus


This post is more for me than you. I’m sorry but I must use this platform to get this off my chest. Please avoid Papyrus.

The post could have ended there, but as usual, I say too much and end up needing to apologize for something I’ve written. If I have or will offend you with this post, including Chris Costello (the type designer who created the monster known as Papyrus), I am sorry. I guess I could have taken Paul’s post on Comic Sans and inserted his comments here to cover Papyrus. You know, that’s not such a bad idea.

Here we go: “The problem with [Papyrus] is not only that it is used a lot. It’s that it’s almost always used inappropriately, which has caused its original intent to be lost. It was designed with a specific use in mind, but now it is ubiquitous.”  Well said, Paul. Costello agrees and says on his blog titled “Papyrus…Love It or Hate It?” that “Dude, Papyrus is ubiquitous because it was bundled with OSX and Windows operating systems, plain and simple… I had nothing to do with that decision.” I like his honesty and use of the word “dude” in the post.

Costello goes on to say in another post, “I cringe when I see Papyrus so poorly executed…and so often. But again, like any licensed software, what people do with it is out of my hands.” I think that it is awesome that Costello’s blog provides a place for people to rant or rave about his creation. Some of the comments provide insight into his creation and its original use, while others are just hilarious. There is even is a post from Costello’s mom, who has a take on Papyrus.

Much like Comic Sans, Papyrus in and of itself is not that bad of a typeface. It is the users of Papyrus who over use and abuse it.  It can be seen everywhere. I see it most commonly in restaurant menus (primarily Italian restaurants) and in signage or advertisements for day spas (primarily the type found in strip malls). I have even seen it on a sign for a dentist’s office. Which was an effective use considering the cavities found within each letter form. But really, please avoid Papyrus.

To learn more about Papyrus or Chris Costello check out his website at Costello is also collecting comments and displaying his newest type creations known as Driftwood, Costello, and Sheriden’s Letters. Will one of those be the next Papyrus? Only time will tell.

For those who love Papyrus, and I know you are out there, check out

Do I need a hobby or something else to care about? I want to hear from the herd, what is the typeface that really bugs you? For me it is Papyrus, for Paul it is Comic Sans, what is it for you?