Odds and Ends: Emptying the In-Box

I tend to let emails collect in my in-box, then once every three years I go and delete them by the thousands. I have a special folder for things people send for IBD, and it has reached a point where it needs to be emptied. So I give you the following odds and ends.

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Knowing that we love interesting and funny signs, Friend (and Occasional Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder sent a series of photos from a recent trip to India.

The above photo is from a park where you are not allowed to do anything, including “misbehavior” and “eatables.” I particularly like the relaxing sound of “Garden Timing” followed by “By Order.”

This one reminds me of a Steven Wright joke. He said his parents read that most accidents happen within five miles of the home, so they moved 15 miles away. I’m glad in India that they keep their accidents confined to one zone. (And those “Dang District Police” are misusing their quote marks.)

The “Don’t Spit Here” sign seemed kind of funny to me, until Phil explained, “India has a real tuberculosis issue, and there’s a campaign to curb spitting as a public health measure.” Thanks for being a buzz-kill, Phil.

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Another Phil, this time Friend of IBD Phil Sexton, sent a link to a website called Free Font Manifesto, which asks the question:

This site paves the way for professional designers to create a collection of high-quality fonts available in the public domain (there are lots of free fonts available already, but not necessarily high-quality ones). This raises questions about how these designers would earn a living, but it’s an interesting conversation to have.

Phil also sent me this funny little cosmetic tip. Phil and I are always sharing beauty tips, so I was happy to get this from him:

I guess my friends think I need help with my body image, because Friend of IBD Chris Mayer sent a link to a tongue-in-cheek video about using Photoshop (Fotoshop) to achieve unrealistic goals:

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Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell also shared a few photos with us in recent* months:

This is one she took during the 2010 NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas (I did say that it can take me a while to get to emails). I have to admit, because I’m slow sometimes, that I did not get it right away.

This one I did get right away.

Kelly also sent a link with the subject “Arkansas on the Cutting Edge” to a story on the website The Barcode News, which states:

In October of 2009, Arkansas became the first state to use QR Codes…. Since that time, the QR Code has appeared in the 2010 Arkansas Tour Guide, the Arkansas State Parks Guide, the Arkansas Spring newspaper insert and in publications such as The Oxford American, Southern Living, and National Geographic Traveler.

I can see why Kelly, a proud Arkansan, wanted to share this with us, as we have written about QR codes in the past. I was particularly impressed by one aspect of this whole story: There is such a thing as The Barcode News.

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Finally, my coworker Deb Tewell took this photo in Argentina. It’s a great example of all the reasons we can just never predict how our work will look when it’s released into the wild.

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Check back for Part 2 of “Emptying the In-Box” in March 2015!

Centering is Lazy

I am about to reveal something that will shock the world. Okay, maybe it will just shock my esteemed co-author Shea and a handful of people who have attended an Interpretation By Design workshop.

I don’t hate centered type.

VinesBorderWeddingInvitationLargeOn rare occasion, I actually center type myself (most recently in 2005). I acknowledge that there are schools of design theory in which carefully considered instances of centering are accepted and that talented professional designers do it all the time. Certain industries have created instantly recognizable visual vernaculars based on centered type, like wedding invitations and movie credits. (For the record, I designed my own wedding invitations and did not center the type.)

Here’s what I do hate: lazy graphic design decisions.

When I see a big, centered title at the top of a composition, it looks undesigned to me. In training sessions, I have described centered design elements as the Comic Sans or clip art of typographic layout. All of these—centering, Comic Sans, and clip art—are crutches that amateurs use because the computer makes them all too easy.

In our book and in training sessions, we demonstrate the use of a grid, a simple page composition mechanism devised by Swiss typographers in the mid-20th century. The grid creates order in compositions through alignment, both vertically and horizontally. (See a previous post about the grid here.) Unless you work with intricate details of letterspacing and point size, centered text rarely works within a grid, and without a grid, the work of amateur designers quickly becomes cluttered and inaccessible.

We ask that designers be able to defend their decisions about typefaces, colors, images, and other visual elements. This works with typographic alignment, too. So often, the choice to center type is a mere convenience, or to put it bluntly, lazy. It’s a default option in every word processor or page layout program out there, so of course, you see it everywhere. And centered type is symmetrical, which makes it that much more appealing to someone striving for balance in a composition. (Note: Symmetry is good on faces, boring in graphic design.)

Of course, there’s a time and place for everything, including centered type. So if you center your type, be able to explain why you did so, and as with any design decision, “Because it felt good” is not the right explanation. If you do choose to center type, and I still hope you won’t most of the time, here are some basic guidelines to follow:

  • Center only short blocks of type. The ragged alignment on the left and right make it hard for readers to follow long passages that are centered.
  • Do not center titles or headlines over flush-left/ragged right body text (also called left-justified). The uneven nature of this alignment will cause your centered headline to look off, even if it is not.
  • Never trust the computer to center your type for you. Because of optical effects created by the shapes of different letterforms, you’ll likely have to get into your compositions and tweak the position of each line of text to truly make it appear centered.

At the session Shea and I presented at the NAI National Workshop in Hartford last month, we asked groups of participants to choose colors and typefaces for an identity system for hypothetical organizations. One participant made the comment that the groups spent more time discussing the intricacies of colors and typefaces in that activity than they do on real projects.

Don’t let this happen to you in your design projects. Go ahead and center type, but have the discussion (even if it’s just with yourself) about why you’re doing so.