On 23 Jun 04 at 18:50, [log in to unmask] wrote:
> I'm not a trained designer and sometimes I'll look at a design,
> realise that it is wrong and has failed in its purpose, but not
> have the slightest idea on how to put it right.
How often are these failures due to "design" trumping "utility"?
Every so often, one sees items (that clearly had a graphic designer
involved) which woefully fail to fulfill their primary purpose. You
have to seriously wonder...
A couple of examples, both drawn from the world of street directional
signage as it happens:
On the campus of the University of British Columbia, at one time the
markers for the various streets on campus were pillars with the name
of the street in, more or less, Helvetica Bold -- but set turned 90
degrees so it ran from top to bottom. Big type, good contrast between
text and background -- but rotated.
Oh, yes, they were wonderful examples of bold design -- but to a
motorist trying to figure out where they were and with only seconds
(if that) to read a sign before deciding, to turn or not to turn,
that is the question, they were an unmitigated disaster.
In Portland, Oregon, some of the street signs downtown are set in a
slightly florid typeface (maybe nothing more serif-fy than TNR),
white (iirc) against a mid-gray background. The contrast between the
text and the background is fairly low; but what's worse, the mid-gray
makes the signs blend into the cityscape so you can't easily find
them in your field of view. (The tired descriptive phrase "gray
cities" is 100% applicable in this case.)
One again senses the triumph of design over utility, but in this case
sheer typographic incompetence is the frosting on the cake: some of
the street names are too long for the alloted space, so some dimbulb
has compressed the text laterally to make it fit. The typeface used
is none too legible (or is that readable?) under the circumstances,
but when compressed, it might as well be arbitrary scribbles for all
the good it does.
I admit that Portland seems to have a general policy of poor street
and highway signage, perhaps to keep Californians from settling, but
these little ordinary street signs deserve some kind of Ig-nobel
award. (In saying this, I'm thinking of the signage along I-5 as you
come into downtown from the north: exit signs repeatedly say
"Downtown" but don't bother to tell you just *where* in downtown
Portland you will end up. And I've seen "Rose Quarter", evidently a
localism fairly recently adopted as a downtown neighborhood name,
used instead of the relevant street name. In this case, cuteness has
trumped utility; whoever thought that was a good idea forgot that the
name "Rose Quarter" doesn't appear on city maps.)
Another interesting typographic failure involves the precautions and
warnings on containers of OTC medications. Some of these are fairly
lengthy texts and their presence is probably required by law; yet
the bottle is quite small. As a result, you see these important
texts set so small that my middle-aged eyes cannot read them without
And then we can segue into the corresponding realm of web page
design, where the rule seems to be "function follows form."
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
"To co-work is human,
to cow-ork, bovine."