Graphic Peeves

There are some things that are done in the name of Graphic Design that should never see the light of day.

One is the over use of italics. Italic type is the words you should see emphasized as this. Can you see the difference? When italics are used on a word it makes the word stand out from the rest of the sentence. If I write . . . I went to the store . . . it has a certain flatness to it. But if I write . . . I went to the store . . . the emphasis is on the word went, as opposed to I ran to the store or I came back from the store.

And if I write . . . I went to the store . . . the italicized type gives the emphasis to the word store, as opposed to I went to the market or the zoo or to class.

Italics can be used as captions to pictures or photos. This sets them aside from the rest of copy on, say, a book or magazine or catalog page.

And Italics used in all capital letters is just ugly and difficult to read.

That leads me to . . . script and/or type that looks hand written. There are many lovely and graceful script fonts available these days. So many have lovely flourishes and what are called Gylphs. These are alternate letters that can be substituted for some letters in SOME fonts. Graphic Designers (like me) love to use some of these fonts but they need to be used correctly. In fact, I use Zapfino with glyphs for my own logo.

There are two signs I have seen lately. One is for a contractor who had done some lovely concrete stamping on a new walkway installed in front of an adorable house near where I live. He placed a sign near the street to advertise that his company had done this very nice work. However, I still do not know the name of this contractor in spite of the fact that I have driven by this sign seven or eight times to date. Because you cannot read the name. It is done in a heavy script with equally heavy outlines. Plural. Outlines. In similar colors to the font. A grey font with a blue outline with another blue outline . . . in a script that may be difficult to read if it were simply done.

What a waste. Who could read it if it is on a piece of paper or a website? Standing still! But when an automobile is going by at 30 miles an hour with traffic . . . it is not clear. I repeat, what a waste.

The second is on my own church’s new sign which graces the front of the church property. It is a beautifully designed sign with rich greens and golds. But when approached from the north you can barely see it. The trees overhead create such a shadow that it is totally unreadable. At night it is somewhat better because it is lit by electric lights. At the bottom of the sign is a phrase that is very memorable. It reads “Visitors Expected”. That inviting phrase is wasted for two reasons. One is that it is in a script that has the letters too close together and too slanted. You cannot read it as you drive by and any visitor would never know that they are “expected”. Plus there is not enough contrast between the text and the background. The black against white we used to have on the previous sign was readable. This gold against green has not enough contrast to support that decorative font.

When I lived on Cape Cod there was a mailbox that I passed when I drove down Route 6A, one of this country’s most beautiful roadways. I still do not know the name of the people that live there because their name was written in all capital letters in a very ornate script. Which can you read better?

Another spot on The Cape is near where Route 28 goes over the Bass River Bridge from Yarmouth into Dennis. While the natives read it all the time, I have seen numerous tourists miss that sign only to have to go over the bridge and turn around. Why? Because it “directs” them to To The Beaches. But it is spelled thusly . . .  

If they put the narrow sign in the same spot with the words set like this . . .

the tourists would see it before going through the intersection and make it to the beach with no problem. Stacking letters is done often and can work if the word is short like STOP or GAS or EATS. Anything over five letters should be rethought so the mind can interpret what is being spelled faster. And not just for readability but for pure aesthetics!

Looking at the examples here, you can see the readability of the ones on the left. Not all that much readability on the right due to two things; the length of the words AND the chosen font.

Well, that’s my soapbox for today.

Later, Dudes (as my son Patrick used to say).

3 comments to Graphic Peeves

  • I learned a lot from this post, great help for me, thank you!

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  • Great Aritcle. Always looking for different types of ideas, I just bookmarked this site. Thanks very much, I appreciate you making this article available, the rest of the site is also well done. Have a great day

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