You Never Know Where a Design Lesson Will Appear

December 5, 2011

As I was walking down the street this morning, I came across something odd:  a middle-aged man holding a sign up over his head.  My first thought was that he was waiting for somebody that he wouldn’t recognize, like a limo driver at an airport terminal.

As I got closer, I realized that this man was protesting something.  Exactly what, I couldn’t tell, for the simple fact that I couldn’t read his sign.  Two men were standing in front of him, talking to him, perhaps trying to dissuade him.

Only then did I recognize that his sign read “I’m Javier Gonzalez.”  With the Occupy L.A. eviction fresh in my memory, I realized that this man was announcing his identity, in the event that he was to be arrested.

The problem, aside from the fact that there didn’t appear to be a protest underway, is that Mr. Gonzalez’s sign was essentially illegible.  It was hand-written in thin red lettering in such an artful way that an average passerby wouldn’t be able to discern its meaning.  And while it didn’t appear that Mr. Gonzalez was likely to be ‘disappeared,’ he still had a message to convey and he failed to do so.  In fact, as I write this, I’m not entirely sure that I remembered Mr. Gonzalez’s name correctly, which would seem to be the entire purpose of the sign.

Perhaps the invisible protest should give us an indictation why Mr. Gonzalez was unable to communicate with random strangers passing by, but I don’t think this is a problem unique to ecentric sign holders.  Both designers and consumers alike can allow their fascination with creative fonts and lettering to detract from the basic function of communication.

While most of us are not writing signs in the event that we’re dragged away by the secret police, we still have messages we’re trying to get across, and must keep in mind that communication must always take precedence over stylistic flourishes.

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