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Nobody’s Prefect

Joseph Epstein writes about one of my favorite pastimes: finding typos in published work.

Apart from the smug self-satisfaction that comes when I catch the vaunted copy editors at The New Yorker asleep at their style guides, it’s a sobering reminder that mistakes often do, in fact, get printed—despite the best efforts of people a lot smarter than I. (Or is it “me”?)

“Planes are shifted off the orthogonal…”

Because it’s Thursday, I bring you Couch Cushion Architecture: A Critical Analysis.

Print Is Dead! (Or…is it?)

All of us in the design profession have heard about the eventual, slow death of print. It began in earnest in the 1990s, and, according to some folks, it already has a tombstone. This is what keeps printers up at night.

So I was pleasantly surprised as my oldest daughter—a senior in high school—began searching for a university to attend a little over a year ago. Upon visiting several colleges, our mailbox has been inundated with print promotions, one after the other, not only from the schools we visited but also from unknown colleges around the country.

Having worked with college admissions departments, I can attest to the fact that these groups are typically very sophisticated in their approach to recruiting high school students (and their parents). So it must work very well to mail nicely designed brochures, post cards, and letters. Given that print still has far fewer restrictions than online design, higher-ed print pieces are often more visually pleasing that their websites. And in the case of my daughter, even after she committed to a university, they’ve kept sending her beautiful print pieces.

Print may be slower that it use to be, but it’s far from being on life support. In fact, I’d suggest that, given society’s appetite for all things online, print has become even more relevant: as a tangible, tactile, near-novelty that communicates emotions distinct from any click of the mouse.

3.5″ Floppy, RIP

Something tells me that approximately 93 percent of those who read this story will be shocked to learn that someone—anyone—is still manufacturing these things. (And will continue to do so until 2011!)

Lowest Prices EVER on Embarrassing Musical Genres

It’s one thing when you see a misplaced comma or apostrophe in a hand-lettered sign. But this cryptic announcement is something else entirely. The missus found it in the frozen foods section at Super 1 Foods on 29th.

Imagine, if you will, a giant icebox with the likes of Donna Summer, Rick James, and every member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra slumbering away in cryostasis, their prices slashed on accounta their sell-by dates have long since passed, and you have a pretty good idea of how my mind works when I see this sort of thing.

Fonts and Money

Recently, our very own Spokesman-Review ran an AP article on how fonts can actually save you money.

Yes, it’s true. As the article suggests, “because different fonts require different amounts of ink to print, you could be buying new printer cartridges less often if you wrote in, say, Century Gothic rather than Arial. Schools and businesses could save thousands of dollars with font changes.”

The article goes on to list the fonts that use “different volumes of ink to print”. Does this mean that even a dull, plain-vanilla font like Times New Roman actually has an advantage over say, the more classic sans serif font, Franklin Gothic Medium?

Now, no doubt the printing savings is real. But in these recessionary times, when every marketing dollar is being scrutinized—if not reduced or removed—do we designers now have to contend with clients expecting to squeeze a little more out of our font choices? Let’s hope not.

I suppose the good news is that nobody is reading newspapers these days anyway (which, coincidentally, use quite a lot of that dull, plain-vanilla font). So until then, I’ll continue to select fonts that provide the personality required, rather than less volume.

Proofers of the World, Untie!

Proofreading is one of those under-appreciated skills that people too often dismiss as mere pedantry. But it’s not easy. Evelyn Waugh, in fact, wryly noted that “now that they no longer defrock priests for sexual perversities, one can no longer get any decent proofreading.”

Waugh’s quote came to mind when I read this story about “freshly ground black people.”

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

I took part in a presentation today, and…I wore a tie. Not exactly blog-worthy news for most folks, granted, but anyone who knows me understands that they’re far more likely to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot than they are to see me in a tie. Or a button-down shirt, for that matter.

So there were a dozen people in the room, nearly two-thirds of whom were men, and I was the only one wearing a tie.

@#$%&!

Stop What You’re Doing and Watch This Movie. Right Now.

Finally got around to seeing the 2006 German film The Lives of Others. It’s a beautiful movie—engaging in a way that, for me anyway, has been replicated precisely two other times over the last ten years or so: Into the Wild and The Wrestler.

Just…wow.

Teachers Matter

Upon winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Kathleen Parker thanks her high school English teacher. Nice touch.

If I ever win the Pulitzer, Mr. Miller, you can be sure I’ll invite you to the ceremony.

Posted without Further Comment

A Recommendation

Following up on a previous post, there’s another great resource out there for writers of all stripes—even if the very mention of the word “grammar” makes your eye twitch.

Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at WSU, is the author of Common Errors in English Usage, a book I turn to more often than I care to admit. He also generously maintains a companion website (which actually preceded the book).

Brians’s advice is always sensible—and sometimes quite funny. Here’s one of my favorites, taken from his website:

Feminists eager to remove references to sexuality from discussions of females and males not involving mating or reproduction revived an older meaning of “gender,” which had come to refer in modern times chiefly to language, as a synonym for “sex” in phrases such as “Our goal is to achieve gender equality.” Americans, always nervous about sex, eagerly embraced this usage, which is now standard. In some scholarly fields, “sex” is now used to label biologically determined aspects of maleness and femaleness (reproduction, etc.) while “gender” refers to their socially determined aspects (behavior, attitudes, etc.); but in ordinary speech this distinction is not always maintained. It is disingenuous to pretend that people who use “gender” in the new senses are making an error, just as it is disingenuous to maintain that “Ms.” means “manuscript” (that’s “MS”). Nevertheless, I must admit I was startled to discover that the tag on my new trousers describes not only their size and color, but their “gender.”

You can purchase the good professor’s book at Auntie’s.

On Spec Work

The best description we’ve ever come across about the bane that is spec work, from Jeffrey Zeldman:

“Spec = asking the world to have sex with you and promising a dinner date to one lucky winner.”

When You Really Have to Watch Your Bottom Line…

Color me dubious, but it appears that a simple font change could save your organization big bucks.

But then, if this study helps to put the final nail in the coffin of Comic Sans, I’m all for it.

What’s in Your Library?

As a celebrated writer of no small renown, I’m often asked by those who would imitate my astonishing career trajectory what writing references I keep within easy reach of my Mac (apart, I presume, from the vast resources that reside in my head).

For a quick roundup of writing basics, it’s hard to beat Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Sure, it has its detractors (or, what we in the business call “stupid whining pedants”), but commandments like “be clear” and “omit needless words” are sorely needed these days.

If you’re looking for Elements, try to find a used copy of the second (1972) or third (1979) editions, both of which can be had for around $3. It’s the best investment a writer can make.

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