Saturday, July 2, 2011


There's bad design by accident and there's bad design by design. The former is sometimes wonderful. A tattoo shop I once worked at had a poorly painted sign that said simply Tattoo? over the front door. When the owner relocated his shop, he proudly removed that sign and tried to throw it away. To him, it reeked of poverty, a time when he couldn't afford to get a real sign painter to paint him something, or the funds for a shiny new neon sign. A friend of mine was there to help him move (a painter), and he argued for bringing that funky old sign to the new shop. The argument was lost. I don't know what happened to that sign.

For at least twenty years, there's been a little sign hanging on Route 7 that simply says SWEATERS. Underneath it is a crude painting of a sweater shape that could have been painted by a literal minded young child. I love that sign. I have never stopped to see what kinds of sweaters are for sale, for I've always imagined they'd be hideous things made of Red Heart yarn. The fact that this property also has some similar signs that say Sinners, Burn, and In Hell have also kept me from visiting.

When I had my own tattoo shop, I didn't have a sign. The reason? Signs were not allowed for second floor businesses. I asked a lawyer friend if I should fight the city, and he said I shouldn't bother. Instead, he suggested I put a painting in the window with a depiction of a sign in it. 

Since few people looked up, at some point I put a sandwich board out on the street. I didn't want to pay for signage, so I used the same strategy. I painted a bizarro tattooed pin-up girl pointing upwards. I had some fun with this and added some flying saucers with tattooed aliens waving hello. I didn't think much of it until the tourist season rolled along. Suddenly, I had well heeled people coming up the stairs inquiring "Who painted that sign?" Every single one of these people seemed to be dying to meet someone other than me. "Where did you grow up?" "Did you go to art school?" The answers, "New York," and "Yes" were deal killers.  No, they hadn't found a witless outsider artist who had been painting in a locked closet, born to a brother and sister duo, on a defunct chicken farm in the hinterlands of Belfast, Maine. And no, I'm not enough of an actor to play one on TV or anywhere else. 

This sign is a classic in Maine, though I'm a bit dismayed to see that they're actually quite proud of it:

I originally thought I'd write about fonts, but, as usual, other thoughts got in my way. 

The day started with my continued reading about what fonts people hate and why. Papyrus seems to be the #1 most hated font on the Web. There's an I Hate Papyrus Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. 

I had to hang a sign up today (one that I did not design), and after reading all that Papyrus hate, I felt quite uncomfortable with the fact that the sign used this Abominable Type. I also felt uncomfortable with the fact that I felt uncomfortable. Even after what I'd written yesterday, it seemed a bit ridiculous to suddenly be judgmental about something I hadn't given a thought to the day before. 

Still, the judgments on Papyrus are sound (to a point). It's not inherently ugly, no, but it certainly is overused, and once one sees that, it becomes altogether too clear. Papyrus is everywhere! Anything that's natural, nature-related, important but not stuffy, new-agey, and religious but not too serious uses Papyrus. My advice from yesterday still stands. Google your font before you use it! 

The problem with the lovely idea of design-for-everyone is that everyone is not a designer. Just because one has templates galore to guide you doesn't mean it going to turn out okay. The signs and advertising I like because it's bad is very bad indeed. It's kitsch or completely unselfconscious. Hussey's sign (above) used to fall into that category, but if you go check out their website, now it's simply self-consciously bad, the kind of thing that falls into the We Hired a Designer and He Okayed Our Being Rubes category.

Sorry, but once you're big enough to have a website as big as theirs, using the slogan "If we ain't got it, you don't need it," no longer sounds cute, nor does "Guns, wedding gowns, and cold beer." 

Don't get me wrong. I don't think having a degree in graphic design means one automatically does have better graphic design skills. There's plenty of stupid, talentless, tasteless people with degrees. However, if you're doing type design, knowing what kerning is isn't a bad idea.

The folks who designed the Stop and Shop logo did a great job with the red and green dots, but the type "design" is simply awful:

What's that say? Stop and Sltop?

It has been redesigned. Now, the graphics have nothing to do with the name of the store. . .

. . .thus proving that lots of money will not always buy you any sense and that maybe whomever owns this corporation should have gotten someone's 12-year-old to use a MSWord template and pay them with whatever would tempt a kid nowadays to spend their time developing a grocery store logo. 

My point?



Susan said...

Hooray! for Red Heart yarn, say the cats at TJO'Connor, Dakin and Feline Friends.....

Julie H. Rose said...

Yes, Red Heart does have it uses! Thanks for using it so well, Susan.

Fabianna said...

Guns, wedding gowns, cold beer. Sounds like the perfect one stop shop for a shotgun wedding. LOL!

Julie H. Rose said...

That's the point, Fabianna!