Off Topic: Ugh

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks, Off Topic by DCroy on 18 December 2008

Trajan? Really?

The type on Annie Leibovitz’s new book is total bullsh*t.


Normally I wouldn’t bother with this, but it’s not like a piece of cheap direct mail. It’s a hardcover monograph for a stellar artist and cultural force. If junk design is done for junk, who cares? But Random House and Annie Leibovitz should be in another class. If these folks can’t get their typography to even a basic standard of professionalism, then who will?

Below are a few corrections that I made to the lettering, and I wouldn’t normally’ve done this (much less posted it), except – and here’s the thing – it took me about a half an hour to do. We live in an era free from x-actos and stat cameras and rubber cement and press type. We have infinite x-actos and magical tracing paper and the most perfect duplicating (at least while it’s still virtual) machine yet conceived. To make these corrections takes almost no time, and therefore almost no money. 

Some corrections:

Problems and solutions

  1. The A and N serifs want to be together. That awkward just-wider-than-a-hairline is distracting. Join em! And the inside serif on the A is a horrid stumpy thing – just because whoever digitized it screwed up doesn’t mean you have to live with it.
  2. Again with the awkward relationship on the T-Z serifs. Fix the letter spacing, then make the serifs relate in some way.
  3. Another awkward relationship. The serifs want to be holding hands.  
  4. Make the cross bars of the E and B relate better.
  5. The R and K are right next to each other, again with the cross bars. And good lord is that letter spacing a train wreck.

Side by side:

It’s subtle, but when you even start addressing the letter spacing, the typography begins to coalesce as a single piece of design. And I do mean this is only a start (lord knows letterspacing is subjective and a matter of personal taste).

Side-by-side comparison.

Side-by-side comparison.

With that said, why is the type so poorly done? How does a design team this ignorant (they don’t know) or slipshod (they don’t care) get to be in the position to foist this junk on us? I don’t mean to ream whoever the designers were on this (I couldn’t find any info so I’m assuming it’s in-house work), because there’s a larger point: that this is (yet another) crappy thing in life that has absolutely no reason to be crappy. Making it decent would’ve involved, like, 10% more effort than making it lame. But it’s lame. And life* sucks a little more because of it.

*I know it seems like I’m confusing life with design, probably because I’m a designer. But think about how much of our lives, our environment, is designed: all the ads, all the book covers and magazines and type on cars and packaging and blah blah blah. So yeah. Life sucks a little more when the design sucks (especially when it sucks for no reason).


15 Responses

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  1. Rick Cogley said, on 18 December 2008 at 9:36 pm

    David – you’re correct. An artist who puts as much into her work as Annie Leibovitz deserves to be treated with respect, and that means not janking off her book cover in Word 95. Ugh is right.

  2. stump blankenship said, on 19 December 2008 at 7:46 am

    Bless you David and your bleeding heart type sensibilities. Living the life of one with a fine eye is maddeningly cursed.

  3. David Croy said, on 19 December 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I never had perfect pitch (and I’m not claiming perfect eyes – whatever is there, the credit/blame goes to my old old type teacher), but I imagine it’s not unlike this – it must be similarly irritating to hear out-of-tune music.

    And even more irritating is that it’s just not that hard to fix. When not even the minimum effort is expended, that’s what bugs.

  4. […] book. Bad kerning.” Designer David Croy agrees, and offers a great little mini-kerning lesson here. I’ve also found this kerning lesson from David Jury’s book About Face to be very […]

  5. […] Ugh — Annie Leibovitz kerning (tags: typography funny design) […]

  6. […] A designer took it upon himself to redesign this book cover under the post The type on Annie Leibovitz’s new book is total bullsh*t. […]

  7. Moira said, on 9 January 2009 at 9:10 am

    Thank you for helping me see through designers eyes. Excellent post!

  8. […] a firm grasp on the do’s and don’ts. The work on the above book clearly blows goats and this post by David Croy appropriately puts the smack down on the responsible party and is a good reminder of things to look […]

  9. asexualmystique said, on 9 January 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Never even thought about it. Thank you, now I know what to look for.

  10. Alec said, on 12 January 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Oh how I love the rantings of an angry, anal designer! So you’re saying the two versions of the type are different somehow?

  11. David Croy said, on 13 January 2009 at 3:29 pm

    You are a funny man, Alec.

  12. Monkey Bingo said, on 12 March 2009 at 9:57 am

    Wow, that ‘RK’ was out of control. But is the ‘TZ’ better now? Seems too close, at least on screen. Would be nice to be able to click and see a full size version of the kerning.


  13. David Croy said, on 12 March 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Like I said, a lot of this is subject to interpretation, and you might be right.

    A case could also be made for the TZ if you look at the negative spaces. Yeah, the crossbars are close, but there is a lot of space in the upper “triangle” of negative space in the Z and the negative rectangle on the right side of the T. Overall, more an argument for the pitfalls of using all caps, especially in Trajan, when you’ve got a T and a Z next to each other. Frankly, if it was me, I wouldn’t’ve done it like this at all!

    Thanks for the comment.

  14. Monkey Bingo said, on 13 March 2009 at 10:53 am

    That is so interesting….all I could see was the intimacy of the crossbars and totally neglected to check out the negative space in those letters. Clearly, in the new version the negative space is far better. Always a balancing act…


  15. […] a firm grasp on the do’s and don’ts. The work on the above book clearly blows goats and this post by David Croy appropriately puts the smack down on the responsible party and is a good reminder of things to look […]

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