Sense and Sensibility

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's important for a designer to know certain basic issues like the size of a business card and what information belongs on an envelope. Nevertheless, I see a great number of portfolios that have envelopes with phone and fax numbers, business cards that are unwieldy and oddly sized, and examples of 3-dimensional promotion that goes against the laws of physics. No this isn't the fault of the owner of the portfolio. Clearly nobody took the time to explain these basic issues. I'm guilty of this myself. I've often talked to students and assumed someone else already taught them the information.

So, I can complain and be the cranky designer who laments that world isn't what it was when I was a youngster, or I can help. When the good folks at asked me what course I'd like to do next, I suggested we dig deeper into basic issues of layout and composition and move into the stuff we make. Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral gave me a chance to start at the beginning with issues like audience, determining a budget, and what items to produce. I then added basic information on business cards, letterhead, swag, 3-d promotion, and posters.

I'm hoping the examples I use are interesting and inspiring. I rounded up some of my favorite firms like Eight and a Half and Modern Dog. But the main goal is to explain simply the most basic information with collateral. Don't get me wrong; I'm fine with something being unexpected. In fact it should be. But it's best when you know why it's not ordinary. Nobody should be in the position that I witnessed a couple of weeks ago:

Me: Why did you decide to make the letterhead a unique size?

Designer: What?

Me: I'm not sure that a 5x7 card is a poster. What was your intention?

Designer: What?

Me: Is the envelope mailable? It looks like it will fall apart and cost a ton in postage.

Designer: Why are you so mean?

Cat People

Here is an old trick if you are in vaudeville or desperately need to have something approved: add a cat or dog. I know it’s said to never share the stage with pets, but when the crowd is angry, nothing works better to make everyone happy. This is how it works. You are working on an annual report. Every cover is rejected. The client yells at you, This is garbage. Get out!" Now, try adding a kitten or puppy; voila, as if magic the approvals roll in. While judging a competition, I overheard a judge say, “Oh, it’s not so good. But it has a cute dog on the cover. I have to vote for it.” See how easy it can be.

I did have an instance in class when the cat or dog trick didn’t work. The assignment was to design a poster around a meaningful cause (this was a wayward attempt to do something for social good). The posters ranged from issues such as abortion, marriage equality, veterans issues, and censorship. The idea that never made sense to me, though, was cat rape. The designer of this subject told me, “It’s true and awful. There are gangs of young men in Los Angeles who roam the streets looking for cats to rape.” I was stunned. Who knew such a thing happened? I know anything kinky can be found online, but I cannot imagine that this activity is so widespread that it needs addressing with public service posters.

If I were an logical person, I would have said, “No. That won’t work, pick a different subject.” But I was transfixed by the mechanics of this activity and wanted to see the design solution. Did the gangs have outfits with fake whiskers? Were they aroused when reading The Cat in the Hat? How did they feel about the white Fancy Feast cat on TV? Would they be “cat” burglars?

Stupidly, I argued with her. “This isn’t possible anatomically. Really, think about that. And cats are cranky and scratch you if you pick them up. I can guarantee that not many people are interested in putting an angry, meowing, squirming, scratching, and biting feline close to a sensitive area of the body.” She didn’t back down, and insisted this is an ongoing epidemic of violence. Maybe she knows something I don’t and the media is ignoring it because it is so heinous.