What’s Important and What the Norms Support

I’ve begun to think lately of the gap between what careful designers are concerned about and what clients see or object to. For instance, working on a technical educational report, I realized the author was not very consistent in using subheads, and that led me to think of how convoluted the sequence of heads should be. Five levels, plus a sixth boldface run in? Or at most two levels below the chapter title? Or even only one level, since (a) we do not speak in subheads, and (b) the subhead serves mainly to make a clear topical break in the text. In fact, newspaper style hardly ever goes beyond one level of subhead. And going way back to the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a much smaller range of types and the distinctions in the text were made more by spacing than by size and font.

Similarly, the author of an educational report disliked the wide margins in the sample layout I prepared. She said the clichéd words, “too much white space.” IKYN. And she also didn’t like the way I used a narrow column of text next to bar graphs, pie charts, and tables.

The only force that education can have in matters of community or societal norms is the force of respect and admiration. Good grammar is what is spoken by the most admired people in the group, community, or country; high fashion is what is worn by the most admired people (not necessarily what is designed by haute couture designers); the best music, art, literature, and so on is the stuff that is made and supported by the most admired people, too. Graphic design is one of those categories: just look at the vogue for grunge type and layout styles a while back. Someone adopted it from the street or alternate club scene, and then others concurred, and finally the larger public began to accept what these admired people (the publishers and commentators of “grunge” publications) had adopted

Copyright 1988–2018 by Michael Brady or the publishers
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