Recently there was a progressive open house at the Medical Professional Center, a more or less satellite facility to the hospital here where physicians have private practices. The idea was that, in order to publicize a half dozen recently-arrived physicians, there would be a sort of food scavenger hunt from office to office.
Beginning with beverages, progressing to crudité, light mini-foods (BBQ meatballs, scallops, etc.), desserts and finally coffee, visitors were encouraged to go from office to office and meet the physicians. There was live music too and door prizes.
I mention all of this because I was asked to produce the promotional materials for the event, and developed something that was significantly at variance from what is normally found in advertising in a small town in Arizona. Along the way I happened across an unexpected bonus in the form of a kind of visual pun.
The main ad’s after the fold.
There was more than a little resistance to this design. The organizer of the event learned, very quickly, to avoid seeking consensus on the artwork; comments ranged from “Whut?” to “It looks like an eye chart” to “Whuuuut?” Several suggested adding a lot more copy describing what would be happening — ignoring how that would affect the look.
I stood my ground. We kept very close to what I’d originally developed, and later I learned that, contrary to what informal early results appeared to show, the posters were drawing positive attention from people — the feedback was that the design was striking and attention-getting.*
Uh, well, fuh. That was the idea.
I’ve had problems before with adverse reactions to strong, simple images. Some of it is probably due to a general horror vacuui that many people seem to have; lots of negative space creates a tension that some would rather see filled. While that doesn’t bother me at all, I think there are some here at the hospital who are still getting used to the idea that powerful images will always bring about stronger responses, and not all of them will be positive.
That’s how you know you’re getting attention, though.
The layout itself is simply an exploitation of negative space; yet in it I’ve used three fonts, which is generally a no-no in graphic design. The text is set using N.O. — Movement by Peter Saville, a font he designed originally for the cover of New Order’s 1981 album Movement. (Visually, in fact, there’s some resemblance to be seen between my work and Saville’s album cover. It was definitely a source of inspiration for me, though there is also a strong undercurrent of 1930s-style Deco graphics.)
Movement has capitals, but I chose not to use them. They jarred against the lower profile of the lowercase letters’ height. Funnily enough, Saville used all-caps in his Movement cover design.
While Movement’s letterforms looked simply brilliant, though, I did not care for its numbers. After poring over my sans-serifs for a while — and toying with the idea of using oversized serifs from Bell MT or Georgia, possibly making them translucent and overlaying the rest of the text — I settled on Blair Medium for all the digits. Its rounded, squat glyphs meshed well with the text, allowing me to integrate them without a jarring visual disruption of the words; and there was only a little hint of mismatch in line thickness, something I think I covered tolerably well. Cleaning up the kerning in a few places was all I really needed to do.
However, neither font set had periods that I liked. Yeah, seriously; I was obsessing on punctuation. So for the two focal periods in the date I ended up using LondonBetween. They’re squared but acant, and I liked the way they descended below the baseline.
I think the effect is satisfactory overall, a clean, economical look that is low-key and unpretentious, yet effective at engaging attention and conveying its message.
But something else happened when I made a similarly-concepted word-art poster to show what door prizes were being given away at the gathering. Something that I think is damned interesting.
I’m not referring to the abbreviation med pro ctr that appears in the red stripe. Instead I’m referring to the words door prizes in the lower right corner.
Movement is an interesting font in that its p and d are simple rotations of one another. This is hardly a rare occurrence in sans-serif typefaces, though its much less common in serifed fonts. (I’ve used rotated letters before, such as in my own nightwares logo.)
If that weren’t the case I don’t think the effect would have worked. I’ve got two words in one there, going in opposite directions, and whenever I look at it I can feel my visual interpretation flop back and forth, seamlessly letting me decode both words even though they are backwards and upside-down relative to one another. The eye just automatically flows from right to left, reversing direction with a naturalness that’s easy to overlook.
If I seem a little tickled here it’s because I am; without precisely meaning to, I appear to have developed one of those visual effects you see sometimes where, for instance, two faces become a vase. And I find it genuinely interesting that a medium for communication of ideas — linear, written language — can be jiggered around like this in such a way that our reliance on visual interpretation of text is so clearly exposed.
* The event’s coördinator later said she would be sure to let others know that the best way to get a good design from me would be to simply say what was needed, then step back and let me produce whatever I thought would work. That’s a hell of a compliment, and in truth it’s the way I prefer it virtually all the time. Not because I’m an arrogant jackass,** but because I’m actually pretty good at this and generally produce some fine pieces when left to work with minimal interference.
** Although, of course, I am.
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