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.

Open house ad

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.

Door prize list

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.

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* 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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