The designer’s tale


(with apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer)



'Tis once upon a layout that I speak—
Of letters, colors, patterns smooth and sleek;
Facilitating copy, stressing thought;
So effortless in style though time had wrought.
And thus begins the tale of a brochure;
The noble quest to make design most pure.

It all took place about a year ago,
Hamburg was cold; New York was white with snow.
London had frost; a heat wave in Dubai;
S.F. fogged up, like Beijing and Shanghai.
Though each location worked all night and day
We'll focus on the team from west L.A.

The studio was dark, devoid of light.
Though it was day it often mimicked night.
"Good morgen," said the orderly C.D.,1
Who headed past the mess as some brewed tea.
He walked into his office and sat down,
His chair upon a cowhide, white and brown.
Designers and P.M.s2 got on their feet
To join him there for a creative meet.
They talked of things to do within the week,
Like who to call and what to change or tweak;
And at its end, when they walked through the door,
They passed by stacks of concepts on the floor.
Impending due dates all A.S.A.P.—
A challenge for the force at S+G.
When all took seats, pressed close in front of screens
The sound of clicking mice announced routines;
Each click a gridded layout more ideal;
Another I.D. system to reveal.

But nothing would be standard on the day
A law brochure would nearly get away.

"All quiet on the western front," she said,
The gal with checkered shirt and uncombed head.
She knew too well the work would soon accrue,
The clutter piles upon her desk askew.
But mouse in hand, and jolly as a pie,3
She squinted as she kerned an E and I.4
A beefy law brochure was due this day
So she made sure to start it right away.
From front to back she moved with grace and ease,
A tumbler on a visual trapeze.
Upon her desk she'd placed a document,
Some guidelines that would help to great extent.
A standards book chock-full of basic rules—
Best practice tips to steer the graphic tools.
She had produced them but a week ago,
Its ins and outs were things she'd surely know.
The logo and motif she'd helped create;
She even wrote the words to correlate.
But Pantone5 numbers, these she'd have to spec,
So kept the page of color up to check.
While looking o'er her mighty paper sheaf
She'd also chosen the creative brief.
Her fingers hit the first key of the day;
Her major task was shortly underway.
The margins drawn, a stellar baseline set,
She barely even blinked or broke a sweat.
At last the column grid was scrubbed and strong
So merrily she moved design along.
"The logo here, as anchor of the page,
Its each and every placement fully gauged.
With other I.D. pieces thus arranged
I'll keep this system from turning deranged.
I'm thankful that my Masters in Fine Arts
Has helped me comprehend this kit of parts."
On looking right, she noticed to her side
Another just like her, which upped her pride.
Upon his desk she saw a symbol clean,
Alive with colored gradients and sheen.
"Meticulous in detail, such is he.
I'm glad he's on the same projects as me."
They toiled along on ventures great and small,
And of the time they noticed scarce at all.
"Oh no; it's lunch," she said as they both frowned.
They picked it up, ate desk-side, looked at ffffound.6

Resuming clicks and taps, she got a ring—
A client needed work; 'twas no small thing.
Although the deadline had been days away
The plans had changed: "Can we do this today?"
While buying lunch, a stack upon her chair
Would indicate revisions here and there.
A Post-it note was stuck upon its top
That said, "Please make these for the FedEx drop."
Another call, three emails, a request
Conspired 'gainst any notion she could rest.
See, as designers we can never raze
Our greeking,7 tweaking, perfect-seeking ways.
For each typeface in systems we anoint
We must consider every vector point.
Like those before us, such as Bass8 and Rand,9
Our humble art can refresh any brand.
We see it as our purpose and our duty
To order all and render it as beauty.
To whittle down designs to what's essential
And help our clients reach toward their potential.
While thinking all these thoughts inside her head
She wished last night she'd had the time for bed.
She signed a fellow worker's birthday card
While musing 'bout the task, “That's not too hard!
I'll get to this brochure by end of day
As long as smaller tasks soon go away.”
But as the tasks increased, though not her fault,
Her work on the brochure ground to a halt.
Some work she shared with others, some was shelved;
The rest of it she'd have to do herself.
“My word,” she breathed, “Where is all this work heading?”
Then hunkered down and finished up some leading.10
At four o'clock she had to mount some boards;
At five o'clock submit work for awards.
“That poor brochure, I guess, will have to wait;
I'll pick it up when I've a cleaner slate.”
Then finally, at nine, her tasks were done;
She'd finished each and every single one.
Her work on that brochure she'd reinstate;
Right after coffee she would paginate.
An hour went by, and then another half
While setting up a tricky legal graph.
Then suddenly the cursor moved to spin,
Which triggered quite a nausea deep within.
Then—crash!—a window with an error note
Built up a Gordian knot within her throat.
“Ugh, not again,” she cried, “Oh woe is me!
At least the second time will be easy.”
She stretched her nimble hands and set to work
On recreating every little quirk.
She generated artwork all anew;
Took fractions of the prior time to do.
Although the programs sometimes crash and wreck
Ideas persevere much more than tech.
She clicked and tapped 'til everything aligned,
Reviewed it, then went back to print and bind.
“Voilà!” she yelled and held her booklet high
When instantly an error caught her eye.
Though it was printed, trimmed, and neatly bound,
She had to undertake another round.
With jazz in-ear to mitigate her plight,
She labored on until the thing was right.
Then, following her final touch, she saw
The law brochure had turned out without flaw.

And so, my friends, thus ends our little tale
About a young, unstoppable female
Whose dedication to the craft of brand
Had carried her beyond what most won't stand.
It's not an ego thing, nor is it sport;
It's that the details are of most import.
Of course the content is important, too.
But one can't read when black type's on dark blue.
Plus, when it comes to corporate I.D.
They're traits that make our clients clear to see.
The single, clearest factor is design
Supported by a firm, strategic spine.
So as for us who work at S+G
We strongly feel that it's the way to be.
For each time we design, we test our art
Against the mantra of “Simple is smart.”

Miles Seiden is a senior designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

1 C.D.: Creative Director
2 P.M.s: Project Managers
3 Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Wife of Bath's Prologue." The Canterbury Tales. 462.
4 Kerned: Adjusted the space between the letters.
5 Pantone: A company known for its proprietary color space known as the Pantone Matching System, used in the print industry among others.
6 www.ffffound.com: An image bookmarking photo blog, great for visual inspiration.
7 Greeking: A method of displaying mock copy for layout comps, usually through the use of text like lore ipsum
8 Saul Bass: An American graphic designer and filmmaker known for his film titles and AT&T's original globe logo (c. 1983). http://saulbass.tv
9 Paul Rand: An American graphic designer known for his corporate identities such as IBM (c. 1956 and 1972) and UPS (c. 1961). http://www.paul-rand.com
10 Leading: The distance between baselines in consecutive lines of type.


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