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On Design:
Valued mentor
Ed Arnold
is still current!

About five years ago, a design client called me on behalf of his lady friend. It seems that his friend was out of work and wanted to join the legion of do-it-yourself instant graphic designers. My client was asking for advice he could pass on to his friend. I composed an e-mail with a short list of recommendations.

But I could not send the e-mail without invoking the principles of a cherished mentor, Edmund C. Arnold (1913-2007), who more than any single individual is responsible for the improved readability of newspapers around the world. I had the good fortune to come under his spell as a journalism student at Syracuse University in the late 1960s when he was in the midst of overhauling the design of hundreds of newspapers, based on the findings of in-depth readability studies. I became one of his many disciples who went forth armed with typography and design knowledge bundled into their journalism degree. Professor Arnold was charismatic, persuasive, loud, witty, and charming --- which helped his international consulting activities --- and the author of a couple dozen books, including the perfectly-titled Arnold's Ancient Axioms. His books are packed with information still applicable today. In his last letter to me he was so proud of being on the payroll as a trade journal columnist past the age of 90. He still had plenty of wisdom to share.

Beyond Ed Arnold's typographic wisdom was his warmly supportive nature toward his proteges. Whenever one of his charges was stalled by indecision, he would say "What's the use of having a mind if you can't change it!"

I always advise a do-it-yourself designer that the goal of graphic design is not to "prettify," but to communicate. Design gives tangible shape to thoughts and ideas, and involves more than merely adding whatever graphic frills might be current this month. Like any craft, there are subtleties involved and choices to be made about lines of force, photo selection & cropping, white space, choice of type, hierarchy of type sizes, color, and more --- with all these decisions aimed at serving the project-specific goal of the message. The information on these subjects is out there --- information based on decades of readability studies, cognitive psychology, perception, and real-world evaluation. It is up to the would-be designer to seek out the knowledge and use it. Some would say that graphic design has no hard-and-fast "rules." This may be so, but to borrow a sentiment from jazz, another discipline I know well, "You at least ought to know the rules before you break 'em."

I will get off the soap-box now, satisfied that a few would-be designers will come to know of a great crusader for effective text-and-image communication, Edmund C. Arnold.

--- R.W. Bacon/Jan. '09

Further reading:

Editorial & Graphic Design Services

The world can change, shudder, turn upside-down, and then inside-out. Technology can evolve and devolve. Fashions, habits, lifestyles, and money can come and go. But we humans still need to communicate. So there is still a need for those who can organize ideas and express them concisely, gracefully, and effectively --- in both speaking and writing. Further, decades of study in readability and cognitive psychology have proven that the way text is presented on a page or screen, and the integration of text and image, is of vital importance to effective communication. Yet the field of on-paper graphic design, web site design, video, and typography is by nature very fluid, alternately leading, and then following, the ever-evolving reading/viewing audience. R.W. Bacon of Variety Arts Enterprises has been a practitioner and student of this text-and-image communication for 40 years.

R.W. Bacon was following his first career as a newspaper journalist/editor when he had the good fortune to became a student --- and later a disciple --- of Edmund C. Arnold (1913-2007), the editor, typographer, and designer regarded as "The Father of Modern Newspaper Design" (See sidebar). The main principle of Arnold's typography and design --- still embraced by professionals around the globe --- is that publication layouts should be based on quantifiable readability studies, tests, and observations --- not on either the limitations of a given technology or the self-indulgent excess of the design fad-of-the-moment. In history and museum projects that endeavor to enhance public understanding, R.W. Bacon's skill in communicating with text and image extends to photos, maps, charts, graphs, and exhibition graphics.

R.W. Bacon brings to your editorial project the craftsmanship of a skilled writer, the discipline of an old-school news editor, and the design sense of a master visual communicator.

But talk is cheap! See relevant work samples and commentary by clicking on the links below. Don't hesitate to call or e-mail with any questions. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss your project.
--- R.W. Bacon

Talk is cheap. Hit the links and see the work.

For those interested in the finer points
of the editorial & design professions ...