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Design Talk.

Blurbs and rants about graphic design

Function Comes First

I was travelling to work by train, as usual. I guess I am not in the best of moods when I am still fresh from bed, but I was getting really irritated by the doors between compartments. I don’t know how many times I have had to help elderly people get through them because those doors are really heavy. Surely the person who designed them was thinking of a way to make sure the doors closed themselves without mechanisms that could wear off. Impeccable logic if it wasn’t for the fact that people can’t even open them. Yet there are several trains like that.

Another time, still travelling by train this time for totally ludicrous reasons, I notice the train has nice glass doors between compartments. I go though one and take a sit, wondering whether there was the same designer behind this idea. It didn’t take long to realize that it probably was the same designer. The door kept banging and the noise was really annoying. If it didn’t bang, it still made noise because of the vibrations of the train. This door was easy to open, but it never really closed.

You have to realize that I have been in England for a few years and Italian trains had changed a bit in the mean time. While I might hate English food, I think their trains are a little better compared to Italian ones.

Finally, on another train, I see this nice glass door that slides itself open when you push a button. No vibrations, easy to open and it closed itself too.


How long does it take to think of something so simple? Looking at the number of Italian trains that have doors with a problem or another, it must be quite long.

What does this have to do with Desktop Publishing? Functionality is the answer. When you design something you need to know that it will print. Your expertise will play an important role in this. You might need to go about things differently, while still obtaining the same visual effect, to make sure your design will print. For example you need to know that if you overprint a 50% black object (gray) on a red background, your gray will become redish.

This holds true also for the “communication value” of your design. I had an example of this some time ago. I was designing a flyer-map to show all the places where a certain type of wine was being served. Each place had wine from a different Italian region. Each region was listed separately, with a different colour for each (not my idea.) The client wanted me to put a glass of wine on the map on every point where the wine was sold, and they had to have a different colour, corresponding to the ones of the regions. On top of that, each glass had a number next to them, which showed the readers what shop it was and where the wine came from. I call that “overdoing it.” We had lots of different coloured glasses on a map that was already full of street names, as well as a bunch of bumbers. Some colours weren’t even showing well.

The purpose of the client was to stress where the wine came from, instead he was comfusing the reader. A bit like those train doors that either designed to close themselves but cannot be opened easily, or to open easily and then don’t stay closed. Eventually we just told the client that the numbers were enough and the colours were too confusing and weren’t doing the job, and I just used the key colour of the job, burgundy, for all glasses. Readers still knew what each place was and what wine they were getting there because of the numbers that were sending them to an agenda—which would have been there anyway even if the glasses had different colours.

I guess I should go onto trains first thing in the morning more often.

Graphic Design

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