Hands up if you spend as much time checking copy as you do sourcing fantastic photography, weighing paper stock, and ensuring colour consistency.
There’s an unspoken belief, held by everyone you meet from nursery to old-people’s dayroom, that word and picture skills don’t mix. If you’re good with words, your drawing will be abysmal. If you’re a visual artist, you wont no nothing about proper righting and sentances. In many cases this is true – I’m a writer and editor by trade, and my artistic skills are not so much limited as non-existent. Kind people tell me I lean to the ‘naïve’ school of art. Others just laugh.
I know an art editor who is a veritable headline genius – the subs are in awe of his ability to knock-out witty heads at the same time as turning out stunning layouts and ingenious illustrations. Art people are definitely better at words than texties are with brush, crayon or wet-edge airbrush and lasso. However, in the busy world of a design studio – with couriers in the wings, and clients forever changing minds on stock art and typefaces – an artistic person’s priority is to layout and pictures over words, sentence construction, and tabulation.
I’ve seen terrible examples of poorly worded copy that’s inconsistent, badly spelled and dog-leg ugly on the page. Nearly every corporate brochure or sales pack contains mistakes that are glaring for a sub-editor but apparently inconsequential to the designer. Project managers and studio bosses rarely bother to employ a skilled person to proofread copy. Watch a designer check copy, and the pages flick by at frightening speed. There’s a host of copy calamities that dog otherwise perfect designs.
Hyphenation-&-justification should be considered integral parts of typography. While it’s essential to know your overprint from your knockout, the whole effect is ruined if your line breaks look like the craggy end of a rusty saw. Set-up your H&Js properly, and don’t take risks. With copy changes arriving from all directions, it’s tempting to import new text directly from Word. Do that more than once, and you’re sure to snag a dumb quote – more properly known as a ‘prime’. These don’t turn up in cursory spell-checks, but can be swiftly eliminated by Find & Replace – but always check again.
Many spelling mistakes are missed as the digital dictionary recognizes them as wholly legitimate words in another context. And your clients’ corporate house styles are sure to differ wildly. Should it be ‘Civilization’ or ‘Civilisation’, ‘Realize’ or ‘Realise’ – the Oxford English Dictionary favours a ‘z’ rather than an ‘s’, but not everybody agrees. Check first, and please be consistent.
Inconsistency in style is a rash that infects all long documents. If it’s UK then it’s not U.S. If you’re talking kg, it’s cm not inches. Do your 1,000s jar with your 3000s? Dates, times and telephone numbers – please, please, please 0207 no more, it’s 020 7 – are all style traps waiting for you to stumble.
The computer’s ability to swiftly check spelling and grammar has been a big selling point since the days of Amstrad, but consistent style and good-looking line breaks will turn a potential disaster zone into a possible masterpiece. It is undoubtedly more fun spending hours sourcing good photography – but skimping on copy-checking damns any design, and could/should lose you your fee. To bend an old saying into an impossibly odd shape, the proof of the copy will stop you being a pudding.