Or so my class was informed by a very good copyediting instructor, who I’m sure meant no especial disrespect. On some other day, I’d like to address why an editor might get this impression, but for now I’d just like to note that apparently Princeton Architectural Press shares this unflattering view.
I just finished reading Kimberly Elam’s Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition (2001), and although I was certainly interested in this nerdalicious and very attractive book, which has color throughout and translucent! overlays! on some of the examples, I was also shocked by the chronic typos. Is the guy going to be called “Le Corbusier” or just “Corbusier”? I don’t care which, but do pick one. Is Mies van der Rohe to be shortened to “van der Rohe” or just “Mies”? Again, please choose just one. And when doing so, note that although perhaps in your head you’re on a first-name basis with the guy, in print it makes you sound like a name-dropper whom everyone avoids at parties.
I got the impression that they didn’t believe anyone would actually read the text—“It’s for designers. They’ll look only at the pictures!” I had other reactions to the book’s content—some “maybe I should try this,” for example, and some “what client would ever let you get away with this?”—but most were drowned out by the irritated harrumphing of the literate part of my brain. Harrumph.
And this is not the only design book I’ve seen that’s in such pitiful shape. Steven Heller’s Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design (Allworth Press, 2004) didn’t seem to have been edited at all. The problem wasn’t so much typos as that the book isn’t well written. I kept thinking, “Wait—did I doze off and miss something?” but when I read the page again, the transitions still weren’t there. Again, did they think, “Oh, the audience is designers; they won’t be able to make sense of it anyway”? So we’re supposed to seek literacy in design, but not in English? I’ll stick with English, thanks. I couldn’t make myself slog through the whole thing; it was like reading somebody’s drunken notes on napkins.
I’m picking on these two particular books because they’re handy, it’s late, and I’m tired, but there have been many other four-star-Avg.-Customer-Review design tomes that have sent my peeve-o-meter into the red. I don’t believe that designers are much more illiterate than your average nonfiction author, but some design publishers seem disinclined to put editorial resources into books by and for design professionals. Maybe it’s because they’re spending so much money on flashy stuff like translucent! overlays! and French flaps.
But then how do you explain all the butt-ugly books on design that are still poorly edited? Hmm.