Jen Yates – like Lynne Truss before her – has made a fortune from the failure of others to get to grips with the fundamentals of the English language. If you haven’t come across her, Ms Yates is the wooden spoon behind Cake Wrecks, an online archive of confectionery disasters (www.cakewrecks. blogspot.com), where gaffes grammatical and orthographic abound in icing sugar.
Bakers, it appears, are not only incapable of counting to a round dozen, their spelling is highly suspect, too. On Cake Wrecks, no celebration is immune from abject spelling or arrant stupidity. From ‘Happy Briday’, to ‘Thak you’, to ‘It a Gril’ – just put a plump piping bag in someone’s hands and bakers’ literacy levels suddenly sink like a helpless souffle. Not so much a case of dough, as doh! We’re not talking the odd marzipan meltdown here – the website is inundated with catastrophic creations sent in from all over the world. And the enterprising Yates needed no second invitation to publish a Christmas-friendly book and embark on a sell-out US tour.
But come on, bakers are bakers – we can expect them to know their eggs and flour, but why should they be able to put a tasty sentence together? And you could extend the same argument to designers – as long as they can tell their Garamond from their Goudy, commission a half-decent photographer, and conjure up an original idea or two, does it matter if they have kindergarten-level spelling skills?
Some of the designers I deal with aren’t exactly proud of their shortcomings, but will happily admit to them. They plumped for pictures because they never got along too well with words. This makes a kind of sense until you realise that they’re actually dealing with the nuances of language all the time. They may only be dressing them or framing them, but if the words are wrong or ugly or inappropriate, it’s like putting a tutu on a pig – ridiculous, in other words.
Of course, it’s a mistake to lump everyone together. There are some working designers who have a genuine flair for writing. You’ve probably enjoyed their deftly phrased insights on these very pages. Many more are formidable editors – they may not be able to craft a mellifluous sentence themselves, but they have a strong point of view and instinctively know whether something’s working. More often though, kerning comes before spelling, which can potentially be disastrous – after all, the man or woman on the street may not appreciate tight letter spacing, but they can tell when a pair of letters have been embarrassingly transposed.
In the old days of typesetters, designers had more of a safety net. Typesetting houses generally employed proofreaders, and with galleys passing several pairs of eyes, mistakes would often – though not always – be picked up. Now, the onus is firmly on the designer – for all the liberation of the Mac, they have had to become typesetters, subeditors and proofreaders rolled into one. It’s a testament to designers’ professionalism that many more gaffes don’t slip through, though with time and resources in short supply these days, we are sitting on a typo time bomb.
So ultimately, does it matter if designers know whether to put their i’s before their e’s, and such like? The answer’s just the same as to whether or not a designer needs to be able to draw. It’s preferable, but probably not essential. Sorry to sign off with such a half-baked answer.