When People Don’t See
At the end of the their first year, new editors begin to “find their feet.” They’ve been through the publishing process; completed one or more projects; and know considerably more about making books than they did when they first walked through the door.
We were working on 8-page readers. These books were for kids at the earliest stages of their reading career.
We were at the beginning of the book design process. On this day, we had met to review book design samples and had chosen the one we would go with Ã¢â¬â a large square, 8 inches de all photo or art but a one-inch band for type across the bottom of the page.
The typeface was one of the four then available that had an “open a” and an “open g.” These two letters are important to early readers because they help kids make connections. They look the same way kids are taught to write them.
I tell you this because the discussion of the open a and open g led one first year-editor to over-generalize, taking her woefully astray. Two hours after the design meeting, Suzannah, the editor, came into my office looking seriously concerned.
“We have a problem,” she said.
“I see. Tell me about it.”
“We can’t use this typeface we have chosen. It has square periods.”
She showed me a two-page design spread that had two giant pictures, one sentence per page. She pointed to the periods. Indeed they were square. Pixels are square. So are periods. I guess she hadn’t noticed that you have to go through a few typefaces to find periods that are not. ItÃ¢â¬â¢s kind of like kissing frogs to find a prince. It takes a lot.
“Okay, lay out your thinking.”
“First-grade teachers teach kids to make their periods round like this,” she said demonstrating. She took out a sheet of paper and wrote a sentence like a first grade teacher might — though she had never taught, she seemed awfully certain of exactly how it was done.
“And the typeface is a problem because . . . ”
“It’s different from the teachers’ model.”
“Oh, Suzannah. Now I see.” I turned the two-page spread back to face her. “What you’re saying is . . . if I made another spread exactly like this one replacing only the square periods with round ones, . . . and if I showed the two spreads to ten teachers and asked them to tell me what was different, all ten would see it right away.”
“Oh yes,” said Suzannah. By now I’m thinking, I’d better get this girl a banjo for her knee, because she’s not seeing the world the way it really is.
“That’s okay, Suzannah. I’ll take the hit. I take full responsibility. For every letter or returned book we get because of square periods, the heat will come down on me.”
I’m not sure how long it took for her to get perspctive. I knew there was no convincing her just then. It’s hard to have an unbiased world view when you’re in love with the information in your own head.
Remembering what we once didn’t know seems to be an acquired skill not a natural talent.
That can lead us to endow our customers with information that they have no way of knowing and to us deciding what’s important to them.
Caring for customers is the goal. Configuring them is the problem. Don’t fix square periods that folks don’t even see.
I bet there are “square periods” in your line of work — they show up in conversations where I work more often than I’d ever have thought.
–ME “Liz” Strauss