About Blue Pencil

Some people have misunderstood the lengthy postings about books on Blue Pencil as book reviews. They are not. The original impetus behind Blue Pencil was to provide detailed dissections of the shortcomings, both authorial and editorial, of books in the field of design, beginning with those devoted to the history of graphic design. The postings are intended to be the digital equivalent of the editor who, in the heyday of the 20th century, wielded a blue pencil with a vengeance to insure that a manuscript was fit for publication.

Blue Pencil exists because publishers today are abrogating their duty. Editors are focusing more on acquiring manuscripts than editing them, proofreaders are being replaced by spellchecking software, and fact checkers are becoming obsolete. Blue Pencil is stepping into this void. It is a form of consumer protection for teachers and students who need the books it dissects.

In parsing books Blue Pencil looks for factual, orthographical, grammatical and typographic errors and, on occasion, conceptual shortcomings. The latter is not the principal focus of a book’s dissection, but there are times when a comment or two in that direction is unavoidable. The goal of Blue Pencil is not to indicate whether or not a book in question is good or bad overall—though the number of errors in it is certainly a strong factor in such an assessment.

The graphic design history books that have been put under the Blue Pencil microscope are all worth owning in various degrees. Each brings a different perspective to bear on the subject and provides material not found in the others. Eventually, Blue Pencil plans to provide a more direct comparison of these books as well as others not yet dissected (including all four volumes of A History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs).

Blue Pencil postings are time consuming. The most recent one on The Story of Graphic Design by Patrick Cramsie took over 64 hours to prepare—and it was the easiest of them all so far. This is my method: 1. I read the book and take longhand notes on its content as well as on any perceived errors; 2. I type up the errors I think I have found; 3. I reread the book to verify the errors I believe I have found and to look for others I may have missed; 4. I check the errors against information in books (using my personal library as well as the New York Public Library and the libraries at Columbia University) and on the Internet; and 5. I post my findings (including last minute adjustments) on the blog. After all this work I am sure that there are errors I have missed and worried that those I have identified are not errors after all. Blue Pencil is assuredly not perfect.