Blue Pencil was born out of the disappointment of seeing the editorial quality of books on graphic design and typographic history decline precipitously over the past decade. Its raison d’être is to dissect books on graphic design history and typography to ferret out errors—typographical, orthographical and factual—in such books and post them publicly. Dissections are not done to denigrate authors, but to rebuke proofreaders and editors who have failed their jobs and publishers who have abdicated their responsibility to the reader. Blue Pencil marks up a text with an eye to improving it.

Blue Pencil no. 15—Mixing Messages

Mixing Messages by Ellen Lupton (1996), cover. Design by Chip Kidd.
Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture
Ellen Lupton
New York: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution and Princeton Architectural Press, 1996
designed by Ellen Lupton
edited by Mark Lamster, Princeton Architectural Press and Kathleen Luhrs, National Design Museum
This Blue Pencil dissection is different from previous ones in that there is little to find fault with in Mixing Messages. It is included because the subject of the book is graphic design history, the …
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Blue Pencil no. 13 addendum no. 2—Standard Deviations

The Dialogue column (pp. 28–32) in the current issue of Print magazine (65.3 June 2011) is an interview between Steve Heller and Paola Antonelli regarding the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of digital fonts for its Architecture and Design Collection. The interview is fairly vague as Antonelli deflects the hard questions that Heller asks about collecting code and the licensing issues that cropped up in the course of acquiring digital typefaces.
Antonelli still has not identified the experts who advised her …
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Blue Pencil no. 13 Addendum—Standard Deviations

One of the nagging aspects of the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of digital fonts for its Architecture and Design collection is the cloaked identity of those that advised Paola Antonelli and the museum. I don’t presume to have an answer to who the advisors were, but I do have a list of those I believe they should have consulted.
Peter Karow, inventor of the Ikarus type design and production software that converted existing typefaces and artwork into …
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Blue Pencil no. 13—Standard Deviations (the exhibition)

Standard Deviations: Type and Families in Contemporary Design
Museum of Modern Art
Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition showcasing its new digital font acquisitions contains a short glossary of type terms. It is not only inadequate but inept. Here are all of the definitions and my comments on some of them.
Bitmap typeface 
A typeface in which the letterforms are composed of pixels, or “bits,” unlike a vector typeface, in which each letterform is rendered as …
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Blue Pencil no. 14—Salon Manicure

Claire Lambrecht of Salon interviewed me on April 5 about my book Helvetica and the New York City Subway System. It was a very cordial interview. She asked me several questions and then let me ramble, uninterrupted before her next question. The whole interview, which took about an hour, was tape recorded, with my permission, on her end. The published interview appeared online on April 11.
I have no major complaint about the interview, just a tiny one. My side of …
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Blue Pencil no. 12—Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig

Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig
Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010

Book design by Tamar Cohen
This is not the usual Blue Pencil post. The book examined here has very few errors, whether typographical or factual. Most of the commentary is about its lack of context. Although most of Lustig’s career took place during the Great Depression and World War II these momentous events are ignored. I was unaware of this lacuna …
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Blue Pencil no. 11 addendum

R. Roger Remington and Robert S.R. Fripp, the authors of Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin, expend a lot of effort to prove that Will Burtin was responsible for the popularity of Helvetica in the United States. In Blue Pencil no. 11 I challenged the evidence they presented in support of this claim. Here I want to put forth a counter-claim: that Massimo Vignelli is the individual who deserves credit (or blame)—if anyone does—for the spread …
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Blue Pencil no. 11—Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin

Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin
R. Roger Remington and Robert S.P. Fripp
Aldershot, Hampshire: Lund Humphries, 2007
Designed by Chrissie Charlton & Company
Paragraphs in the book are not indented but set apart by line spaces. This makes reading the text very choppy. fi ligatures are not used, although they are available in Monotype Bulmer, the typeface used to set the text. For a book about a designer who was extremely fussy about typography such lapses are …
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Blue Pencil no. 6 comments

I completely agree with Paul’s comments. The book is visually excellent (in spite of reproducing many type specimens in gold (!) ink. But the captions are generally useless, obvious comments without any real knowledge of the specimens. I understand that Jan Tholenaar died before the book was published; that might be the cause of the lack of intelligent, pertinent captions.—Stephen Saxe
This is the only comment received since June 2010. It is about Blue Pencil no. 6 (16 August 2010) which …
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Patrick Cramsie response to Blue Pencil no. 10

Since Blue Pencil does not post comments without moderation (and I am a very slow overseer of the blog) I was not aware of Patrick Cramsie’s attempt to respond to my dissection of The Story of Graphic Design until he contacted me directly. At the time I promised to post his lengthy response but not until I had a chance to read through them. Unfortunately, the press of teaching and work prevented me from doing anything related to Blue Pencil …
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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 …
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Blue Pencil no. 10—The Story of Graphic Design

The Story of Graphic Design: from the Invention of Writing to the Birth of Digital Design
Patrick Cramsie
New York: Abrams and London: The British Library, 2010

p. 23 “graphe” should have an grave accent on the final e

p. 23 “constantcy” [is this a Britishism or misspelling?]

p. 25 “distiction” should be “distinction”

fig. 2.6 Scribal palette and brushes[,] c.15,500–14,500BC the image should be larger; as it is, the objects are not clear

p. 33 “A red quartzite statue made in Egypt between 750 and …
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Blue Pencil Comments no. 2—Marian Bantjes

Marian Bantjes has responded to my posts about her Saks Fifth Avenue heart. Here is here comment and below it my response.

Marian Bantjes 4/4/10

Paul, for you to use my Saks heart as a comparison to a Spencerian script is madness. It bears absolutely no relation to a formal script (the first clue being that it is a monoline), nor was it meant to. The letters do not flow properly from …
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Blue Pencil no. 9—Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles vol. 2 1901–1938

Blue Pencil no. 6 (1 October 2009) was devoted to Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles vol. 1 1628–1900 edited by Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis and Jan Tholenaar. The companion volume was published in February 2010. It was obviously already edited and prepared for publication when my comments were posted as many of the same problems that plagued the first volume are still present in this one.
Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic …
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Blue Pencil Comments no. 1

When I set up this slow blog I decided not to publish comments for several reasons: 1. I wanted any comments to be substantive rather than simply expressions of praise or vituperation; and 2. I feared that I wouldn’t have the time to curate them properly. The sort of comments that I would like to include on the blog are those that add knowledge: correcting my posts regarding facts, spelling, etc.; adding additional information fleshing out my comments; or arguing …
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Blue Pencil no. 8—Idea 321 (2007)

Between 2006 and 2008 there was an astonishing outpouring of Tschicholdiana, books and magazines devoted to various aspects of the life and work of Jan Tschichold (1902–1974), the influential 20th c. typographer and typographic theorist. This is the first Blue Pencil post devoted to looking at these works. It is focused on a special issue of Idea, a Japanese graphic design magazine, dedicated to Tschichold.
Idea: International Graphic Art and Typography 321 2007.3
“Works of Jan Tschichold 1902–74”
222 pp.
This special issue of …
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