When perfect kerning & gorgeous colours pale in comparison to a handwritten note.

Posted by on Oct 3, 2011 in views | No Comments

Some 7 years ago, a neighbour came to me teary and asking for help in creating and printing a “LOST/REWARD” poster for his missing pet Jack Russell. Being a fellow Jack Russell owner and also the proud new owner of a Xerox machine capable of printing on 250gsm artcard with a nice glossy finish (which I had just acquired for the office), I agreed without hesitation.

I asked for a coloured photograph with a clear, unobstructed view of his dog’s front profile (“so that people can see every little detail of his colour/spots/whiskers etc etc”), and rushed back to office to start work on the poster.

In my mind it was an opportunity to demonstrate my copywriting/typographical prowess (“I wanna make “REWARD” the key callout, using the bold Impact fonttype”) and art direction savvy (“I will use RED because it will shout ALERT!”), mixed with blazing speed and topped with professional glossy printouts (“The colours will surely capture attention!”).

And so I went at it with a sense of purpose and excitement not seen since my army bookout nights.

Some 2 hours later my LOST/REWARD poster was done. I printed some 200 pcs (A3, to be halved into A4) and rushed to meet my neighbour, together with a group of dog lover pals who had already gathered and ready to beautify the entire estate with my proud creation. Their reaction upon seeing the finished poster was one of awe and disbelief (“How did you do something so professional SO fast, and where did you print it SO fast?” were what I believed I heard).

So we all fanned out, armed with blu-tacks and bright red, glossy posters, each with a scanned photograph of the poor lost dog in exquisite detail, with colours matched and calibrated to (IMO) real-life perfection. I was so proud, so confident of catching the attention of everyone in the estate.

While putting up the poster, I chanced upon another LOST “poster” of a pet kitten haphazardly put together in I believe, a combination of Microsoft Word with awful kerning and handwritten words of plea, with a badly scanned black and white picture of the poor kitten (black & white because of the cheap photocopying).

I sniggered. How can this poor little form of a “poster” compare with mine? Haha… let’s see which one will capture attention. And so I proudly stuck my poster RIGHT BESIDE the poor black and white imitation. And then I stood back to admire my handiwork with a smirk.


I realised there and then, that the perfect design with the perfect typography, enhanced by the perfect photo and the perfect background colour is NOT PERFECT for some situations. Situations LIKE THIS.

I asked myself…

“Which poster smacked of desperation and urgency, as if haphazardly pieced together by a desperate owner who had simply no time to design a poster properly (let alone print in colour at some colour centre)?”

“Which poster looked like it came from a RICHER dude who can afford to ENGAGE a designer to do it?”

“And which poster showed the pain, confusion and chaos the owner might be experiencing THIS VERY MOMENT?”

In short, which poster will catch more ATTENTION and WIN THE HEART and SYMPATHY of the passing crowd?


I knew there and then the answer. And the answer is NOT my poster.
I realised, sometimes the ideal design with the ideal copy/art direction/printing execution is not the perfect way to communicate what I want to say.


Sometimes, it is important to understand the context of the communication piece that we are working on. And having a grasp of the context is key as we develop something that resonates within the environment effectively. Don’t be too hasty or smug in believing that the best vocabulary with the most powerful words or the most technically correct of kerning and typography execution can combine to give you a winning creative piece. (Award-winning it may be, but effective communication it is certainly not).

Creativity in this case is about understanding the art of life, and not creating art for art’s sake.

(FYI, my neighbour DID receive a phone call from someone who claimed to have found his pet dog some 3 days later. I guessed my poster DID work. Except for the simple fact that he asked for a much higher than normal compensation as stated. Rich owner, I supposed. Sucker!)

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