Bad design or Freudian slip?
It's not too often that you run across something that could prove to be memorable to the general public or less often that you get to comment about it. Sadly I can't take credit for the find but can for the commentary.
The other day a fellow employee, Jo-Anne, handed me a Canada Post one cent stamp. Beaming she exclaimed, "here look at this." I glanced at what I considered to be a fairly innocuous depiction of the binding of a book being mended by a set of what appears to be male hands. She then asked me "what do you see?" Being in a literal state of mind that day I stated that I saw what appeared to be a photograph of a man either repairing or hand binding a book. And, above his hands someone had superimposed another photograph of a sheaf of paper being fanned slightly blurred to create a sense of motion.
Before I reveal her answer I'll reveal the two lessons that I learned from her that day, or had re-enforced.
The first is to practice my powers of observation or rather to really look before evaluating a piece of work. When she asked me "what do you see" in my own thoughts I went through my automatic design repertoire, examining how the various elements were lined up, or not lined up, the recognition of the standard post office font for Canada, the blurred sheaf of paper and wondering why a stamp had been dedicated to the craft of book binding rather than the customary beaver, moose or loon. Finally endeavoring to decide how I could improve upon the design overall.
After she told me what she saw I was forced to mentally re-evaluate how I looked at my own work. Here this person with no design training had uncovered something that I had not. She looked at the work in a whole different perspective which once it was pointed out should have been blatantly obvious to me. I had gotten caught up in the design process, evaluating the design from certain criteria, getting caught up in the minutiae of the process and forgetting to step outside of it to examine the broader pictured.
To see what Jo-Anne saw you can take one of several approaches, crank your head counter clockwise until it is ninety degrees perpendicular to it's normal orientation, rotate your monitor ninety degrees clockwise, save the image and rotate it again ninety degrees clockwise in your favorite image program.
As a designer it was a welcome and humorous reminder that I still have lots to learn and that I should regularly step back from my work and look at it through Jo-Anne's eyes. Occasionally I get caught up in the process as I'm sure we all do and evaluate a project from that perspective when inevitably it is the client and the final audience who wil make the last judgement.
Footnote: Somewhere along the line someone made a mistake in judgment, whether it was the photographer trying the capture the nimble fingers of the bookbinder, the graphic designer more focused on the process than the overall results or the post office for releasing an unchecked piece of work. Perhaps then again it was a Freudian slip on one the guilty party's behalf expressing their hidden feelings at some aspect of the project.