The “Yearbook Method” of Graphic Design

One of the most meaningless, transient, amateur patterns in “graphic design” is the trend of adding extraneous punctuation all over the place. The sad part is that this design sin ignores the meaning and history of the symbols it abuses.

I once called this the “yearbook method” on Twitter because this “technique” was the hallmark of the yearbook team at my high school. Each successive edition would shift focus from [hard brackets] to \ to »double chevrons (actually «angle quotes,» not like we ever learned about those in public school). There was no reason behind this except for the whim of an untrained, unstudied student designer.

My good friend Kyle King finds this observation accurate (and embarrassing):

That’s a fair critique, at least of our [yearbook]. I never want to have to say, “Well, you know, semi-colons were big that year” as an answer to a child’s question, that’s for sure.

The reason I hate the yearbook method of graphic design is that is an abuse of symbols. Each glyph we abused has a meaning, and we completely ignored its meaning to use it for decoration. Heck, we didn’t even learn the proper names of these characters.

What really makes me sad is that this trend isn’t limited to yearbook design or even high-school efforts, but can be found in corporate America.

Here’s a lovely example: The current CVS logo.

CVS logo in neon

Can you imagine what went through the designer’s head?

“Alright, now sometimes we are a CVS, and sometimes we are a pharmacy. Like, CVS or pharmacy, right, slash! Slash-or! CVS-slash-pharmacy. Dig it?”

I would bet that wasn’t the thought process. One would hope that if the designer had actually stopped to think about the real meaning of a slash character, he/she would have avoided its abuse. Unfortunately, the thought process was probably just as Kyle described it:

“Well, slashes are ‘in’ this year… And they kind of remind us of the Internet, and look how big that has gotten! So how about… CVS-slash-pharmacy!”

Similarly, I have long hated LA|Fitness’ logo for the ugly and unnecessary pipe in the middle.  (And for what reason did they decide to extend the pipe downwards but not upwards?)

LA|Fitness logo

The yearbook method of graphic design, ladies and gentlemen.


Images used with permission.  Hover or click for details.


April 29th, 2009. (Updated: May 27, 2009 at 11:45pm.)
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About