Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kern Squad. In Color!

This is the city: Los Angeles, California. It's a big city. A bustling, vital metropolis with a thriving business district. The Chamber of Commerce states that there are over 150 miles of store fronts throughout the city. All those businesses rely on advertising to increase their sales. All that advertising needs rules and laws. That's where I come in. My name's Serif. I'm a Design Cop. I'm with the Kern Squad.

Webster's Dictionary defines kerning as "The adjustment of space between pairs of letters to make them more visually appealing." I define it another way. I call it the Law.

The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was Wednesday, June 14th, 10:50 a.m. It was sunny, with mild temperatures and low humidity. A little too windy for my taste though. I got a call from my partner Bill  Ligature, asking me to meet him at the Rewind Video Town on the corner of Glaser and Rand. Luckily the traffic was light. I got there at 11:05 and went on in. 

Serif: Bill.

Bill: Joe.

Serif: What have we got?

Bill: Customer who's pretty shaken up, Joe.

Serif: Where is he?

Bill: He's a she, Joe.

Serif: How's that?

Bill: The customer, Joe. She's a woman.

Serif: Just point her out to me, 

Bill: Sure Joe. Right over here.

Serif: Ma'am.

Woman: O-Officer.

Bill: Just tell him what you told me, ma'am.

Woman: W-Well, I was browsing through the video store... I still come to the video store you see, because I don't understand all that downloading and streaming business.

Serif: Uh-huh. Just the facts, ma'am.

Woman: Yes, well, as I said, I was browsing and I came upon this DVD on the shelf. It's called Cabin In The Woods, I think. Oh, it was h-horrible.

Serif: How's that?

Woman: Well, the image on the cover looked very nice. You could tell the designer spent a lot of time on it. It was a very clever concept. You see, the cabin was sort of like a Rubik's Cube. You know, those puzzles that were all the rage back in the 80s. I'll bet they spent a lot of money building a model of the cabin that could rotate like that. It was very well done. B-But the title... Oh, it was terrible. I-I couldn't tell what it was supposed to say. Is it really Cabin In The Woods? Or is it C  A  Bin In The Woods? I had no idea. There's so much space between the letters. And it's so... so bland. The cabin image looks derelict and spooky, but the title is so generic and pedestrian. Like a font you'd use in a bank advertisement. Why would they pick such a font for a horror movie? Why wouldn't they use one of those fonts that's all wavy or distressed, or looks like it's dripping blood? The whole thing upset me so much I didn't know what to do, so I called you gentlemen.

Serif: (nodding) You did the right thing, ma'am.

Woman: W-Why would someone do this, officer? Why would they spend so much time making a lovely image but create such a ghastly title?

Serif: It's hard to say, ma'am. Who knows how the criminal mind works?

Woman: C-Criminal? 

Serif: (nodding again) Yes, ma'am. Bad Kerning is against the law. You can go on home now, ma'am. We'll be in touch.

Woman: A-All right. Thank you, officers.

Serif: So what do we know about this movie, Bill?

Bill: Well, on the surface it appears to be your typical slasher film, Joe. You know, college kids go to a secluded cabin for a weekend of drinking and debauchery, get picked off one by one by a deranged killer. You know the kind.

Serif: (nods yet a third time) Uh-huh.

Bill: But then it makes an unexpected U-turn about two thirds in. It's a total game-changer. Turns the whole genre on its ear. Real meta stuff. 

Serif: How's that?

Bill: Meta, Joe. You know, self-aware.

Serif: Uh-huh. You have the DVD?

Bill: Right here, Joe.

Serif: Let's have a look. Hmm. That's some bad kerning all right.

Bill: Most blatant violation of the Kern Code I've seen in a while.

Serif: Uh-huh. Let's go back to the station and find out where this cover came from.

11: 25 am. Bill and I headed back to the station to find out where the cover came from. We talked to the boys in research and found out it was created by a small local design agency just a few miles away, in the "artsy" section of town. We drove on over to talk to the owner.

Bass: Can I help you gentlemen?

Serif: We're looking for the owner.

Bass: I'm the owner. My name's Bass. And you are...?

Serif: I'm Sergeant Joe Serif, Kern Squad. This is my partner Frank Ligature.

Bass: O-Oh? How can I help you, officers?

Serif: How many people do you employ here, Mr. Bass?

Bass: Just myself. I'm a freelancer. 

Serif: Do a lot of business?

Bass: Enough. Not as much as I'd like though. The economy's forced a lot of places to cut back on advertising, which as you know is something they really shouldn't do. Businesses need advertising more than ever in a slow economy.

Serif: Uh-huh. 

Bass: Say, are you here to check up on my software? It's all bought and paid for, I swear. I've got all the original boxes in the back, you can look. Serial numbers, too. I'm no software pirate.

Bill: We're not here to check up on your software, Mr. Bass. Although I would like a look at that back room if you don't mind.

Bass: S-Sure, whatever you want.

Serif: Mr. Bass, what do you know about a DVD called Cabin In The Woods

Bass: I-I designed the cover, if that's what you mean. Early last year. Some of my best work, if I do say so. That image of the cabin-- I bet you think I built a model and filmed it, right?

Serif: I wouldn't know about that, Mr. Bass.

Bass: It's not a physical model! It's all computer generated. I created a 3D wireframe in the computer, then used some photos I had of old cabins and barns to apply texture maps to it. Then I Photoshopped the heck out of it to give it that gauzy, mysterious look. It was a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. 

Serif: What about the typography, Mr. Bass?

Bass: How's that?

Serif: The typography. The title above the cabin.

Bass: I... I don't know what you mean. It's just a title. Nothing out of the ordinary. Yep, that cabin image came out pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Serif: I'm not concerned with the cabin, Mr. Bass. Tell me about the title.

Bass: Like I said, it's just a title. Nothing special.

Bill: You don't consider the title of the movie to be special?

Bass: No, I-- no, I didn't say that! You're putting words in my mouth!

Bill: No need to get defensive, Mr. Bass.

Serif: You picked a very unusual title font, didn't you, Mr. Bass? What is that? Times? Garamond? 

Bass: M-Maybe. I don't remember.

Serif: Strange choice for a horror movie, wouldn't you say? Why not use Double Feature, Zombie or Feast Of Flesh? Wouldn't those fonts be far more suitable for a horror film, Mr. Bass?

Bass: I-I guess so, I don't know!

Serif: What about the kerning, Mr. Bass?

Bass: The kerning? W-What about it?

Serif: Did you apply kerning to the title?

Bass: Of course I did! What do you think I am, some first year design student? 

Serif: Look closely at the title, Mr. Bass. Can you honestly sit there and tell me that title's been properly kerned?

Bass: OK, OK! (sob) I didn't kern it. I worked for so long on the cabin image that I ran out of time! The deadline was up before I knew it and the cover wasn't finished. I just threw some text on the top of the cover and sent it in. I didn't have time to kern it. Is that a crime?

Serif: As a matter of fact it is. You're coming with us, Mr. Bass.

Bass: B-But why?

Serif: Kerning's not just good design, son. It's the Law.

The story you have just seen is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. On August 25th, a trial was held in Municipal Court 19 in the case of Saul Moishe Bass. In a moment, the results of that trial.

Saul Bass was found guilty of violating Municipal Kerning Code #147. He was sentenced to six month's probation and suspension of his artistic license for a period not to exceed one year.

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