I saw a Texas quarter recently (I’m holding right now, in fact, and you can see one to the left here.) and I’d like to thank the Texan government for providing such a durable lesson in typographic basics, in the form of a ’what not to do’.
Texas, as we know, is ’The Lone Star State’. So, it makes sense that the designer (State. Governor Rick Perry) would want to use this phrase in his quarter. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the type gets the short shrift and is jammed under Texas’s western prominence. In order to fit the type into this oddly shaped area, Perry deemed that the line should be broken twice, and nestled under the southern nub of the prominence. In accommodating the shape, the lines also required tight leading*, which could get extra-tight because there are no descenders** in the phrase ’The Lone Star State’ to accommodate. So far, not so bad.
However, Perry neglected the word-spacing, which isn’t surprising, as it’s not something a non-typographer would adjust in most situations. Unfortunately, with only four words over three lines, the word spacing becomes a relatively major design component. So, what did he do wrong? He allowed the line space to become narrower than the the word space, creating a stronger association between the ’Lone’ and ’State’ than ’Star’ and ’State’, as shown below.
Add to this the intrusion of the southern nub into the area above that generous word space, and you’ve got two compositional elements pushing your eye to read the type as two columns, rather than three lines. When I first saw the quarter, my mind’s eye kept trying to misread the phrase. Small problems become large ones when your layout space is less than an inch wide.
Now, while this might be somewhat excusable on a bake sale poster, this is a quarter. It’s not like Perry was tapping away on his copy of Microsoft Engraver and just neglected to check it. It was cut into metal and cast in metal. You’d think that someone in the process could’ve taken the time to address this issue, particularly since I’m sure the design proofs were much larger than the end result.
How to fix the problem? I say take the phrase off entirely. I don’t think there’s a requirement for the phrase in the quarter design standards. Also, think how much more bold and distinct your quarter would be with just that big-ass lone star? If people shrieked bloody murder, then move the type to a sweeping diagonal that mirrors the contour of the state.
Was that so hard? Lucky for them I didn’t address the weird line spacing inconsistency caused by the ’L’ in ’Lone’ or my overall dislike for the compositional balance. Oh, wait.
**parts of letters that hang below the baseline of the text, as in the letters ’p’ ’y’ ’g’ and ’q’