Designer’s dilemma

by Sue Dawson

AN INTERESTING THING has been happening at the gallery. Every other week or so, someone comes in and looks around, ending up at my desk with a quizzical look on his/her face. “Is this all New York, or just some of it?” or “Where are the New York photos?” I didn’t get it at first. But it kept happening. Obviously something was triggering the confusion. Finally, someone said “The sign said ‘New York,’ so I’m confused.” We went out and looked at the sign – “Oh my gosh! I thought sure it said New York! I must be losing my mind!”

So, for the next couple of shows, I used all caps. That’ll fix it.


Spread out onto one line?


Interestingly, as I’ve talked with these customers, it turned out they were all highly-educated, and most of them subscribed to New Yorker magazine, which uses all caps for the logo. Oh, and there’s New York magazine – also all caps.











I decided to try a different cut of Futura (the font I use for our business), but in bold (below). One more shot at using the words I want to. Alas, it’s still confusing folks. And yeah, I know it looks pretty much the same as the other ones.

When I was a designer at the Boston Globe, it was fascinating to witness the variations in perception, in people’s response to headlines and design. We were lucky to have a large, diverse staff. Whether it was a page on my drafting table or (later) on my mac, I loved to hear the reactions of passersby. I’d often be surprised at how differences – gender, age, race, sexuality, education, marital status, parents, non-parents, religion, political party, country/state of origin – influenced each opinion. It made for some lively discussions, and hopefully better design.

I’ve held on long enough. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this stubborn about wordage on something I’ve designed! But it’s time. I guess I’ve gotta come up with a new way to say that we’re showing all new work. New images? New photos? All new? I want it to feel sophisticated but simple. “Photos” don’t feel like art. But “photographs” is so formal, so long. Designers obsess over minutiae like this. I’ve had conversations with other font geeks over ampersands, and capital T’s. This is fun for me. At least it will be again, when I figure out what to say.

Suggestions much appreciated…

68 Responses

  1. Heather Goff says:

    I love this blog post. It makes me think about font and perception. You could maybe title the body of new work with some other word, and then underneath it write “new works by Alison Shaw”. Good luck! Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  2. Bryson Dean-Gauthier says:

    This is great; I’m going to show this post in my Typography class.

    How about a list of ‘New Work” phrases in different languages, ending with English?
    Nouveau travail
    Nyt arbejde
    Neue Arbeiten
    Nuovo lavoro
    New Work

    Or, a really large N and W. Good luck! Bryson

  3. Jim Scherer says:

    How about “recent work” … ?

  4. Lauri says:

    Hi Sue,

    In response to your ‘suggestions much appreciated’, I’d like to suggest for the release of Allison’s new work, possibly;


    Lauri 🙂

  5. Ron Hoffmann says:

    Assuming you want to give “new work” one more try, how about stacking new work so that the “w”s line up:


    or maybe something where there’s only one “w” shared between both words.

    Maybe too gimmicky but hey 😉


    ps. It’s really difficult for me to look at “new work” and not see “new york”. But I was born there.

  6. Mickey says:

    I like it the way it is . It generates interest , conversation and excitement and in the end a lot of smiles .

    Intended or not I think it’s brilliant .

  7. elfpix says:

    Well, certainly the descenders on NYMag’s head keep the Y from looking like a W. But that’s not a feature you could use. And, probably, the imbalance in word length (and the historically distinctive font of the New Yorker’s cover) cause people to immediately grasp that cover.

    And I’m not one for mixed letter forms in a word altho bolding the first letter in each word might be among the less undesirable of the options.

    Perhaps increasing the height of the initial letters of the two words would differentiate them just enough?

  8. Chris Bonney says:

    I like your solution best, Sue, because you’ve figured out how to solve the problem without having to make other compromises in your design or description. I suspect a lot of the confusion relates to the geographic perspective of your visitors, many of whom are likely from the region and have brains, therefore, that are conditioned to read “New York” based on the first word and number, arrangement and similarity of the letters that follow before they consciously think about what those letters actually say.

  9. elaine lembo says:

    Sue, great post. Doesn’t it have more to do with who you’re audience is? Mainly summer people from New York?

    Over here in Newport, RI, I had no problem seeing WORK.


    Your faithful fan, Elaine

  10. Mickey says:

    New Work , New Work .

    • Steph says:

      Love the blog!! Well written, fun, and interesting 😉 But — had to post here under “Mickey”. Really got a charge out of it. Only problem now, can’t get the song out of my head.

  11. Chas Norton says:

    New in bold?

  12. Claudia says:

    I’m really enjoying this! And as I look at the pictures above, I realize that I dislike the way the word “WORK” looks. It looks stark and hard — two things Alison’s photographs are not! The ORK overtake the W which is probably one of the contributing factors to the misreads.

  13. Mike says:

    Try something like varying the font size (little-big-little) over (big -little-little-big). It would break up the flow of the words and make people look closer at the wording.

  14. Maureen Topping says:

    2013 – WHAT SHAW SAW – or whatever year span fits? Sorry if it’s corny but I think it’s kind of cute in an unsophisticated way.

  15. Diane Crane says:


    just kidding!


    Work – with the W being the only letter in bold – or perhaps a different color?

    I rarely respond to anything, but I loved this puzzle and enjoyed everyone’s ideas!

  16. Michael says:

    New Works
    It’s not as classy but I think it solves the problem.

  17. Marcy Juran says:

    Hey sue (& Alison, since she has roots in graphic design as well.)

    First, I have to tell you that the gallery looked amazing on my recent vision. And the work is beautiful, as always. And I’m so glad that you had the time to talk with me for a bit, and am hoping to get out to OB sometime again soon, and continue the conversation.

    So, I was MOST intrigued by this post, although I do think that when I saw the email heading on the eblast, that said “designer’s dilemma” that I thought perhaps it might refer to some interior designer who was trying hard to decide which of Alison’s photos to use in a new client’s living room. But obviously not.

    So, as both a graphic designer, a photographer, and a writer, who is a HUGE fan of Alison’s work, the following thoughts came to me.

    • I love Futura. And the clean look of it, either in all lc or in all uc, is fine for me. And though I prefer the lighter weight, I could go with either. That is not the problem.

    • The issue is not at all with the word”. It is with the word “work”, which the eye translates easily into “york” as the w and Y letterforms are so similar.

    • I love the succinctness of the 4 letter words, and recent and awesome and all those other words don’t have the freseness, and photography is also too long.

    So, what to do. Well, this just hit me, and personally, although I might be biased, I think that this just might nail it (Due to the limitations of the comment typography, this is not going to look right, but you’re a great designer, and I think that you will get what I mean):


    I would actually put in both letters – the O and the A, and have a strikethrough of some sort on the O. I think that it keeps it short, avoids the work/york confusion, and also is a fun was to play on the words both SHOW and SHAW. Adds some wit to the mix, and gets people thinking.

    Hope that it is cooler up there than here…we have been sweltering all week here on the Connecticut coast, and just had a wopping thunderstorm roll through here, so it is now a veritable steambath outside. I’m going swimming.

    All the best,

  18. Susan Baron says:

    I don’t know the first thing about design…but maybe if you separate the words New and Work on the page, people will actually read the words instead of seeing New York?

    Have you ever seen the following paragraph? Only the first and last letters are correct, yet most people can read it without any difficulty:

    I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.

  19. Eileen Holley says:

    What if you went with serifs? I’m not sure because I always let the designer choose the font. I too could be tricked into seeing that which isnt there. What great comments you’ve gotten- so interesting.

  20. Sue Anne says:

    I was going to say Recent Work but Jim beat me to it so I’ll second that idea!
    But love Mickey’s , it will be in my head for a while!

  21. Donna says:

    Hi Sue,

    I think the problem may be that New Yorkers who go to galleries are used to a title for the show. I’m not saying that’s right but I think that’s the reason. I go to the galleries often in the fall in NYC, usually photography sometimes other artwork. If I know of the artist, I probably would go to the show regardless of the title but if I’m not sure, I usually go to the photo gallery web page and see what is being exhibited. So, if someone that I am not familiar with has a show with an interesting topic or theme, I would probably add the gallery to my list. So, maybe you have to go back to some sort of themes because there may be a fixed mindset.

  22. Evy says:

    I like new work and I like calling it new work, personally. A small suggestion would be, on the version of new above work, to place an added 1/2 line in between so they have just a little more breathing room. And for the side by side version maybe an extra space between words would read more clearly. Other than that, I think it’s bringing people in to the gallery and it’s all good.
    And also, those new images look absolutely wonderful, wish I could come in to the gallery and see the new york, oh-oops…

  23. Doug Ruskin says:

    Sue –

    I’m not an editor or a font geek 🙂 but I’m enjoying the dialog! I am a firm believer that little things do matter, tho’ this New Yorker saw “Work” without hesitation. I do think that in this ever fater-paced world, we even read too quickly… But as you say, in the end it’s all about perception. So here’s 2 cents from a NON-designer: just “NEW”; or “NEW from Alison Shaw” with NEW on one line and the rest under it, slightly smaller font. (Actually my very first instinct was “New Stuff”. At least George Carlin would love it.) Then there’s also Roget’s to fall back on – new creations, latest issue… 🙂 🙂

  24. JP Hitesman says:

    Sue and Alison, this is a great blog!

    Two possibilities come up for your title – split New Work on diagonals of the main image, like a book or bookends…

    Or call it something synonymous like Fresh Prints … though maybe not the same style you are looking for!

    We look forward to stopping by sometime between August 10 and 17!

  25. Max Skjoldebrand says:

    I never read it as NEW YORK but then I am not from these parts. I like the word NEW and to resolve the dilemma I would vote for NEW WORKS as suggested by others. The S may help to finish the word with a soft curvy letter instead of the harder K.

  26. Doug Ruskin says:

    OR – open a gallery in Manhattan and you don’t have to change anything! except prices? 😉

    Fascinating thread -really.

  27. Lew Kline says:

    My first reaction was, don’t these people stop and read or did they just glance at the words and “decide” it said NEW YORK? Obviously, they are not photographers, we would never do that! 😀
    Maybe move the two words a bit, like:
    or even…
    N W
    E O
    W R

    To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure changing it around will make any difference. If they are only seeing it for a second, since they must be thinking, from, want to be, near, visited, have relatives living, or some other reason to have NEW YORK on/in their mind, that is all they will think they see.

    Good luck! I am sure you will find some solution.


  28. Lew Kline says:

    Sorry, after reading some of the other posts, what if you made it so tiny, they had to walk up to it to read it?

  29. Evy says:

    Hi Sue! I was going to suggest new works but then I realized people from new Jersey will read it as Newark… Anyway, how about:


    Nicely designed, of course, maybe the year bigger and a different color.
    Thanks for the puzzle.

  30. Heather Goff says:

    Why not remove the word Work all together?
    Just say “NEW” and under it the date range.

  31. Deborah Cascarino says:

    “New Images”states it best and simply… having managed a college bookstore for years, I often found that what I thought were simple and clear signs were being read wrong by my customers who are all college students.. I found out it is best not to fight it because if more than one person reads it wrong, you have to change it.. for every one person who reads it wrong and mentions it to you , there are more that never say anything.. more than one complaint about the same thing is I would suggest : New Images by Alison Debbie

  32. Diane says:

    “Come in and view….what Alison Shaw…..saw…..

  33. Diane says:


  34. Diane says:

    Start spreading the views…..NEW WORK, NEW WORK!

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