Amateur layout and bad ads. Again.


Stinky!I see the Town of Collingwood is still letting the EB layout its full page of ads in the paper.  Tragic. Embarrassing. Cringe-worthy.

The latest back page mashup has as its first ad the worst of the worst sort of ad layout, the sort only amateurs would create. It’s too wide for any human being to comfortably and efficiently read. Then there’s the second page with its fat partner in layout crime.

It’s embarrassing for a municipality to be thus represented. The only saving grace is that no one reads the EB any more, so not very many people see how bad it is. But those who do see it, wince.

Why, oh why, does the town continue to permit amateurs to design its advertising? Doesn’t anyone realize these represent the town? They affect our reputation?

These wide ads – and several of the smaller ads – break pretty much every rule in every design and typographic book. High school students could craft more elegant, readable, exciting ads. Maybe elementary school kids could, too.

I’ve written about these embarrassing, amateur efforts in the past and how they hurt the town’s image. Even a bungling non-designer like me can see they are ill-suited for presenting a professional, polished image. I suspect these are designed by the janitor, or maybe someone who delivers the paper. Certainly not by a graphic designer.

Anyone can read the basic books on layout and design to learn enough to see these are awful. Truly awful. Why can’t anyone in town hall see it?

But, you ask, why would the town give the job to someone trained and experienced in that art? That would break this term’s trend.

Council took the management of the water utility from experienced professionals on the board and gave it to inept councillors. Council kicked the experienced, professional, provincially-recognized winner of several awards and honours, the CEO of Collus, off the board and put the interim CAO in his place. The precedent for replacing people who know what they’re doing with those who don’t was set early in this term.

Council cancelled its individual subscriptions to the monthly Municipal World magazine, the best Canadian journal for municipal governance and politics, read by dedicated municipal politicians across the country. Why? Because council felt it knows everything already and doesn’t need peer advice. Besides, reading is hard work.

Council has turned to obscure one-and-two-person consulting firms few if any of us have ever heard of for recommendations on big, important, strategic issues that affect the town’s well-being, rather than listen to respected, worldwide firms like KPMG.

The arrogance of amateurism is this council’s legacy. The inmates are running the asylum. These ads are regular, graphic reminders of that.

More than half the ad space on both pages is too wide, based on every book, research and website about layout and typography. Robert Bringhurst, in his superb book, The Elements of Typographic Style, says the optimum width for readability is 66 characters (p. 26) or 10-12 words. Yet the lines for the Waterfront Master Plan and Retail Holiday Act ads are more than 120 characters wide. TWICE the optimum width!

No one reads anything that wide. It’s not merely a design issue: it is physically difficult and tiring to the eyes and dilutes comprehension. If you want people to ignore your text, make it too wide to read comfortably. Like this.

And worse: almost the entire two pages is set in one, dreary sans-serif! Boring Arial at that! No type contrast. It’s so dull that it makes watching paint dry feel like a Bruce Willis movie. It doesn’t matter that sans-serif typefaces are considered worse for legibility and readability in print than serif typefaces. It doesn’t matter what hundreds of design and type pundits say about it in books, videos, websites and blogs.

There are double spaces after periods, inappropriate capitalization, missing hyphens, inappropriate use of bold text, inappropriately centred headlines and text, excessive use of exclamation marks, and too many other stylistic, grammatical and punctuation errors to list here. Just take a look and cringe.

Clearly the town’s communications officer wasn’t allowed to proofread these pages, because she would have caught the many errors and gaffes. This is the work of amateurs and the town should demand a refund for anything paid for this crap.

Would councillors hire a burger flipper to do their plumbing? Would councillors hire a gardener to rewire their homes? Would councillors hire a busker to repair their cars? Then why does council let amateurs design their advertising?

And then you have to ask yourself, why are we paying for two full colour pages in the paper? Surely most of this could be printed in B&W, and a significant amount could simply be posted on the town’s website, instead of spending tax dollars to put it in colour into a paper almost no one reads.

Now you can’t blame council for graphic ineptitude. But you can blame council for setting the low standards for staff to follow. If the council elevates ineptitude, if this council honours amateurs over professionals, if this council refuses to take responsibility for the output and communications, staff will follow.

This continues to be an embarrassment to all of us. Council has to wear it. Our taxes shouldn’t be paying for this.


PS. You’ll notice on the top of the back page, that the town is sneaking in its law for holiday shopping again. I wrote about this secretive attempt last year. The town tried to pass it without public input but got caught and had to back off. Well, it’s returned.

This isn’t a council initiative: it’s the initiative of some staff. Neither businesses nor workers were approached before this was launched. In fact, the town lied last time when it said it had the approval of the Chamber of Commerce and BIA. Neither organization knew about it before the first ad was placed.

And from what I understand, council wasn’t even aware this was coming up. There was no warning, no staff report. It was snuck in under their noses.

Now, as you know, all town staff get every statutory holiday off, with pay, even Remembrance Day. And municipal staff are very well paid, well about comparable private sector positions. But apparently some feel they should be able to shop and dine those holidays, so they want to ensure there are workers to serve them. Some servile folk at their beck and call.

Of course, retail and hospitality sector workers are the most vulnerable, and have the fewest options to refuse work, but it seems staff don’t care. They want to shop, they want to dine, so someone needs to be there for them: the people who often work two or three jobs to make ends meet. The single parents who will have the most trouble finding daycare or babysitters. The people who are least likely to have their own transportation. The people who have the fewest benefits, lowest wages and fewest options for protest. The people of faith who cherish those days for their beliefs. The people no one in town hall approached for their input on the matter.

It’s all about entitlement. It’s a royal decree, and openness and public accountability be damned. It’s also a despicable, discriminatory attack on the workers who most need protection.

And council meekly accepts it. Who’s driving this bus?

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