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A cherished
mentor,
Ed Arnold
(1913-2007)

A few years ago, a design client called me on behalf of his lady friend. It seems that his friend was out of work and wanted to join the legion of do-it-yourself instant graphic designers. My client was asking for advice he could pass on to his friend. I composed an email with a short list of recommendations.

But I could not send the email without invoking the principles of a cherished mentor, Edmund C. Arnold (1913-2007), who more than any single individual is responsible for the improved readability of newspapers around the world. I had the good fortune to come under his spell as a journalism student at Syracuse University in the late 1960s when he was in the midst of overhauling the design of hundreds of newspapers, based on the findings of in-depth readability studies. I became one of his many disciples who went forth armed with typography and design knowledge bundled into their journalism degree. Professor Arnold was charismatic, persuasive, loud, witty, and charming --- which helped his international consulting activities --- and the author of a couple dozen books. His books are packed with information still applicable today. He was in demand as a design consultant way beyond retirement age. In his last letter to me he was so proud of being on the payroll as a trade journal columnist past the age of 90. He still had plenty of wisdom to share. So much for irrelevant oldsters.

Beyond Ed Arnold's typographic wisdom was his warmly supportive nature toward his proteges. Whenever one of his charges was stalled by indecision, he would say "What's the use of having a mind if you can't change it!"

I always advise a do-it-yourself designer that the goal of graphic design is not to "prettify," but to communicate. Design gives tangible shape to thoughts and ideas, and involves more than merely adding whatever graphic frills might be current this month. Like any craft, there are subtleties involved and choices to be made about lines of force, photo selection & cropping, white space, choice of type, hierarchy of type sizes, color, and more --- with all these decisions aimed at serving the project-specific goal of the message. The information on these subjects is out there, but it is up to the would-be designer to seek out the knowledge and use it. Some would say that graphic design has no hard-and-fast "rules." This may be so, but to borrow a sentiment from jazz, another discipline I know well, "You at least ought to know the rules before you break 'em."

I will get off the soap-box now, satisfied that a few would-be designers will come to know of a great crusader for effective text-and-image communication, Edmund C. Arnold.

- R.W. Bacon

Further reading:

About the Author/Presenter

Reginald W. Bacon, author of The Cranky Typographer's Book of Major Annoyances: Helpful Graphics Tips for Do-It-Yourself Designers, and The Cranky Editor's Book of Intolerable Fox Paws (Oops! Fuax Pas!): Helpful Writing & Style Tips So You Won't Look Stoopid, has been a journalist, editor, graphic designer, and publication director for 50 years. He's seen a lot --- much excellence and too much junk. No wonder he's cranky.

As a writer he has been a newspaper reporter, magazine feature writer, promotional writer, fixer of moribund ad copy, researcher, historian, and author of seven non-fiction books. As an editor he has been a copy editor and content editor for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, scholarly publications, training manuals, books, and website content. As a graphic designer he has designed newspapers, magazines, books, newsletters, advertising & marketing materials, corporate identity materials, signs, posters, exhibition graphics, websites, junkyard forms, and lost cat notices. As a print graphics production specialist he has prevented thousands of hapless-and-grateful do-it-yourself clients from sabotaging their own work and looking like complete idiots.

The author --- and presenter of the related seminars --- began his journalism and publications career as a 15-year-old sports reporter, but within a few years was covering everything from cows on the highway to con-men in public office, and soaking up the wisdom of hard-boiled veteran editors. A journalism education followed at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications (B.A., Journalism), where he became a disciple of renowned publication designer Edmund C. Arnold (1914-2007), and an assistant at the Frederic W. Goudy Typographic Laboratory. He is also a graduate of the Maxwell School of Public Affairs (B.A., Sociology) at Syracuse University.

After his first decade as a journalist, editor, publication designer, and print production specialist, that professional course was set aside for a time in favor of a well-traveled career in showbusiness as an acrobatic juggler, comedy tap dancer, and jazz/ragtime tenor banjoist/vocalist. He and his wife and partner, the sensational juggler L.J. Newton, toured nationally for over 25 years, performing in every kind of venue from theatre and film productions to the circus arena. During this period, skills in promotional writing, advertising, and publication design were well-utilized for both in-house and freelance projects. After concluding his stage career, he pursued graduate studies at Harvard (C.M.S., Museum Studies) to redirect the publication and exhibition design specialties to the history and museum professions. For an overview, visit the Variety Arts Enterprises web site. As a scholar of early 20th-century vaudeville and circus, he currently presents "A Vaudeville Retrospective," an illustrated lecture, performance, and exhibition conceived expressly for museums, historical societies, libraries, and college theatre departments.

At the earliest part of his career, he was part of the transition from hot-metal type composition to photo-type composition and paste-up layouts at the art table. Later he was on the front lines of the computerized "desktop" design revolution, and survived with principles and relative sanity intact. Today, in the 21st-century Internet era, the author combines research, writing, and design specialties to produce website content and graphics --- as well as old-school, hard-copy publications and interpretive materials --- for museums and history organizations. In his recent books and seminars for today's do-it-yourself writers and designers, the author shares insights gleaned from five decades in the field. His public speaking and presentation skills, well-honed in both showbusiness and in the museum/history field, are well-utilized in his current seminars, as the entertaining persona of The Cranky Typographer and The Cranky Editor adds laughs to the learning.

Reginald W. Bacon is the author of six other books on performing arts and history topics. His book on the 17th-century history, domestic life, and architecture of Middletown, Conn. was honored with the Brainerd T. Peck Award in 2013. For more information on this and other books, visit the publisher's website at www.VarietyArtsPress.com.

The author and his wife live in Newburyport, Mass., a small city north of Boston where the Merrimack River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking for R.W. Bacon, showbusiness version?

To those looking for the veteran acrobatic juggler/unicyclist, jazz tenor banjoist, and comic dancer --- Yes, that's me. I retired several years ago from a 35-year career in commercial showbusiness, but still keep much of the repertoire stage-ready, and include performance excerpts in the Vaudeville history presentation for museums, "A Vaudeville Retrospective." My wife and partner, the sensational club-juggler L.J. Newton, retired from the stage in 1999. We are still happy, healthy, and injury-free after a well-traveled career. (See the Variety Arts Enterprises web site for additional information, especially the profiles on selected mentors and friends.) Since I was a journalist, editor, and publication designer before showbusiness, and a researcher, author, and historian during, the transition to the museum field was a natural fit. To distant friends, longtime fans, fellow performers, and former juggling/circus arts students, I would be glad to hear of your recent adventures. To new friends and museum colleagues intrigued about the performing arts career, please feel free to explore the various links at the Variety Arts Enterprises web site. Thank you. --- Reg Bacon