The Shape of Things

By Sheila Parr

According to a federal judge, the U.S. Treasury Department is breaking the law by failing to design and distribute currency that helps the blind and visually impaired distinguish denominations.

It is odd to me that this oops is just now coming up. Currency designers did it right with coins: I can feel the difference between a dime, nickel, penny, and quarter, and when I’m fishing for laundry money, any coin that’s not large and ridged just won’t do. An obvious solution to this ancient oversight is to create paper money of different sizes according to denomination.

Ah, hindsight . . .

Reconciling art with logistics is an issue that comes up often for designers. We are focused on the idea, the creative concept behind the project—whether it’s a book cover, a marketing campaign, or an island wrapped in plastic. Part of our reality is inside Photoshop (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that CS3 will have the ability to make REAL breakfast tacos).

That can cause problems when it’s time to carry out the design in the real world. The last thing on my mind when I’m running with a new idea is what the shipping will cost, or if the holiday card with the eye-catching trim size will fit inside the box it’s supposed to be mailed in. This isn’t always a bad thing. It allows for unimpeded creativity. But the shape of things is important, and so is coming up for air near the beginning of the design process to make sure that all of your great ideas will work in real life.

Real life also has a habit of introducing new hiccups to work around. Beginning in spring 2007, there will be a 3-cent price hike on first-class stamps and the shape of your mail will have a bigger impact on the cost of shipping. If you’re designing an oversized, butterfly-shaped invitation for a garden party, remember, if it’s not “machinable” (it can’t be sorted automatically) it may cost more to mail. Make sure to think about shape—and everything it can affect—early in the project, so you don’t have to cut corners later.

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