Word up

My wife and I are taking over some local volunteer work from another couple, and last week I had to send out some information sheets on the program, a program description and a registration form. The previous volunteers emailed me their versions of the sheets, so it should have been a simple matter of replacing last year’s dates and contact info with this year’s. But I turned it into a bigger job than necessary.

The sheets came to me as .doc files. This didn’t surprise or even dismay me; .doc files are assumed, by people who have never worked on anything but Windows, to be the lingua franca of the computer world. Pages did a fine job of opening/converting the files.

It was after I opened the files that the desire to overdo started creeping over me. The registration sheet was basically a series of fill-in-the-blank lines:

Name: _______________________________________

Address: ______________________________________

Home phone: _____________ Cell phone: _____________

Age: _____________                 Birth date: _____________

Like the mess above, items in the form were sort of aligned, but not really. A little poking around confirmed that “alignment” had been done with spaces, not tabs.

Should I fix it? The rational part of my brain said no. This is being sent to people who haven’t noticed the misalignment in the past and won’t notice proper alignment now. It’s a waste of time, I told myself. But I just couldn’t send something out so sloppy when I knew perfectly well how to fix it. Twenty minutes later—twenty minutes I’ll never get back—the document had left and right tabs and underscore tab leaders. Oh, and it had the new contact and date info, too. I generated a PDF of it and attached it to my outgoing email.

The program description sheet was more of a narrative and didn’t have any significant alignment problems. OK, it had some misaligned lists, and I did spend the time aligning them, but that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that it was set in—cue ominous music—Comic Sans.

Once again, the rational part of my brain told me to just update the text and send it off. Most people think Comic Sans is just fine; it’s the universal “fun” font. And as with the alignment, the audience for this flyer will not think any less of me for sending out a document set in Comic Sans. But I just couldn’t do it.

I kept the flyer fun and gave it kind of a Marvel look by using comic book fonts from Comicraft (if you follow that link, watch for the Kirby krackle). I changed the body text to Face Front and the headings to Battle Cry. I bought them, on a tip from Andy Ihnatko, during one of ComicCraft’s recent New Year’s Day sales and just love the way they look. The generated PDF includes the fonts, so the recipients (who won’t appreciate the authentic typography, the Philistines) will see the flyer just as I do.

Sadly, the font change is not a permanent improvement. When I hand over my files to next year’s volunteers, I’ll have to turn the font back to Comic Sans, because whoever takes over will certainly not have Face Front or Battle Cry on their computers. But the files I give them will have the improved alignment—my lasting legacy.

I wasn’t surprised at the poor formatting of the files I received. I helped my wife put together a grade school newsletter for a couple of years, and I saw the article submissions she got. Twenty years since The Mac is Not a Typewriter and fifteen since The PC is Not a Typewriter, most people still don’t know how to use a word processor.

And I don’t know how to stop making “improvements” that don’t matter.