Bad typography has ruined more than just the Oscars

There’s this moment at the Oscars, right
before La La Land was mistakenly awarded Best Picture, where you can really tell that whatever
Warren Beatty is looking at doesn’t make sense. “For Best Picture…” “You’re impossible.” He knew something was wrong, but he wasn’t
sure. But here’s an idea: what if better typography
could have prevented this whole snafu? Let’s walk through what that could have
looked like. We know from this shot that the announcement
card looks something like this. The card is serving two purposes: on one hand,
it’s a beautiful souvenir for the winner, and on the other hand, it’s a cue card for
a very high-pressure public presentation. So how do you make this easier to read in
front of 30 million live viewers? Let’s look at how the card compares to the
line that the announcer has to say. We read things from top to bottom, but at
the top is “Oscars”… that’s not useful information for the people on stage… at
the Oscars. “That’s like a few milliseconds of extra time that
those presenters have to go through when they’re presenting, they have to go through all this information. That’s benjamin bannister, he’s a graphic
designer who put together an alternate design for the announcement card. “It’s like driving on the side of the road,
you literally have a few seconds to read all the information on the signs, or else you’re
going to make a wrong turn.” ‘Best Actress’ should be the first thing
on the page. Make it a little easier to read, and now,
the presenters have a clear sign that they’ve got the wrong card. But this still treats the winner with the
same emphasis as the movie they appeared played in, which, while it’s nice to have, is really
just extra context. You solve that by making the name of the winner
the biggest thing on the page. If the presenters were given this card, one
of two things would have happened: their eyes would have first read “Best Actress,”
or “Emma Stone”. Not La La Land. You can apply the same fix to the card that
prompted Steve Harvey to crown the wrong person Miss Universe in 2015. No bad typography, no confusion, no embarrassing
mix-up. The consequences of bad graphic design extend
far beyond award shows. In the fall of 2000, the supervisor of elections
for Palm Beach County, Florida was tasked with designing a ballot with more candidates
than could fit on a single column. It wound up looking like this — it was called
a “butterfly ballot” because of the way the text occupied two columns. If you were voting for Bush, this form made
enough sense — to pick the first candidate, you punched in the first bubble. But then, to vote for the second candidate
on the list, Al Gore, you had to punch in the third bubble. See the problem? The Palm Beach Post estimated that over 2,800
Gore voters accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan. “A number of voters here in Palm Beach County have filed lawsuits asking for a new election because they claim they either voted for the wrong candidate or double punched their ballots because of confusion over the ballot design.” Bush won Florida by a margin of 537 votes. Better typography here arguably could have
changed US history. Graphic designer Michael Beirut put together
this version of what that ballot could have looked like. It uses the same format, but consolidates
information horizontally, so that you can fit all the same candidate names in the same
amount of space. Instead of there being two conflicting visual
paths to follow, there’s just one. There’s also a lesson here for public health. When it comes to health, there’s probably
no single piece of household typographic design that’s as common as this one: the orange
prescription bottle. These have been around since just after World
War II, and they haven’t changed much apart from the addition of a child-safety cap in
the 1970s. But they’re not the easiest things to read. Just look at how information is prioritized
here. The pharmacy branding is often the first and
biggest thing on the label, which is fairly unimportant information for the user. The rest of the text on the label is small,
and it’s all the same size and weight. Even these confusing numbers, which the user
doesn’t need at all, get the same amount of emphasis as everything else. On top of that, some key warnings are printed
on hard-to-read color combinations, like black on dark red. Put all of that on a curved bottle that you
have to rotate to read, and you’re left with a pretty unfriendly design. A design student named Deborah Adler,
created a model for what a new and improved pill bottle could look like. She called it Clear Rx — she was inspired
after her grandmother took her grandfather’s medicine by accident. And it’s a common problem. Experts estimate there are 500,000 cases per
year in the U.S. of people misreading prescription bottle instructions. In Adler’s design, The branding moves to
the bottom, and the most important information for the user is big at the top. Adler also included color-coded rings, so
that the packaging clearly distinguishes between users, not just between medications. The extra surface area on the back allows
for space to be dedicated to warnings for the user. Target bought this design and rolled it out
in 2005 to positive reception. But 10 years after that, Target sold its pharmacy
business to CVS, and the new pill bottle disappeared. Stories emerged afterward that some users
had actually fished their old Target bottles out of the trash because of how much they
liked them. Others took to Twitter. CVS has said that it’s developing a new,
similar model — but it hasn’t released it yet. As with a lot of designs, it’s hard to notice
the things that are done well until they aren’t there anymore. “I think it was a good moment to show people
and educate them on the fact that design does matter. And most people seem to forget, and say it’s
not a big deal. Until something like this happens. Designers are there to prevent things like
this from happening.” So would different typography have totally
changed outcomes in any of these cases? Maybe. But if you’re Warren Beatty or Steve Harvey
or Al Gore — that’s a pretty big “maybe.”


  1. For more videos about how design shapes the world around us, check out Christophe's new series, By Design:

  2. Graphic designers can't have had anything to do with the Oscar cards. These errors occur when amateurs attempt to do the work of the professionals.

  3. In the UK mediation bottles read like
    name of medicine taker in bold
    Name of medication
    Important information in bold dexlexia friendly font

  4. In finland we only glue about a quarter of the pill bottle lable to the bottle, so theres this flap not getting curved with the bottle that has the text

  5. Can someone explain where he got “Lala Land” from? It doesn’t even say it on the card… I don’t get it

  6. Wait, LaLa Land isnt even on the card yet excises are being made for them going rogue? More shennanigans.

  7. Oh god, if I had a penny for every book which had the name of the author, which literally no one except for reading teachers care about, in big, clear letters while the name was small or even on the side of the book, I would have enough money to buy each book publishing studio in the world to prevent this from happening. Same goes for reviews on the back instead of a summary.

  8. they did it on purpose. it's for publicity. they used typography to their purpose by intentionally putting the wrong thing in it.

  9. I’m a graphic design student right now and this video just made me a whole lot more excited for my career and how much of an impact good design has.

  10. Don't think for a second that it was an accident the Florida ballot layout made a Bush vote straightforward and a Gore vote harder to negotiate. The Republican leadership has shown us time and time again that there is no tactic too low for them to subvert the democratic process.

  11. I am low-key betting that the designer of the Florida ballot was definitely incentivized to design the ballot that way by some party or another.

    Make it seem like bad design when it's actually a deliberate attempt to sabotage the vote

  12. Ofcourse the better pill bottle disappeared, people started taking correct medicines and correct doses which in return punched the pharmaceutical industry because they were selling less medicines to the same consumers. There are scenarios where a person opens an orange pill bottle and spills the tablets on the floor or the ground, thus resulting in them buying new medicines.

    The better designed bottle also prevented people from taking someone else's medication, that damaged the hospital revenues as 37% of their patients come in due to ingesting wrong medications.
    Remember… For doctors, at least in the USA, patients are customers and one patient cured is one customer gone.

  13. I thought these Oscars and Miss Universe „mistakes” were just meant to revive these snoozefests.

  14. You are saying ISIS is thanks to this? Terrorism, wars, mass migrations, immigrant problems… Especially in Europe.

  15. actually those numbers on rx bottles are for those of us who are constanly refilling our rxz. It works as a unque identifier to find the original written rx and as the name for the medicine

  16. I really liked the Target Pharmacy bottles. I hated that the bottles changed when CVS took over the pharmacy. Why don’t they just bring the old bottles back and roll them out in all CVS locations? They would be really helpful to a lot of people.

  17. Bad design always makes the user feel as if it was his fault a misuse, when in reality is the designers fault…

  18. As a designer frequently the client chooses to not listen and feels that they can do the same or better thus bastardizing the original concept that no longer functions properly. They blame the initial design but never connect that it was them that actually chose not to change in the first place. It’s an endless cycle. Change is too much for some and thus self defeating ideas remain.

  19. Yes, of course. When dealing with actors, remember, they are BRAIN DAMAGED! That is why they are actors and do not have jobs requiring extensive mental powers, like, say, a traffic cop, or the guy who asks if you want to supersize your meal. Use BIG LETTERS and words of no more than 2 syllables.

  20. Wait, you never explained why Warren announced the wrong movie as Best Picture. The card for Best Actress there instead, I guess?

  21. I see why the other are bad but the bush card seems simple enough. The arrow is pointing to the 3 bubble so bush is obviously the 3rd one

  22. I can’t believe million dollar companies/Industries can’t hire good designers or think to have good a better design

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