The Null Device

Crimes against typography on the high street

Charlie Brooker takes on another part of the blight affecting contemporary Britain: computer-generated shop signage, in particular singling out its crimes against typography and sensible use of colour:
[W]e live in a cluttered optical hell of carelessly stretched-and-squashed typefaces and colour schemes that clash so violently they give you vertigo. Stroll down the average high street and it is like being assailed by gaudy pop-ups on the internet. It makes your eyes want to spin inward and puke down their own sockets.
As if thoughtless font abuse were not enough, some signs even incorporate scanned photographs; a garish snap of some glistening meat surrounded by a yellow Photoshop "haze" effect, hovering over an electric blue background, flanked by the words KEBAB DUNGEON in bright red, foot-high Comic Sans crushed to 75% of its usual width. Jesus. Why not just punch me in the face and have done with it?
Something has got to be done because it is only going to get worse. You know what will be coming next: animated shop signs with moving "wallpaper" backgrounds. Storefronts resembling god-awful homepages from 1998. Row upon row of them. Visual bedlam wherever you turn. Two months of that and our cities are going to be over-run with screaming maniac gangs; hitherto law-abiding citizens driven insane without knowing why, like the demented hordes from 28 Days Later.
He's right, you know. On Britain's high streets, many of the shops which are neither corporate franchises (which is part of another curse, the "clone high street") nor premium boutique affairs tend to stick to the value-for-money school of image management. Why mess around hiring expensive designers, decorators and image professionals when it's so much cheaper to get a computer-printed PVC sign, with your shop's name in bright yellow Helvetica on bright red, stretched to fit the length of the sign (which is also backlit with neon tubes). With the advancement of computer technology, meaning that anyone can be a designer without knowing anything about the rules of design, you can even stick in a scanned photograph or some clip-art.

One frequent subcategory of offenders here are fast-food shops, a good proportion of which are fried chicken shops named after varying US states ("New Hampshire Fried Chicken", anyone?) or words associated with the idea of America, and more often than not feature anthropomorphised animal mascots, usually chickens in Wild West sheriffs' hats or some variant of the theme.

And then there is the "fish bar" phenomenon. Those two words feature in the name of every other fish-and-chips shop in Britain, though to the best of my knowledge, are never used as a common noun in regular conversation. Has anybody ever said, for example, "let's go to a fish bar"?

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