New Variant of the Tribune Mark
by Peter Zelchenko September 11, 2009

NOTE: This accidentally entered our editors' inbox and they ran it, thinking it was a column. In reality it was a pedantic rant about inane design minutiae when we in the GB boiler room, like our betters high above us, should have been commemorating the eighth anniversary of America's epic tragedy. However, we noticed that the front page of the Tribune didn't mention it either, so we don't feel quite so insensitive.

TO: Steve Cavendish, graphics editor, Chicago Tribune

Mr. Cavendish, I just noticed the new "incised" variant of the Old English mark that you used for the nameplate today.

There is something about the semiotic qualities of a two-dimensional design that gives it a tenuous relationship with the third dimension. Photos and other illustrations allow a violation of this, probably because of their realism and that they tend to be "framed." Type does not, or at least not nearly as readily, probably due to the uniquely nebulous place it occupies between line art and object. Drop-shadows, drag-shadows, incises and other manipulations of headline type seem to lend a cheap, kitschy appearance, which you'll see in Goudy Handtooled, Augustea Inline and many other designs.

Drag-shadows do even worse, for the same reason: they're trying to tell us that the letters are rising up from the surface of the page, so the designer must decide for us from what direction we are looking down on them. Drop-shadows seem more excusable, probably because they are not trying so hard to masquerade as depth, but only a flat object casting a shadow against a flat background. Simple outlines on display type seem totally acceptable, because they are not pretending to cause the type to rise from the page at all. I recognize that these effects are necessary when reversing type over photo midtones; I just object to breaking the semiotic barrier.

Realize, too, that you're mixing metaphors here: Goudy Handtooled at least derives from a Roman incised monumental capital, which may be argued because its history implies three dimensions. And although Goudy's execution doesn't speak to that (the incisions are inside the strokes, not at the edges), the design at least seems to tolerate it. Your Old English is derived strictly from a broad pen design, transferred to a copper plate or gravure stone. It has nothing to do with the third dimension. It also shouldn't be fiddled with too much, standing so well all by itself as easily the most recognized mark in Chicago.

I won't go into other basic concerns with the design, such as the effect of the complicated, vibrating line transitions you have at the edges of the glyphs (look particularly at the thin vertical strokes in the capitals; which, by the way, calligraphers had rendered hairline-thin by turning the pen edge sideways). Too, the difference in weight between the highlight and shadow edges of the line are too small to adequately create the desired bevel illusion. On closer inspection, it looks as though the designer is attempting more of a "paper" deboss effect here rather than a stone incision, which might explain the extra white trap around the edge and the subtle rather than abrupt rise. Who designed this?

Nevertheless, I do like the overall redesign, my only criticism being one you've already heard: that we have to look hard for the logo mark to tell whether it's the Trib or the Sun-Times. Making the logo more prominent and keeping it in a consistent place might help with that.

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