When my grandparents returned to Detroit from a two month vacation to “the old country” of Italy, the entire family — aunts, uncles and cousins — got together to make a giant “WELCOME HOME” banner to greet them at the airport. Their trip was a big deal since they were first generation immigrants that didn’t have much money to travel. In those days, families could meet passengers in the terminal as they stepped off the plane.
To create the banner, my dad got some giant paper from the local butcher (real butcher paper!), markers and crayons. After drawing the main “WELCOME HOME” message, he invited everyone to sign and decorate the banner as they saw fit.
Perhaps inspired by the block letters of “WELCOME”, my cousin Lisa decided to spell her name in all big block caps. Unfortunately, she put the “L” and the “I” too close together. When I saw it, I thought someone was just being patriotic and quickly filled in the tiny white space to create USA. This resulted in some tears from Lisa and a scolding from my father. I was 6 years old.
This is my first memory in a lifelong obsession with good typography and design. To this day, nothing can make my skin crawl more than improper kerning. Kerning is the distribution of space between two letters to achieve pleasant and readable text. There are bad examples everywhere — logos, ads, packaging and (the worst) signage. You only need to Google “bad kerning” and a slew of kerning fails demonstrate my point — most of them not suitable for print.
I blame the personal computer which gave almost everyone the tools for desktop publishing, but not necessarily the skill. Take it from me, if you’re serious about your business, please hire a professional designer. But, if you want to take a chance and DIY, then let your design flag fly — just somewhere I don’t have to see it.
Think you are a pro kerner? Test your kerning skills by clicking here.