Specialists in print and digital publications for . . .

Our services

We provide a comprehensive range of services for print and digital media (websites, eBooks, eMags, flipbooks, CDs and DVDs):

  • Design
  • Layout
  • Typesetting
  • eBooks (ePub and Kindle)
  • Technical illustration
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Website development
  • Prepress
  • Print management
  • Multimedia management

The Seven Deadly Sins

Ask ten proofreaders or editors their seven pet hates, and no doubt you’ll end up with seventy rather than seven examples. In fact, we had quite an argument here at Sunset as we tried to narrow the list down to just seven! Here’s what we ended up with:

1. Lead/led

2. Everyday/Every day

3. It’s/Its

4. Alright/All right

5. Stationery/Stationary

6. Foreword/Forward

7. Separate/Seperate

Maintaining standards in printed English . . . an industry gone wrong

Author: The Sunset Team

Literacy in decline

Speaking to The Times recently, Professor Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of Buckingham, stated the following: ‘Students – British as well as those from overseas – commence their studies with levels of English so poor that universities run remedial English courses to ensure at least basic literacy.’

That the last few decades have seen a marked decline in literacy standards throughout the English-speaking world is widely acknowledged, so much so that Professor Alderman’s statement does not appear nearly as shocking today as it would have during most of the last century. The reasons for this decline are complex, though many would point to the personal computer and, particularly, the Internet as prime causes. It is worth noting, however, that criticisms of inadequate high school English courses predate the personal computer by a good many years.

Sadly, the evidence for poor English skills in the general community is all around us. Every shopping centre has its sidewalk signs replete with misspellings and misplaced or missing apostrophes, while newspapers and websites assure us that we won’t be ‘effected’ by the decisions of those who lead us today, or by those who ‘lead’ us yesterday. Follow a thread on your favourite Web forum and chances are you’ll seek in vain for a capital letter or punctuation mark . . .

Now, there was a time not too long ago when whatever happened within the general community, English standards were zealously enforced in what was then a specialised section of the graphic arts industry. As part of their training, the spelling, grammar and punctuation skills of future tradespeople (variously known as compositors or typesetters) were reinforced and then expanded to include a knowledge of the special typographic symbols used in even the most complex technical publications. This was known as Printers’ English. To the best of our knowledge, nothing like it exists in the graphic design or multimedia courses offered today.

Technological change

Typesetting was one of the first industries to be affected by the personal computer industry, and the impact was dramatic. By the end of the 1980s, the expensive equipment previously required to produce type and graphics for publication was fast becoming redundant, with new digital technologies opening up ‘desktop publishing’ to lay users. While the first do-it-yourself efforts looked laughably amateurish, a new breed of ‘graphic designers’ began to produce a more attractive product, with advertising agencies and design studios eagerly taking up the opportunity to incorporate in-house production facilities at moderate cost. Shortly afterwards, graphic design colleges began to appear, offering courses of questionable quality. (Mind you, a diploma or degree in ‘graphic design’ sounds far more attractive than the traditional typesetter’s apprenticeship in ‘hand and machine composition’!)

The trouble was (and is) that these courses emphasised design to the detriment of content; and, it must be said, the training provided in the use of the relevant computer software also left much to be desired. At the same time, many skilled tradespeople ‘dropped out’, either unwilling to retrain or disillusioned with the industry’s direction. The result was that managers of more quality-conscious, traditionally based companies began to find it difficult to hire staff who could produce work to the required standard of accuracy.

Those veterans who did retrain in modern technology still have a huge advantage over graphic design graduates: a traditional background guarantees a degree of precision that graphic designers have not been trained to match. Moreover, a sound knowledge of English is of invaluable benefit to clients: traditionally trained operators will routinely pick up errors that would slip past the untrained eye. To companies such as our own, these people are a valued resource; however, given the current lack of adequate training, it is important to recognise that these veterans are a dwindling resource.

Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t value our contemporary designers here at Sunset Publishing Services. We most certainly do! They bring with them the freshness of youth and are bursting with creativity. Talk to any of them, however, and you’ll find out how appreciative they are of being able to tap into the body of knowledge the ‘old guys’ possess.

The responsibility of industry

Traditionally, the maintenance of literacy standards in society has rested on two areas: initially on the education system; and, for on-going reinforcement, on the publishing industry. (We refer here to ‘publishing’ in its broadest sense, encompassing everything from newspapers and books, to business cards and advertisements.) Sadly, however, with the exception of the major book publishers and their suppliers, it can no longer be said that the majority of this industry takes pride in the accuracy of its primary product: words. Newspapers, whether online or in print, contain glaring grammatical errors; well-designed advertisements are ruined by basic spelling mistakes; and too many magazines are painful to read, lacking the proofreader’s healing touch.

If design studios, advertising agencies and multimedia companies are serious about their pretensions to quality, we believe they should:

  • demand of those institutions training future graphic designers and finished artists that English (specifically geared to the needs of print and the Internet, and including proofreading) be an essential part of their courses
  • require of job applicants who will be expected to work with words that they demonstrate proficiency in the English language
  • utilise qualified proofreaders as an essential part of the quality-control process.

We believe also that graphic designers and finished artists should recognise that they are being short-changed by the education system (and by the majority of their employers, who don’t know any better) and join us in seeking change.

The following pages contain helpful hints and information for graphic designers and finished artists, which we hope will be of assistance in improving their skills.

RESOURCES FOR GRAPHIC DESIGNERS    Contents  [1]  [2]  [3]  [4]  [5]  Next