Doctor Who Festival button

Thought it was design, but it’s not…

Way back before San Diego Comic Con was a thing, there were (and still are) plenty of cons around to get your fandom on. Creation Entertainment was running cons for Trekkies (or Trekkers, depending on how hardcore you are) and were branching out into other fandoms, including Doctor Who. I was a big fan of the Doctor way back in the early 80s, back when episodes were on PBS. Tom Baker was my Doctor, goofy and low-key, with Sarah Jane as his companion.

In college, Trek was revitalized with The Next Generation, so more cons, more guests. I don’t remember how many times I went down to the old Drawbridge Inn in Kentucky, but I did see Michael Dorn, James Doohan and Marina Sirtis. Maybe it was a local Doctor Who fans that piggybacked onto one of the Creation events, or maybe they had their own, but I did go to a Doctor Who Festival around that time. I know, because I have a button.

Not only do I have a button, but I remember distinctly coming into one of my design classes the Monday after with my Doctor Who bag and my Doctor Who button. My design professor grabbed it, and then dropped it just as quickly.

“Oh,” he said. “I thought that was designed, but it’s not.”

He didn’t elucidate any further, but I took another look at the button and realized he was right. It wasn’t designed. Or at least, not well designed. Cincinnati was misspelled.

Doctor Who Festival button
Doctor Who Festival button, including a misspelled Cincinnati. Whoops.

The button has random marker scribblings that have nothing to do with Doctor Who, or science fiction. There are four different fonts, again, all unconnected to the Doctor, and the colors look like they would work better with a scrapbooking fest instead.

It was in another class that one of my other professors introduced us to the concept of “visual masturbation.” It’s when designers get overly decorative and consumed with imagery to the detriment of meaning. Our professors were trying to get us to imbue our lines and colors and fonts with meaning, but it can be easy to get lost in all of that. And non-designers can very easily get lost in the weeds.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that this isn’t passable design. At the time, it was a good lesson, maybe more valuable that the coursework. It’s often the thoughts that people have about design and the design process that speak louder than anything.