Artemy Lebedev

§ 102. How to give form to official documentation

January 21, 2004




The word “blank” stems from the French “blanc”—“white” or “empty” in a figurative sense. There are a variety of blank forms, but the topic of today’s discussion is the ways of making letterheads for correspondence.



Letterheads for business correspondence, an order, a facsimile etc. should be blank, because their very goal is being filled out. But few people know this, so about half of all corporate letterheads are born filled-out. Let’s see how it happens.



A customer comes to a designer and says, “Look, do you know how to make corporate identity?”
“Sure, man.”
“Can you make it as good as N does?”
“Well, your comparisons are disparaging indeed. Of course, we can. Entre nous, N makes bullshit.”
“OK, then let’s start with a letterhead. They told me in Moscow that it’s an essential part of corporate identity, isn’t it.”
“You bet it is. If turbine blades are the obverse side of your business, then a corporate letterhead is definitely its flipside.”



The designer gets down to work and shortly arranges a meeting with the customer to show what he’s done:






Customer:

“I’m getting a feeling that when we first met there was a misunderstanding between us. My plan wasn’t buying a blank sheet of paper worth as much as a ticket to Paris.”



Designer:




Customer:

“It’s not far off the mark this time. But ninety-five percent of the sheet are still empty… You don’t expect me to pay you five percent of the price, right?”



Designer:




“That’s great. Just fine. I love the way you are thinking and that stripe at the bottom.”
“Yeah. It’s only the real connoisseurs of the laconic and the beautiful who can truly judge this technique. It’s called visual motif, a rhyme. It sort of continues and supplements the style that starts at the top of the letterhead.”
“What, a rhyme? Is that what you call it? Where’s the verse then? I want an ode, a poem, a song of style! I want the entire sheet covered with poetry!”



Designer:




“Oh yeah! YEAH! YEAH-H-H-H! Cool beans! That boggles my mind! Style has pulled out a victory over reason! You are a genius!”



The happy designer collects his pay as the happy customer trudges away with reams of letterheads to his company and asks his secretary to type a thank-you letter for the designer on the new form:






Letterhead is a very simple, utilitarian and functional thing that doesn’t need any special embellishments.



When a letterhead is looked upon as a self-sufficient work of art, it begins to teem with elements of décor, background images, address in the footer and further proof that somebody has no idea about the goal of letterhead.



There are no designers who display a business card mockup without the client’s name typed in. If you want an assessment of letterhead design without text, you’ll have to find a very shrewd specialist. Not to draw accusations of “emptiness” and get the mockup approved fast, designers have to learn to show the letterhead with text on it:






Obiter dictum

Designers run into certain troubles displaying letterheads in their portfolios, because in comparison to, say, a business card a letterhead is pretty large but looks empty. To avoid these problems with exhibiting letterheads, fill them with text. At all events, a letterhead with text would look more valuable, interesting and cute than a huge bleached logo in the background. If needed, a logo may be made as a real (not simulated) watermark.







It’s worth remembering that a letterhead starts living after some text is typed on it. Firstly, a letterhead can be sent by fax (which means there must be no images in the background). Secondly, business papers are customarily perforated by a puncher and stored in files (which means a spacious margin on the left hand side is a must). Finally, letterheads are normally signed and sealed (so the paper should absorb the ink well and should not be glossy or slick).






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