I was browsing the latest issue of HOW magazine (the 2008 International Design Annual) and the advertisement above caught my eye. Pratt Institute is my alma mater (’98), and they’ve placed this weird 1/8-page ad way in the very back of the issue… back with all the crappy ads for cheap handwriting fonts, $15 business cards and creative head hunters.

Why do I think it’s a weird ad? Well, let’s take a closer look…

First off, I can kinda get into the heavy black text on the brown, recycled paper look. The green/eco-movement is sweeping the design world just like the rest of the world, so that’s a good start on the layout, and the simple black text can be visually powerful.

Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there.

Moving from the outside in, the rounded corners on the box is so dated (as in, it was cheesy a decade ago)… not to mention the stock thick/thin white border that comes standard with most popular page layout applications… Both the rounded corners and white border(s) are completely unnecessary to the integrity of the design. The colored background is enough by itself to make the ad pop off the white page. They only lend to the layout feeling more cluttered.

The “Think” headline with white accent marks over the ‘k’ is interesting. It’s a fairly modern typeface and the accent marks imply action/thought. Though they feel a bit cartoonish, they compliment the chosen typeface. What has always separated Pratt from other NYC-based art/design schools is that they pride themselves on making sure their students can think creatively, opposed to mass producing commercial artists and sending them packing out into the advertising world, with their crisp, nearly identical portfolios.

The Pratt logo and URL are a decent size, in relation to the ad size, and are typeset well, though I think the URL’s line-spacing is a bit tight to the white border and should be brought up a point or two closer to the logo.

Finally, we have the eight round symbols… the elephant in the room. They make the entire ad confusing and sophmoric. The spacing between each circle is nice, but the two on each end are too tight to the border. You want to have as much, or more, space on the outer edges to keep it from feeling crammed in and too tight.

Now, let’s examine the content of these tiny gems of clip art…

  1. The first appears to be a floating, yet lit, light bulb within the pages of a book… no doubt signifying thinking, and bright ideas… The granddaddy cliché of all visual clichés… As I wipe up my tears, let’s continue…
  2. The second is the bitmapped hand icon you get when rolling over an internet hyperlink… I suppose it is meant to suggest interactive/web design? What kills me is, it’s the hand icon you get on a PC, not a Mac. Brilliant.
  3. The next is a Helvetica lowercase ‘a’… one can only assume to represent typographical design.
  4. The fourth circle is a swerve of ink and the nib of a pen.. which — again, only assuming here — signifies the fine arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc…).
  5. The fifth icon looks to be a closed door at the end of a hallway… Is this possibly the career path of someone specializing in the Clip Arts?
  6. The next icon is two interlocking gears, which of course is the second most cliché and generic symbol in the world, needing no explanation whatsoever… because something so generic can mean pretty much anything.
  7. The second-to-last icon appears to be the head of a hammer slamming down a nail, reminiscent of the old Soviet-era propaganda posters. I don’t recall construction and general contracting being an available course at Pratt, so maybe this symbol represents Pratt’s architecture school… because, if nothing else, you learn how to swing a hammer after 5 years of architecture classes.
  8. The final icon is a box… or a Rubik’s cube. My guess is either Package Design, Industrial Design, or that your diploma will qualify you to work for U-Haul.

Seriously, how do these cheesy circles of clip art help reinforce the message that Pratt will provide a superior art/design education? If I had seen this ad as a junior in high school, I would have thought Pratt was a joke. It really is embarrassing as an alumni, because I would think that the quality of education in the graphic design/advertising departments is as good, or better, as it was when I was there. How could they let this ad represent their department or their school? I’m going to try and be a little optimistic and hope that this was simply the best entry in a student design competition, and they were bound by the contest rules to publish the winning entry. Yuck.