If You Can Read This, You’re Hired

Typically, recruitment advertising is not exciting or groundbreaking. It doesn’t usually win awards or grace the pages of fat design annuals. The Sunday classifieds are full of boring “help wanted” pleas packed into dense columns of text. Hiring managers with money to burn will pop for the occasional display ad if the gig is worthy, but the layout is usually less than stellar.

Rather than rely on traditional recruiting methods, two British creatives took a radical approach to finding a new hire. In dire need of an expert typographer, Daryl Corps and Ben Kay, creative directors at London’s Lunar BBDO, crafted a series of ads they hoped would attract an alphabetic ace.

Using a contemporary color palette and referencing the graphic styles of Jan Tschichold, Josef Muller-Brockmann, and the Bauhaus school, Corps and Kay crossed the chasm into true type geekery: They set the text of their ads entirely in dingbats (Figure 1).

Figure 1. This want ad might catch your eye, but could you understand it? Click on the image for a larger version.

“It seemed appropriate that we should make the ad type-based, so we asked ourselves what would appeal to the best typographers in the world,” says Kay, the writing half of the team. “What would make them think that Lunar BBDO was a good place to work? If we spoke to them in their language of typography and design, the right person would find us.”

Corps and Kay intended their ads to be fun but difficult to decipher. Rather than stick to a single picture font, they upped the ante and used Webdings, Wingdings, and Zapf Dingbats for the series (Figure 2). Although illegible to the average reader, Corps and Kay reasoned that text set in non-letter forms would attract the attention of the typographically obsessed. Those up to the challenge of decoding the message would find the information necessary to apply for a dream job with Lunar, an agency that cares deeply about typography.

Figure 2. More mysterious still! Click on the image for a larger version.

“We love type as another element in an ad. Having worked under art direction geniuses like Dave Dye and Paul Belford, we’ve always appreciated the difference a good typeface can make and the obsession that comes with making it work,” Kay says.

“Good typography is such a fundamental part of making ads,” says art director Corps. “Good typography for me is two things: a way of clearly communicating information, and, at the same time, helping the tone of what you are communicating. And, in a strange way, the ads do exactly that. We chose typefaces designers recognized, and only the diehard would work out what we were communicating.”

Corps and Kay placed their help-wanted ads in local design schools and in typographic publications (Figure 3). Their efforts paid off — they received close to thirty replies when the ads first launched. The campaign shortened the search process, Kay says, and they quickly found their typographic soul mate.

Figure 3. This one is obvious, of course. Click on the image for a larger version.

For information on deciphering all three want ads shown in this article, see below.

The international design press picked up on the unorthodox strategy, and the creative blogosphere has been abuzz with news of their clever campaign. Corps and Kay continue to get inquiries about opportunities with Lunar.

“We did get one guy who was a bit too obsessive, even for us,” Kay says. “He had created his own typeface out of bits of meat, like liver and kidneys, which looked good, but was a bit much for us.”

In Good Company
The Lunar creatives weren’t the first to set critical text in dingbats. Design rule breaker David Carson printed an entire interview with musician Brian Ferry in Zapf Dingbats in a 1994 issue of Ray Gun magazine. Although there has been speculation that the dingbat article was merely the result of an error in the production phase, Lewis Blackwell’s 20th-Century Type states that the use of unreadable icons was “Carson’s reaction to the dull text.”

Regardless of intent, such experimentation is often subject to harsh scrutiny. Carson has been alternately praised and castigated for his then-radical approach to design. Kay and Corps encountered a bit of skepticism when they unveiled their concept.

“A few peers thought it wasn’t worthwhile,” Corps says. “I think we proved them wrong.”

“I got about twenty emails from random people after it appeared all saying they wished they’d done it,” says Kay.

Kay and Corps are no strangers to unique typographic and visual solutions. In 2005, Guinness revived its “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait” tagline. To reintroduce the slogan to Guinness drinkers in the trenches, Kay and Corps worked with creative director Paul Brazier to develop a promotional piece. They designed a typographic coaster featuring seemingly meaningless curved lettering reversed out of a black background. Once the dark stout was poured into a glass placed on the special coaster, the message became clear to the Guinness drinker (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Lunar BBDO’s typographic creativity shines in this subtle promotional campaign for Guinness. Creative direction by Paul Brazier with Ben Kay (copywriter) and Daryl Corps (art director).

An award-winning 2006-2007 print and broadcast campaign for Samaritans, a non-profit emotional support organization in the United Kingdom, features a series of intricate animated doodles representing the maze of thoughts in the human mind (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Lunar BBDO’s Winter Campaign 2006-2007 for the non-profit Samaritans organization. The doodle concept was chosen by members of the campaign’s target audience — young people. Creative direction by Ben Kay (copywriter) and Daryl Corps (art director). Click on the image for a larger version.

A 2006 poster for Southwark Council is another strongly iconic project. A recycling symbol represents a Christmas tree in a campaign designed to encourage citizens to recycle their trees after the holidays (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Lunar BBDO’s clean iconic poster promotes the post-holiday recycling of Christmas trees to Southwark Council residents. Kay and Corps were creative directors on this project.

The duo’s work for The Economist is strongly typographic and displays their trademark whimsy (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Lunar BBDO’s award-winning work for The Economist. Creative direction by Paul Brazier with Ben Kay (copywriter) and Daryl Corps (art director). Click on the image for a larger version.

As Lunar is a small agency where the players wear many hats, Corps and Kay often work across a variety of media. When asked if they prefer print or motion, Kay says, “Whatever makes the best solution to the brief. I’ll paint the ad on a pig and set it loose in Trafalgar Square if that helps. Is that print or motion?”

Thank You for Playing
When this article debuted on creativepro.com, we invited readers to send us their translations of the want ads. The first 50 to respond with correct translations won a 1-year subscription ($59 value) to InDesign Magazine.

To see the keys to deciphering the want ads and the list of winners, go to A Mystery Revealed.


Posted on: March 19, 2007

4 Comments on If You Can Read This, You’re Hired

  1. It’s great seeing a design shop reach back to the Bauhaus years and resurrect the great typography. J. Muller-Brockmann’s “Gestaltungsprobleme des Grafikers” is one of my favorite works on the subject. Excellent article — more of them, please! Also, revisit El Lissitzky and Rodchenko.

  2. Great to read about intelligent design which respects the wonders and beauty of type.

  3. I instantly recognized the Tschichold, and Bayer influences. Additionally, my first impression of any use of Dingbat type is subversive messaging. I am a budding designer, and would hardly describe myself as a “type geek”. I merely wish to point out that any designer with even a basic education of design history and typography would identify what’s going on here, it’s whether or not that designer wants to jump through an ad agencies hoops. Brilliant work by Lunar, though – as per usual.

  4. Love the Guiness one – but no i can’t read the first one. I’m not sured I guess! Hah. (I also love the typography of this comment box).
    Chicago Graphic Design Company

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