By now, we’ve all seen the replays and read the analysis, breaking down how Warren Beatty could have gotten the wrong envelope for Best Picture. But something else could’ve prevented the biggest screw-up in Oscar history. If the card inside the envelope were clearer–if it had proper typography and a logical information hierarchy, rather than a wall of monotonous text–Beatty (or any person) would have caught the mistake.
The existing card is a mess. Designed by PricewaterhouseCoopers–the accounting firm that keeps the winners secret–it’s topped by the Oscars logo, which is a superfluous waste of space. It’s the biggest element on the page! The winner is listed below, centered and in quotes. That’s not terrible, but it’s a little too subtle, especially as the winner is the same size and weight as a long list of names that follows. And the category–like Best Picture–is listed in tiny type at the bottom. You’d probably have to squint to see this important piece of information.
In the update, all of these shortcomings are addressed.
First, you’ll see he placed the category up top, in long lean sans-serif letters. “Putting the category in large type at the top assures the presenter they have the correct card, and cues them up to what they’re going to say,” says Jameson. “But the category type is lighter weight, so even though it’s larger, it doesn’t steal any thunder from the winner’s name, which is bolder than anything else on the card.”
As for the winner, that text is almost unchanged. He simply bolded it. But to make it even more prominent, he also uncapitalized all the names beneath it, ensuring there’s less of a chance to blend the two as one block of text.
Finally, he moved the Oscars logo to the bottom and shrunk it down. “I hate unnecessary logo placement,” he says, “and this one was taking up valuable real estate on the card.”
Glance at the before and after, and there’s no question: These changes make the results clear as day–and more importantly, obvious if you’d been handed the wrong card. While it may seem like we’re all overthinking this a bit–sure, maybe we are–the Academy Awards illustrate how subtle design changes can help prevent a very specific human error.
“The people reading these cards are sometimes older, they’ve probably been drinking, and they’re in the spotlight in front of their peers delivering some of the most important industry information of the year—these cards should be bulletproof,” says Jameson. Exactly. And as we now know, if someone makes a mistake, absolutely everyone will notice.