I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a fair share of concerts in my time on this planet, and this means I’ve been unfortunate enough to behold a fair share of concert programs. Excepting only the fanciest paid events, most follow the same awful typographic rhythm. Titles aligned left, usually in bold. Composer aligned right, in bold if the title wasn’t. (Sometimes a dotted line connecting the two.) Performer centered underneath, usually in italics. Everything in Times New Roman.

I don’t know where this virus began, but it has infected our musical culture thoroughly, reaching even the tiniest chapels of a small town in Oregon where I miserably was compelled to perform in recitals starting at age five. Even major cities are not immune. I’ve seen programs designed like this in Portland, Chicago, D.C., San Diego, New York City…though honestly, it is so prevalent that I never really saw it.

Until today. Today I went to a concert at Yale University. My friend was running late and texted me to see how much music would be played after the intermission, in case the traffic jam let up by then. I scanned over the program, then scrutinized it…


…and helplessly texted back that perhaps there was typo, because it looked like there would be two talks after the intermission (“remarks” and some announcements of pieces to be played at a university reunion??).

It turns out it was a design problem.

After sitting through the remarks by Ms. Chambers, which turned out to be summarized by the text in the program, Yale alumni came onstage, a bunch of guys in their sixties and seventies who didn’t look like they had much swing in them. They were the Reunion Jazz Ensemble, and would be announcing what they were going to play on the fly. The group then proceeded to knock our socks off with a sparkling rendition of “Take the A Train.” A whole fantastic series of pieces followed.

I felt sorry for the people who misread the program (like I had) and left during the intermission. They missed out on the best performances—these guys were jammin’ and looking like they were having a blast. SO much so that I wished writing or graphic design could be like that—I then started imagining what it’d be like to gather the world’s best designers and watch them jam on a layout…

Anyway, there was obviously a design problem with the concert program. I started sketching out an alternative layout, on the back of the program. After getting back to my desk, I threw it into my computer. Here’s what I made:

Screenshot 2018-04-08 22.28.04.png

It’s a quick draft and could use some improvements. (And there are many other solutions possible.) But for demo purposes (and my personal relief from the visual contamination of centered Times New Romaned concert programs infiltrating our cultural experiences), it’s already clearer than the original and feels more Yale-ish. (Though I’m not using the official Yale typeface, designed by Matthew Carter, which is to be used for official Yale documents only.) Note that I recropped the photo, and rewrote the description for the Reunion Jazz Ensemble. Sometimes being concise, paired with a logical rhythm in the layout, makes clearer communication.

So please, if you ever get the chance to design a concert program, fight the disease. I’ve noticed that a lot of silvery-haired people attend concerts that provide programs. Be considerate of aging eyes—use clear typography, and make the program easy to navigate.

And, for everyone’s sake, make the intermission absolutely obvious.