Airmail Thesis Week 7

Through the process of researching I think some of the most interesting stories come from mistakes. Why? Because that shows evidence of human interaction, and it's not the error part I am focusing on as much as the human part. One of these such examples come from the classic inverted Jenny stamp. 

The year is 1918. The USPS is trying to build hype (and revenue) for their fledgling airmail service and of course the philatelists (that's the formal name for stamp enthusiasts) are all over creating a stamp in commemoration to this glorious airborne event. Sounds great right? Well there was a minor glitch or rather misprint in the plan. These special stamps use a two color printing technique where after the red is printed, the printer had to manually reinsert the page in order to apply the blue ink. This is where the snafu occurred. A sheet of 100 stamps were released into the public before realizing that the Curtiss JN-4H Jenny biplane was printed upside down.

I like this story because it is a direct example of how graphic design was used to help promote the airmail system. Which is always a cool connection to find since, well, I am a graphic designer. But it is also pretty interesting that one of the reasons this mistake occurred was because the Washington, DC, Post Office clerk who sold the stamps did so partially because he had never seen an airplane before. I think that is a beautiful moment to dwell on for a second. People make mistakes (yes it happens daily, and sometimes it goes down as one of the greatest philatelic treasures in U.S history was released into the world.) But as designers we are asked to make work that alleviates mistakes by providing information (knowledge) in the most strategically appropriate and understandable way. This leads me back to why I am spending time on the topic of airmail at all for my thesis. Through this exploration of a subject that isn't obviously related to graphic design, I am finding ways to tie it back together, rearrange it, and send it back out to people in a way that makes them think about a subject differently. At least that is my goal.

In the mean time I am just hoping that I don't make a printing mistake like that for my thesis exhibition.

Danielle Williams