Do you even read the copy they send you? Do you know what you’re designing around? We’ll assume you do, because you should.


Being the person I am, I find it hard to look past mistakes coming from clients. Now, it does matter what role that person plays within the client’s company, but generally, they are in the role of a professional adult. The way I see it, there is really no excuse for some of the mistakes I have seen. That said, there are also some things that happen in typography and spelling that are more excusable than others. Take for instance: British vs. American spellings, the use of alternative spellings of words, and especially the proper usage of dashes.

First though, it is my belief that no misspelling should be left in copy that will be sent back to a client, no matter who’s fault it is originally. As a designer, you are expected to catch mistakes and correct them. There is always the danger of making your client feel uncomfortable if they notice that you corrected their spelling or grammar, but they will thank you in the end – if not so verbally. In any case, if the copy has been rewritten at all – not including minor spelling fixes – the client should be notified.

Second: in the instance the client uses a word that has an alternate spelling. For example: they spell it cooperative though it could also be spelled co-operative. Always go with what they write first, even if you prefer the other spelling. If there is no reason to change it, don’t.

Third: context. A while ago, we were asked to lay out a several page document that was written by an English copywriter, about an English partner, but for an American company and intended for international distribution. (This was tricky as we are American and we feel that some words should be spelled certain ways). This is a grey area with many different variables. Some companies would write different versions of this publication so that it appealed to many different regions, some would just pick one. I believe we ended up going with an American spelling because the parent company – who was distributing the publication – is American, and the publication was intended as an example of services of this American company worldwide. However, if the document was predominantly going to be distributed or angled within the UK, we would have used the British spelling.

Now finally, one of my personal pet peeves, the proper usage of dashes and hyphens. According to wikipedia there are several different types of horizontal (and nearly) lines used in typography, however, you can read that at your own leisure. I will try to explain only the hyphen, the en dash, the em dash here.The Hyphen (-)The hyphen is predominantly used to separate single words into parts or to join multiple words into one. There are many “manuals of style” out there and they all have differing opinions as to the “proper usage,” but this is the most pared down explanation I can find. I limit the use of the hyphen character to this.It is important to note at this point that using a double hyphen (–) is wrong and looks bad. It has been carried over from typewriter days to denote the lacking em dash. Another grave misuse carried over from typewriter days is the double-space after the end of a sentence, but I’ll cover that in another post.

The En Dash (–)‘The en dash is used instead of a hyphen in compound adjectives for which neither part of the adjective modifies the other; that is, when each is modifying the noun.’ (wikipedia) For example Anglo–Saxon War uses an en dash, while award-winning novel uses a hyphen because “award” modifies “winning.” En dashes can also be used to set apart a piece of a sentence – like this – in place of an em dash, but must have spaces on either side.The Em Dash (—)Em dashes are often used to demarcate a section of a sentence when intended to create a more dramatic break than is connoted by a parenthesis and either have no space on either side (American) or have a space on either side (British).

There are many other instances when each of these are used and many different types of dashes and bars. To read an extensive account and subsequently scramble your brain, look it up “dash” on Wikipedia or read their house usage rules. According to what I have seen over the last few years, these basic definitions should clarify most of the mis-usages that commonly occur.