8 1/2 x 11 inches. I've been avoiding this format all my life. At my first job in New York, we used European-sized stationery. It caused no end of complications, but my (European-born) boss was dedicated to it. "Don't you see?" he asked. "It's so much more elegant." And logical, too: the ISO system is modular, all based on consistent ratios, the square root of two, the Golden Section. Our 8 1/2 x 11 size is based on...well, what, exactly?
I came to see A4 stationery — 210 x 297 millimeters, or very roughly 8 1/4 x 11 1/2 — as sleek, refined, designed. 8 1/2 x 11, on the other hand, started to look lumpy, banal and bureaucratic. It was like the difference between a Lamborghini and a Ford Pinto. And how many times did I get briefs from clients that included that horrible specification? Sales brochures, art catalogues, magazines, newsletters. We're planning to make this 8 1/2 x 11, okay? Sigh. I would do anything to sidestep the inevitable: a little taller, a little shorter, a little skinnier, a little wider.
Now I see I was wrong all along. The student designers of the 2006 MFA Thesis Show of the Yale School of Art Graphic Design Program have covered the three floors of their exhibition space at 1156 Chapel Street in New Haven with images of their work tiled on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Over 10,000 pieces of it, all lovingly taped together on the floors, the walls, and up to the ceilings. Yale faculty advisor Dan Michaelson describes the 8 1/2 x 11 format as "a metaphor for the comp, the rough draft, the transmitted document, the electronic screen and the time-based process of the installation."
You may accept 10,000 pieces of tiled 8 1/2 x 11 sheets as metaphor. Or, perhaps, mania. Either way, between now and May 24, an unpreposessing bit player in our every day graphic lives is experiencing its apotheosis, and — in my eyes at least — its unexpected redemption. I love 8 1/2 x 11!