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Bad Typography Leads to Embarrassing Mistake at The Oscars

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Oscars mishap in which La La Land was mistakenly announced for the Best Picture award instead of Moonlight. If you aren’t aware of the full story, here are the basics of what happened:

Oscars Awards

Earlier in the Oscars award show, Emma Stone won an award for Best Actress for her role in La La Land. When the Best Picture winner was to be announced, the announcer, Warren Beatty, was handed the backup envelope for that same Best Actress award instead of the Best Picture envelope. Warren Beatty was clearly confused to see the card for Best Picture say “Emma Stone” and even showed the card to his co-announcer, Faye Dunaway, to seemingly show her he wasn’t playing around by not announcing what was printed on the card. Rather than question the card, Dunaway took one look at the card, saw “Emma Stone” (that particular card’s winner) and “La La Land” printed beneath her name and announced La La Land as the winner.

While this embarrassing mishap occurred due to the wrong card being handed to Warren, we and other designers believe this embarrassment could have been prevented with a bulletproof design that would have made Faye Dunaway think twice before announcing the wrong winner.

What’s Wrong with the Current Design?

Best Film Card Oscars

The main issue with the Oscar awards cards is the typography and lack of informational hierarchy. Since all the announcer needs to know is the winner, that piece of information should stand out as the first thing they see.

  • Logo– As we can see on the “Moonlight” card, the Oscars logo appears to be the most important information. It’s the first and biggest thing printed on the card. If you are at the Oscars and are reading off the results of an Oscars award, you don’t need the Oscars logo to be the first thing you see. You know where you are.
  • Winner and Secondary Line– The winner of the category is the same size font and style as the text below, which includes the name of the people involved, or in Emma Stone’s case, the title of the movie.
  • Category– The category of the award is in small print and at the very bottom of the card, as if that bit weren’t important.

How Would We Fix It?

With some basic typography changes and rearranging of the information to be properly represented based on hierarchy, the award announcers would have quickly understood what they were holding: the wrong card.

  • Category– Rather than have the Oscars logo be the largest, most prominent thing on the card, the most logical piece of information to include in its place is the category of the award. That alone could have made the announcers realize they had the wrong card in hand.
  • Winner– Bold the winner of the category to make it stand out from the rest of the text. La La Land was read as the winner, but it wasn’t even the winner of the card that was read out; Emma Stone was.
  • Secondary Line– Make the names or movie title below the winner not as prominent as they are. In the current design, it is in all caps, making it seem just as important as the winner above. That second line should either be reduced to lowercase letters, be put in parenthesis, or even made in much smaller text––anything to keep that line from being read out loud as La La Land was.
  • Logo– Since the Oscars logo should still be included on the card for the sake of the winner keeping that card, our first change would be to make the logo much smaller and likely at the bottom of the card where it would be out of the way from the important information.
  • How These Changes Would Have Helped

    We believe that had Warren Beatty been handed a properly designed card, he’d have noticed the card he held was for Best Actress, not Best Picture. So rather than announce the wrong winner, either Beatty or Dunaway would have realized the card was for the wrong category and asked for the right card to be given to them.

    Typography is important and can either prevent or cause human error. As the producers of the Oscars are sure to keep in mind for next year, a few simple design changes could have saved them from horrible embarrassment.

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