The Breakfast Table

Euro No Good


Your comment on Chicago fashion is delightful and gives me license to move from the Times’ news section to the features–particularly Thursday’s House & Home section. If you’re not familiar with it, I strongly recommend Phil Patton’s weeklyl “Public Eye” column. Patton analyzes the myths and provenances of the artifacts of daily life–a fancy way of saying that he writes about carry-on luggage (and how it’s being designed to fit the smaller dimensions now enforced by airlines); about the Sony Nightshot video camera (and its reputation for being able to see under garments); about the dematerialization of electronic technology (notice how tiny and thin computers are getting?); and about the clothes these devices wear (the leather case designed for the Palm Pilot, for instance).

Today, Patton criticizes the euro symbol as being overdesigned. A stylized “e” calculated to evoke the epsilon of the Greeks, this glyph is almost untranslatable to computer screens, though all euro transactions at this point are electronic. But that’s not what really bugs Patton. Marks denoting currency, he says, have evolved through long use and “a complex interplay with language.” The word “sawbuck,” for instance comes from the Roman number “X” on old $10 bills, and the British pound symbol is the “L” of Libra, or scales. The precisely designed euro glyph, Patton charges, is closer to the spirit of abstract logos for a company “that comes out of some megamerger or corporate reinvention–a Lucent or Unisys–the logo of euro land.”

As a design editor, I am cheered to see penetrating commentary on aspects of culture that have been overlooked or at best seen as window dressing.