Special Delivery: U.S. Postal Service Passes Legibility Test

I greeted last week’s announcement of the cessation of Saturday services for the United States Postal Service with mixed emotions. It would be altruistic of me to claim this was only due to concern for the myriad workers that would are being displaced, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. Rather, there were selfish reasons as well: I now have one less day to claim the check in the mail. And like many others’ concerns, how can I plan Saturday movie night without a Netflix delivery?

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Yet another victim of 21st Century technology is claimed. The change is understandable considering the last time I wrote or received a handwritten letter. Still, the much-maligned USPS often doesn’t receive enough credit. Living up to its edict “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Some managed to delivery the mail the morning after Hurricane Sandy ravaged my beleaguered coastal area of New Jersey. And for a book guy like me, you still can’t beat the cost of media mail.

For several semesters at the School of Visual Arts, I took the post office to task. I asked every student to mail me a letter and to make the address as illegible as possible and yet still be able to be delivered by the post office. I also instructed them to make the return address perfectly legible so that they would be returned to the students. After these envelopes were returned, I originally anticipated having a long discussion on how form follows function and the importance of legibility within a specific context. However, the post office did not cooperate. They made every attempt to deliver the mail, beyond all expectations. They went so far as to color in with markers, colored pencils and graphite areas that were nearly impossible to read. They interpreted the undecipherable, decoded the unintelligible, analyzed the unrecognizable and delivered the mail. True to their motto, they employed unconventional techniques to reach their goals. The classroom discussions became one of simple amazement and appreciation of the lengths a bureaucracy was willing to go to complete their job and serve the public. It forced us to reevaluate exactly what legibility is.

The following are the actual envelopes exactly as they arrived (or in a few cases—didn’t). I have removed the return addresses and for the record, my studio is no longer at the New York address shown, if you can decipher it.

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