2012 WonderMark Awards

WonderMark logoWonderMark Awards are given for the least usable documents. The sort of documents that make us shake our heads and say: “We wonder what they meant. We wonder what they were thinking.”

2012 Grand WonderMark Award Recipient

The Columbia Bank — Merchant Agreement

What made it a WonderMark Award recipient?

  • 7 page, single-space agreement
  • Poorly written in legalese
  • Font was nearly impossible to read
  • No-one [from submitter's non-profit group] wanted to take the time or spend the energy to examine the agreement closely enough to be comfortable signing it
  • Was so difficult to understand and raised so many questions that [the non-profit] organization decided not to try to get a merchant account after all
  • As a result, the bank lost [the organization's] business.

Other WonderMark Award Recipients

In addition to the Grand WonderMark Award recipient, other WonderMark Award recipients include:

  • General Services Administration (DC) — Federal Acquisition Regulations
    The text is extremely dense and unnecessarily circular. The unnecessary circularity conceals, or almost conceals the fact that the regulations appear to give super power to the regulator. The circularity in the regulation allows that oddity to exist.
  • White Lake Township (MI) Schools — Speed Limit Sign
    This speed limit sign lists six different time zones where the driver’s speed should be no more than 25 mph. If you want to make your school zone safe, it’s probably best not to create a sign that takes longer to read then safely driving past it. In addition, it requires drivers to check their watches to see if they are complying with the complicated time specifications.
  • Walgreen’s Pharmacy (Chicago) — Drug Information Brochure
    A lack of white space and dense almost overlapping type makes this brochure challenging to read. The design creates the impression that the people writing it don’t want it to be a tool for real customers but rather that it’s a disclaimer that protects them from being liable if anything goes wrong.
  • Washington Metro Authority (DC) — Metro Bus sign
    This Metro bus sign is confusing because it uses the words “alight only.” These words are very uncommon in English and are more likely to describe starting a fire than to provide information to Metro customers.
  • The Commonwealth of Virginia, Fairfax County Court Circuit — Divorce Forms and Instructions brochure
    A word to the wise, try to avoid getting divorced in the Commonwealth of Virginia especially if you intend to read their “helpful” divorce brochure–partially produced with help from the Fairfax County Bar. The 69-page brochure and use of Latin words ensures that you will need a lawyer if you want to get divorced in VA—or even if you just want to read the divorce brochure.

WonderMark Judges

The judges for the 2011 WonderMark Awards are:

  • John Bosley, Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Annetta Cheek, Center for Plain Language
  • Josiah Fisk, More Carrot
  • William Ryan, Dept of Homeland Security
  • Doris Wojnarowski, Department of Homeland Security

Center for Plain Language (centerforplainlanguage.org)


Printed April 17, 2014


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