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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

For Fax Sake

Bruce Schneier’s article about the odd/archaic practice of fax signatures reminded me of something that happened in the early days of setting up my own business.

I needed a few bits and pieces of stationery and so posted (this was 1995) an order to a popular supplier. A few days later I got a phone call from them; here’s an abridged version of how it went:

“We need a faxed letterhead from you.”

“Huh? What for?”

“To prove you’re a business before giving you credit.”

“Well I could send a cheque, it’s fine, I really don’t need credit…”

“No, we have to invoice you then you pay within 30 days.”

“So let me get this straight, I can’t give you money up front, but if I fax you something with my contact details and a logo then it proves I’m legit and I get to order a load of stuff?”


Once past the initial confusion, I’d opened up a graphics package and started laying out my address and phone number while continuing to talk (clarifying details, confirming the order, etc.). By the time we’d covered everything there was even a crappy logo.

“No problem, I’ll fax it through as soon as I hang up.”

We ended the conversation, I clicked a button to send the ‘letterhead’ through my fax modem (possibly the only time its fax feature was used), and they dispatched the goods the next day. As well as being a lesson in the craziness of what can pass for an authoritative document, it was also an introduction to the unhealthily strong assumption that businesses should pay each other weeks or months after the delivery of goods/services.


When I worked for a charity (around 1999) one of my many jobs was to gather up the collecting tins that various shops held for us. When collecting them, I was supposed to wear a badge and a few shop keepers did phone the charity to make sure I was legit when I forgot it.

The thing was, I made the badge. Using my disasterous design skills, a magnificent free-with-the-PC Epson inkjet and a piece of card. So when I wore it, I rather didn't see the point, especially as it didn't match the designs on the tins until I'd got around to replacing all of those.

Still, it made people feel like I actually had the authority I did indeed have, which was nice.

Paul Silver, 6th Oct, 2:01pm

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