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New Work: ‘Coyote v. Acme’

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In his never-ending quest to capture the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote has been a faithful customer of the Acme Company, whose products—Spherical Bombs, Rocket Skates, Spring-Powered Shoes—invariably fail him at the worst possible time. Pentagram’s Daniel Weil has reimagined designs for five of these gadgets, rendered as a series of highly detailed technical diagrams. The drawings were inspired by Ian Frazier’s classic humor essay Coyote v. Acme and accompany a republishing of the article for Pentagram’s annual holiday card.

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Originally published in The New Yorker, Coyote v. Acme presents the opening statements of an imaginary lawsuit by Coyote against Acme for his personal injuries caused by the faulty devices, citing 85 occasions in which they “did cause him bodily injury due to defects in manufacture or improper cautionary labeling.” Our holiday greeting reprints Frazier’s essay as a mini legal brief with Weil’s drawings presented as supporting evidence. Weil carefully considered the design of each cartoon product, making sure the contraptions would functionally work.

So who is at fault, Coyote or Acme? Even when pressing his case, Coyote can’t seem to cut a break. Weil’s designs for the gadgets undermine Coyote’s legal claims with special safety features like “screw-in detonator” for the Spherical Bomb and a “weighted armor jacket” to be worn with the Rocket Skates. The look of the diagrams is inspired by the photo-realistic illustrations of the McMaster-Carr hardware catalog. But Wile E. skims over the fine print. As Weil tells Wired Design in a post about the project, “The Coyote, like most males, never reads the instructions.”

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Designed by Michael Bierut and Jesse Reed, the Coyote v. Acme holiday book has a proper legal blue back linen-mounted cover with brass loop stitching, and the text is set in the typewriter-like font Pitch. The designers also created an “official” Acme Company emblem that was applied to lab coats for a special reading at a private reception in New York in December.

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Pentagram Project Team
Product design: Daniel Weil, partner-in-charge and designer. Illustrations by Simon Denzel.
Book design: Michael Bierut, partner-in-charge and designer; Jesse Reed, designer.
Coyote v. Acme © Ian Frazier. First published in The New Yorker, February 26, 1990.