Erin McKean Wants To Probe Your Lobe

Erin McKean, who is known as America’s Lexicographical Sweetheart, and who is now the official UnBeige Lexicographical Sweetheart, was looking especially sweetheartish in a plaid Donna Reed dress and a cute yellow cardigan when she presented at the Art Center design conference.

She’s editor-in-chief of the Oxford University Press dictionary, which you can find here. There’s no online equivalent, but if you buy the book it includes a downloadable version for your PDA. McKean pointed out the lack of innovation in dictionary design, something that has given her lexicographical nightmares for years. The illustrations have become simplified and dull, the entries are typographically uninspired and, of course, no online presence. She wants people to embrace the process of finding, learning and checking the words that they use daily. She wants people to say “I love using the dictionary.” She points to Le Petit Larousse, a gorgeous illustrated multimedia French dictionary as something to aspire to. You can probably see where this is going, so we’ll just come out with it.

She wants you to redesign the dictionary.

Give it some thought. Maybe you already have some ideas. Mock up a few entries. Tell Maira Kalman. Assign it to your students. Help this fine, funny woman to create the definitive reference companion that’s exactly that–a companion, not a cold, rigid reference tool. You can email her at dictionaries (at) She answers every piece of mail she receives.

Hockenberry Q&A: A question from the audience claimed that designers need more words to describe what they do. (Yes! We say that all the time!) They proposed the word “productize,” which we’ll create the definition for now:

productize verb 1. the process of taking an idea from concept to market.

How does a word like this get into the dictionary? McKean says she wants to see the word in the wild. So, please, help us set productize free. There it goes…see you in the dictionary, productize!