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Comments (43) Posted 11.14.06 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Adrian Shaughnessy


Spin, spread from 50 Reading Lists, 2006

Lists appeal to the fetishistic instincts found in many graphic designers. Hardly surprising since the typographic rendering of a list is one of the first skills the young designer learns: or certainly amongst the first obstacles that cause the tyro designer to think that perhaps typography isn't the cinch it first appeared to be. Anyone who can make a list look good - and make it look intelligible - won't ever go hungry from lack of work. Designing tabular information is a fundamental of typographic skill. A graphic design staple.

About the same time that student designers confront the challenge of making typographic lists look superior to handwritten shopping lists, they also become acquainted with another graphic design staple, the reading list. The English design group Spin has just produced a publication called 50 Reading Lists, which allows the reader the double pleasure of admiring the handsome presentation of 50 lists, as well as the chance to study the reading habits of 50 graphic designers.

Spin is run by designer Tony Brook, a collector of posters and books from the golden age of Modernism. His enthusiasm for the period can be seen in his studio's work. In an introduction to 50 Reading Lists, Brook notes that when he began his design education he was given a reading list: "The recommended books covered many important subjects — Art, Architecture, and Photography — everything but Graphic Design, which simply didn't feature." Today's graphic design student is unlikely to encounter such an omission. Graphic design books are only slightly less plentiful than celebrity diet books. The problem now is deciding which books are worth reading.

Brook asked his 50 contributors the same question: "What are the top ten books that you believe designers should read? They don't necessarily have to be about Graphic Design..." The contributors come mostly from the sharp end of the British design scene: Ian Anderson (Designers Republic); Jonathan Ellery (Browns); Michael C Place (Build); Mark Farrow (Farrow Design); Daniel Eatock. A few Europeans make the cut: Experimental Jetset; Karl Gerstner; Wolfgang Weingart; Wim Crouwel. American-based designers are thin on the ground. Brook invited a number of US practitioners to take part, but only Bill Cahan, Allen Hori and the peripatetic Gelman responded. Cahan is also the only contributor not to submit a listing. Brook prints Cahan's explanation: "This is going to sound awful, but I stay away from reading any journals about design. I find that I am so immersed in the design experience every day that I don't have the energy to work more by reading about what I am for me it's a random experience picking up art books, going to museums, talking to people, quirky articles. It's just a more organic process so maybe I am just a really lazy person...not sure but I hope this response is ok."

Cahan's reply reminds me that until recently it was fashionable to hear designers say in interviews that they "never look at design magazines or books." I always found this dubious. I'm sure occasionally it was the truth, but mostly it felt like aloofness, a desire to be seen to be above the fray, a declaration about imperviousness to influences. You don't find it so often now. Citing influences has become fashionable again.

Cahan aside, there is no coyness amongst Brook's contributors. The selections make interesting reading and provide a snapshot of current design thinking amongst an admittedly specific group of practitioners. The overriding bias is towards the defining texts of Modernism. There is a preponderance of books by and about Josef Mülller-Brockmann, Wolfgang Weingart, Wim Crouwel, Emil Ruder, Otl Aicher, Karl Gerstner and anything to do with grids.

The late Alan Fletcher includes his own book, The Art of Looking Sideways ("...because it contains fifty years worth of my own reading lists"). Paul Elliman chooses "The newspaper" and "The radio." Ed Ruscha seems to be the modern designer's favourite artist. Books by contemporary designers such as Stephan Sagmeister, Bruce Mau and Peter Saville make only fleeting appearances, and no one mentions David Carson or Neville Brody.

Design books predominate, but there is a healthy quota of non-design titles. The works of John Berger are prevalent, as are the writings of Malcolm Gladwell. Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge make unexpected appearances, and there are some endearingly eccentric selections such as Michael Place's naming of Incredible Cross-sections: The Ultimate Guide to Star Wars Vehicles and Spacecraft and Peter Saville's inclusion of Marquis De Sade: A Life.

There are no books on the hot design topics of the day — nothing on digital and electronic design (except a solitary entry for John Maeda); nothing on branding and hardly anything on advertising. Still less on green issues and not much that is overtly political. Not even Naomi Klein shows up.

What would an educated, disinterested observer make of these lists? Would they conclude that designers are craft-obsessed introverts with not much interest in the world beyond the hidden power of grid systems and typographic nuance? Would they see a group fixated with ideas rooted in the pre-commercial era of Modernist idealism? The selection of reading matter is of course mediated by Brook's choice of contributors. He hasn't strayed outside of a group of independent designers most of whom are engaged in cultural work. You can't help wondering what someone from the world of corporate or branding design might have chosen? My guess is that the list wouldn't be much different.

By way of full disclosure, I should mention that I am one of the 50 designers invited to take part. Looking at my list, I see that I slot into the same readily identifiable profile as most of my co-contributors. Now that I've seen everyone else's selections, I'd like to re-do my own. Next time I'd be tempted to include one of the choices of another contributor, the creative director Brett Foraker. He chose an A5 blank cartridge notebook.
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Comments (43)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

You alluded to it in the second to last paragraph, but perhaps the question should not be formed around the responses, but of who was aked. No offense to you, Adrian, but it would be very interesting to see what the reponses are from those not at the top of the field (even in the particular sector of independent/cultural designers as you mention). I assume that those at the top (which I think we can agree are those included in this list) are no longer "the next generation" of designers — their insights at best probably describe today 5-15 years into the short past and 5-15 years into the short future. It would be more interesting, perhaps, to ask of each firm's junior designers what they are reading. This may in fact give us an idea of where we are headed (if we're in fact "moving" anywhere) rather than where we are currently.
Derrick Schultz
11.14.06 at 11:40

that's a very good point, but we don't read!
Agata Wycichowska
11.14.06 at 01:22

Would you ever knowingly consult with a doctor who told you that he never read the literature of his own field, or only read the old stuff?
Lorraine Wild
11.14.06 at 02:39

Adrian -- It's good that were able to respond without knowing the other responses. If you present your list just to balance or complement the others -- it perhaps isn't a reflection of how you feel. Actually, it would be interesting, come to think of it, if there WERE two lists. The first list you make as you make in a bubble, the second list you make after reading everyone else's list.
11.14.06 at 03:16

Elements of Typographic Style
Thinking with Type
CSS Mastery
Don't Make Me Think
Jay Larson
11.14.06 at 03:55

I'll have to agree with Lorraine Wild, "Would you ever knowingly consult with a doctor who told you that he never read the literature of his own field, or only read the old stuff?"

Why should this blog exist if we do not need to read something about our industry everyday?

In the top 10 I'd like to submit:
A History of Graphic Design - Philip Meggs
the Looking Closer, Classical Writings on Graphic Design series
11.14.06 at 05:00

"Would you ever knowingly consult with a doctor who told you that he never read the literature of his own field, or only read the old stuff?"

True... but I think that this condition actually reveals more about the poor state of the literature of this field than the designers.
Francis Louis
11.14.06 at 06:28

Thanks Lorraine for reminding us that brevity is the soul of wit.
11.14.06 at 09:24

Francis Louis: I think that this condition actually reveals more about the poor state of the literature of this field than the designers.

I call cop out.
11.14.06 at 11:15

Graphic design books are only slightly less plentiful than celebrity diet books.

This is true, however, if we considered anything we could seriously regard as critical writing (books you have to read), it's slim pickings. I'd be surprised to learn that truly critical books--e.g. Designing Pornotopia, Unjustified Texts, Chasing the Perfect--garnered any mention.

Imagine a designer supplying a list comprised entirely of such books.

Now, imagine it without laughing.
Kenneth FitzGerald
11.15.06 at 01:35

Kenneth - Short of listing all 500 plus books listed, I can only hope to convey a flavour of what was chosen. Most of the books are indeed 'design' books, but critical and theoretical works are not entirely absent. You mention Rick Poynor's Designing Pornotopia. It was not listed, but I suspect this was because most lists were put together prior to Rick's book being published. Four other Poynor titles make an appearance. There are also books by Robin Kinross, Terry Eagleton, Judith Williamson, Dave Hickey and Robert Hughes. Hardly voices lacking the smack of critical rigour.

Now, if only some of these critics would write about grids, they'd get more of their books on designer's reading lists.
Adrian Shaughnessy
11.15.06 at 04:43

I find that we, as a profession, read a lot more than most and while this lists of lists may be interesting from an information design standpoint, I don't think I'll start reading the books that a favourite designer has read. After all, you can get a far better picture of how David Bowie creates music by reading an interview, not by taking up the saxaphone.

In addition, while I enjoy the random journal or essay on graphic design, I tend to avoid wading through all of the compendiums and collections of "good design." This is partly because such collections are subjective by nature, but also because I find that more amd more designers rip each other off as opposed to truly being inspired. Quite frankly, it's a temptation I don't need.

I also find it refreshing to take a break from the all-consuming world of design. If design is all you have to talk about, you're a rather boring person. Reading the occasional pulp novel or thumbing through an cookbook by Anthony Bourdain never hurt anyone's sense of typography.
James D. Nesbitt
11.15.06 at 05:35

or thumbing through an cookbook by Anthony Bourdain never hurt anyone's sense of typography.

...and creating any of Bourdain's dishes to eat would deliver more satiety than most design books.
11.15.06 at 08:22

Aren't we missing the point? Was it a competition? Was it about who could sound more obscure or more intelligent than another?

I assume it was simply an interesting exercise to compile this kind of list. If answered honestly, it might give some insight into what interests each designer (from inside or outside our profession) - not about who sounds more intelligent. Mr Shaughnessy, I'm surprised you would even consider rewriting your list after seeing what others have presented?

That aside, I agree with Derrick Schultz's response regarding young designers. Perhaps Mr Schultz's point could encourage a sequel to this book?
11.15.06 at 10:06

There really isn't much benefit to taking a cynical view of the efforts of Spin or of those who supplied lists of books. The fact remains, we have a couple of people who have tried to engage and elevate the concerns of graphic design by creating a document which records thought as much as it is a work of discourse in its own right. Rather than dismiss their efforts, we should be asking questions about where their project might lead, what their project might say about graphic design, and how we can use it to extend our own thinking. Discourse should open up possibilities, not shut them down.

FYI copies are available directly from Spin as well as the new online design store/gallery, Blanka:
David Cabianca
11.15.06 at 11:10

The late Alan Fletcher includes his own book, The Art of Looking Sideways ("...because it contains fifty years worth of my own reading lists").

Don't forget Alexander Gelman who included two of his own books, among them Infiltrate - The Front Lines of the New York Design Scene (which contains something that can be summed up in about fifty minutes of reading time in fifteen other books about the exact same subject)
11.16.06 at 02:35

Bravo, Master Tselentis. Bravo
James D. Nesbitt
11.16.06 at 12:29

There are also books by Robin Kinross, Terry Eagleton, Judith Williamson, Dave Hickey and Robert Hughes. Hardly voices lacking the smack of critical rigour.

Which is encouraging, yet doesn't address my main point: the paucity of critical titles directly addressing graphic design. And if they existed, would they be read? The lack suggests not, as publishers understand their market. How likely would a Monographics-like series of design writing be? (Maybe we'd finally get the long-overdue Lorraine Wild essay collection (or Jeffrey Keedy or Andrew Blauvelt et al[?])). The demise of the Looking Closer series may answer my question.
Kenneth FitzGerald
11.16.06 at 12:37

I was tricked, I thought we were going to have a good ole' fashion list of lists listing debate...
Mark Boyce
11.16.06 at 12:38

Adrian writes:
"Anyone who can make a list look good - and make it look intelligible - won't ever go hungry from lack of work."

Therein lies the problem. Because making it look good, and making it look intelligible is not the same as making it good and intelligible.
rebecca and mike
11.16.06 at 04:06

A strange coincidence, but I returned from Prague last night to find a copy of 50 Reading Lists on my desk, a present from a friend who had just returned from Amsterdam. A roundabout way for a British publication to end up in Connecticut, USA.

Adrian's characterization of the lists seems to me fair and accurate. However, with a copy in hand, I was able to do a bit of tabulation. I'd like to offer a few other observations.

First, some numbers. Only five authors/books were cited more than ten times: John Berger, Josef Muller-Brockmann, Emil Ruder, Wim Crouwel and Karl Gerstner. Only twelve authors/books were cited five-to-nine times: Robin Kinross, Edward Tufte, Helmut Schmid, Rick Poynor, Jan Tschichold, Herbert Spenser, Bruno Munari, Karl Martens, 8vo, Paul Rand, Philip Meggs and Alan Fletcher. Doing hand counts, I'm sure I've missed something, or miscounted, but these are directionally the most cited books/authors.

Two, the lists clearly have some biases, as all compilations do — someone choose these particular participants and there is bias in the selection, as there should be: this is want makes the lists individual and interesting. I do note that the lists seem especially Dutch/European. Fifty participants from the U.S. would have turned up more Steven Heller, Tibor Kalman, Ellen Lupton, John Maeda, Paula Scher, Robert Bringhurst; even more Paul Rand and Edward Tufte; perhaps Bradbury Thompson or Milton Glaser, who were not mentioned once. Rudy Vanderlans and Ed Fella would certainly have been on someone's list.

There were some surprises: Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon, Oliver Sacks and Malcolm Gladwell, e.e. cummings and Elizabeth Bishop. But, in general, I have to agree with Kenneth Fitzgerald that there is a general lack of interest in "critical" works. Lots of Herbert Spenser, but not a single mention of Rick Poynor's Typographica. And not a single mention of Dot Dot Dot.

[As a point of comparison, here are the top selling authors/books at Amazon by Design Observer readers: Adrian Shaughnessy, Else/Where: Mapping, Edward Tufte, Ellen Lupton, Alan Fletcher, John Maeda, Dot Dot Dot, Bruce Sterling, Robert Bringhurst, Lawrence Weschler, Rick Poynor, Jessica Helfand... Again, just another biased list.]

I agree with Lorraine Wild that designers should not be afraid to read and recommend their own literature. However, faced with the question, "What are the top ten books that you believe designers should read?", I'm surprised that more people did not recommend literature, philosphy, science or history. (Perhaps why I liked Paul Elliman's list the best: it began with the newspaper and ended with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with a little Durer, Elizabeth Bishop, Ed Ruscha and Kurt Schwitters along the way.)

William Drenttel
11.16.06 at 08:30

Bill - your more statistically focussed analysis helps paint a clearer picture. One small point: I included Rick Poynor's Typographica in my list.
Adrian Shaughnessy
11.17.06 at 01:14

Peter Saville is such a phoney sophisticate including Marquis De Sade: A Life. The only reason he gets away with being such a pretentious buffoon is because most graphics people are subliterate. And designers are always lying when they claim to "never look at design magazines or books."
Hans Roland
11.17.06 at 07:25

I'll have to agree with Lorraine Wild, "Would you ever knowingly consult with a doctor who told you that he never read the literature of his own field, or only read the old stuff?"

Why should this blog exist if we do not need to read something about our industry everyday?

How can you compare graphic design to medicine? A graphic designer can be influenced by music, philosophy, paintings etc. s/he doesn't need to read about design at all.

Can we talk about influence in medicine? A doctor SHOULD REPEAT exactly what s/he reads, learns... it's mostly about the minute repetition of the previosly established analyses and interventions while design is about invention... oh look i made an apple logo again, how healthy it looks... it's bitten even. it's the new logo for a new computer company.

ok then, If we do talk about influence in medicine would you trust a dentist whose influences include Black Sabbath or Chris Cuningham? Would you go see a psychiatrist who listens to Autistici :P
11.17.06 at 08:10

I havn't seen these lists - but I'd like to know why each entry was cited. Just a short little ditty on what was it about each entrant that one remembers, reflected upon and interpreted? If big shot so and so cites classic such and such, but young, hip urban dude also likes such and such - but for a different reason, then maybe there's a real nugget there in the recommendation - more meaningful than analytical data, numbers, and light surface collecting.

One thing I remember about school from both of my experiences was that everything was a wall - at first. I had to learn the language, the names, the shorthand, the tools, all just about our founding designers, legends and upstarts in order to feel even remotely a part of any kind of conversation. It was so snobby and cold and standoffish. We can and should break it all down MUCH farther, share what it is we see, how it changed our thinking, how the mix of word and image presented by a particular genius sparked a wave of new thinking. We should be WAY more accessible than we are.

ListsSERV no one. I am PROtext not con.
Jessica Gladstone
11.17.06 at 11:20

Mr. Drenttel,

I too was surprised at the serious lack of literature on other subjects such as science, urbanism, industrial and textile design in most lists. Since one of the great wonders of this profession is the ability to become conversant in a plethora of subjects, at least while one is working on a particular project, I offer up this potential explanation: I wonder if those asked to submit the lists were so focused on design itself, that they lost sight of the literature that truly made them great thinkers in the first place.
James D. Nesbitt
11.17.06 at 01:35

"I wonder if those asked to submit the lists were so focused on design itself, that they lost sight of the literature that truly made them great thinkers in the first place."

I think your filling in too many gaps there. Why would you assume someone like Wim Crowell or Wolfgang Weingart would only read design literature.
11.17.06 at 04:57

Just a short note. I haven't seen the list, but if the Crouwel book that Mr. Drenttel mentions as being cited more than ten times is indeed 'Mode en Module', I'd like to add that this book is defenitely a piece of critical writing. Hugues Boekraad, editor of the book and writer of most of the texts, is a well-respected critic (he also happens to be one of the founders of New Left publishing house SUN). 'Mode en Module' offers a rigorous, marxist analysis of the role of late modernism in The Netherlands. It is defenitely not the typical coffeetable/portfolio stuff. Just my 2 cents.
11.17.06 at 08:21

I wished they did similar projects in other fields.
11.18.06 at 01:27

Jessica Gladstone commented: "We can and should... share what it is we see, how it changed our thinking, how the mix of word and image presented by a particular genius sparked a wave of new thinking. We should be WAY more accessible than we are".

Err, why? What is it that makes you think that designers competing in the same marketplace should share information about the crucial insights that shaped the business services they offer?

I just imagined McDonalds and Burger King having a little pow-wow where they were sharing info about the stuff that drives their different business strategies, thinking and operations... oh yeah, then the fluffy cloud burst and i came back to the real world.

Kenneth Fitzgerald commented: "I'd be surprised to learn that truly critical books--e.g. Designing Pornotopia, Unjustified Texts, Chasing the Perfect--garnered any mention".

You'd be suprised? Well only if it was impossible to be critical of these so-called 'truly critical books'.

Kenneth continues: "Imagine a designer supplying a list comprised entirely of such books. Now, imagine it without laughing".

In light of my comment above, I'll never be able to imagine it without laughing.

Adrian Shaughnessy decribes William Drenttel's comment as a "statistically focussed analysis".

So all of a sudden a bit of simple adding up (which is what any first grade high-schooler would have done) is heralded as statistically focussed ANALYSIS. Adrian, are you sure you didn't leave the winking smiley off the end of that comment? C'mon guys, I'm all for bigging-up your mates, but let's get serious at least some of the time.

Adrian, you also say (somewhat perplexed): "Not even Naomi Klein shows up".

Why do you think she should have shown up? Her book was simply an instant commoditization of a set of anti-commodity thoughts and values that were perfectly accessable to all prior to her publication. Thing is, prior to her book you had to shift your butt from behind your desk to access those beliefs and values, but wasn't that one of the points of it all? Her book did open things up in a less confrontational way than people like Reclaim the Streets did, meaning that it was easier to adopt it as a belief system, but how many people just paid the subscription and left it at that? Adrian, if after you read that book Nike had called you up wanting you to work on a campaign to sell a new range of sneakers to the emerging Chinese middle-class market, would you have turned that job down: would you have done anything other than 'do the work for them' in a morally and ethically unquestioning way?
7 of Spades
11.18.06 at 06:23

If Spin had published a book called "100 (or 10, or 500) Books Designers Should Read" and then asked that many designers to provide individual commentary on the books they found interesting, that would have provided a book about books. But by asking individual designers to provide their personal reading lists, Spin (inadvertently? purposefully?) followed a more trivial "celebrity journalism" model, and made the project all about the designers. And we all know that that's a trap. If you only cite design books, someone is going to call you narrow-minded; if you cite the Marquis de Sade someone is going to call you a poseur; if you cite theory, someone is going to call you a hopeless academic; if you say you don't read design books, someone (like me!) is going to say you are disengenuous. So, remind me of the point of 50 Reading Lists? To make the interesting visual presentation of lists by which the individual designers who constructed them knew they would be judged cool or uncool? Or to actually provide a kind of reading guide Tony Brook was searching for way back when?
lorraine wild
11.18.06 at 12:41

ok, I'll take the bait.

Spin's publications are tabloids. They are not books, they are not journals. They are not Berliners. While these categorizations relate to a size or format, they also connote content. Is it a gossip rag? Perhaps. Is there something wrong with that? Hardly.

When Cynthia Davidson launched the first issue of ANY Magazine (Architecture New York) she consciously positioned it as a tabloid complete with all the connotations associated with its size and newsstand peers. A tabloid gave ANY the freedom to engage a public in a new forum. But the quality and range of ANY's content did not suffer. In fact, it flourished. Kenneth FitzGerald issued a call for the collected essays of Wild, Keedy, Blauvelt and I would add, FitzGerald. But Michael Beirut beat everyone to the punch. His entries to DesignObserver will be published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2007, as "79 Short Essays on Design." I look forward to the publication, but it is interesting to note that these are blog essays, not those previously published in a book or journal. That fact does not diminish their quality or insight, but it does recognize that the location(s) of content is changing.

What I found interesting about S(p)in/2 is that the lists focus on high modernism. (I own both issues printed to date.) It is as though the 1980s and 1990s never happened. I raised an eyebrow at the inclusion of Allen Hori if not for any other reason than I don't normally associate "high modernism" with his work. [Although he does have a connection to Wim Crouwel. Hori designed a pamphlet catalog for the Stedelijk Museum in 1991 while working at Studio Dumbar. These pamphlet catalogs were the same series initiated by Willem Sandberg and continued by Crouwel.] Obviously, Spin's choice of designers reflects their tastes, but ultimately the lists say more about the resurgent fascination with the graphic forms employed by corporate practice.

I don't particularly care what other designers are reading, but I do find it interesting that a pattern or generality emerges when the lists are read in a contextual whole. And that, in itself, made the exercise of publishing Spin/2 worthwhile.
David Cabianca
11.18.06 at 02:40

I don't have a problem with the tabloid-y aspect of what Spin has published, and I'm sure I'll try to get my hands on one. I do find it amusing that the goals and objectives (at least as they are re-stated by Adrian here) are constructed to justify a project that is really about something else; a self-portrait of the "profession," at least as to how they would like to be seen, reflected through that which they cite. The reason you do not see books from the 80s and 90s on Spin's collected lists is that there has been a free-floating consensus for some time now that that our recent history is not cool, and that is pretty important, right? So Spin deserves our gratitude for producing an interesting collection to discuss with students in a "design issues" class, and a good artifact for future historians of the first decade of the twenty-first century. But a useful guide to the literature of design? Not!
Lorraine Wild
11.18.06 at 03:59

The context and subsequent purpose is what I was craving in this list and the discussion of this list - so I wholly agree with Lorraine.

PS - 7 - secrecy is overrated. I'm no utopian dip, but I do think a little loosening of the seams can show off some really great stitches.
Jessica Gladstone
11.20.06 at 02:28

Humbly, I would submit this for consideration.

Joe Moran
11.21.06 at 12:04

But the quality and range of ANY's content did not suffer.

Yes, it is true the the format of the publication did not cause ANY to topple downward from the stable base of mediocrity upon which it was conceived.

When I saw the title of this post, I assumed it would include the observation that designers fetishize lists because they comprise the bulk of of their regular reading.
miss representation
11.21.06 at 05:06

I am a collector/packrat much like my father. I find something that I'm interested in and I buy/collect until no end. Books and magazines are my main vice.

A few months ago I opened a flickr account and I started to scan in some of my books to share with other book lovers. You can check em' out here-

Joe Kral
11.22.06 at 03:01

Best list I've seen in a while.
Jessica Helfand
11.22.06 at 08:24

For many references on Lists: theory and practice, including many interesting literary references, check out this thread at Ask E.T. (aka Edward Tufte).

William Drenttel
11.23.06 at 10:04

curious voyeurs we are,

isn't this a sort of design, designed, Gala (swiss gossip magazine)? To know what famous do, who famous meet, or love. They are firmly wedded to the public ground. But see, even that is only appearance.
11.27.06 at 04:34


Allen Hori was working at Hard Werken, not Studio Dumbar, when he designed a catalog with Gerard Hadders in 1991.
David Cabianca
11.30.06 at 02:58

I was a contributor to SPIN's publication. There are some silly mistaken assumptions in the posts on this so far - I am coming to the discussion late, and these blogs tend to be hot for a couple of days before going stone-cold, so I doubt anyone will read this post.

Tony asked us, if we could only choose 10 books, that a young graphic designer should read, what would they be?

Several posts here wax lyrical about ridiculous choices like Albrecht Durer or Frankenstein. Such reading - if you can bear the turgid prose and convoluted structure of Shelley in the original - are important for a well-rounded education, but are a complete waste for furthering your understanding of graphic design. Paul Ellison picked them because he is mindful of tickling the fancy of his clever mates. Like William Drenttel, who was duly tickled.

As for contributions to the lists, like "the radio"... not only is the radio not a book, but its a bit like saying that in order to be a graphic designer, you first have to understand everything in the world. Its a complete abdication of the restriction: choose only 10 books...

The idea that graphic design can be understood - and PRACTICED - by reading largely or wholly critical books is typical thinking of someone who makes their living, not by graphic design, but by writing and/or teaching criticism. You get a distorted view of how significant criticism is.

I love a good dose of theory, it was me that included the rock-hard Marxist Judith Williamson, but alongside critical theory, if you are only picking 10 books, some books are needed that sink you deep into the daily concerns of designers - like how to deal with clients, how to lay things out using grids, what are good typefaces to choose. This might be why there was a "preponderance" of this kind of book - because the designers who listed them had understood what Tony asked and were genuinely trying to make their choices useful, practical.

Some other comments about omissions just arent thought through - it is likely that DotDotDot was not included by anyone, not because of some conspiracy regarding it or ignorance of it or aversion to it, but because its not a book.

And Carson left out entirely? Is there really anything to read or learn from in any Carson book?

Some of the comments are just alterative lists. For example, Typographica is splendid history, but didnt make it my 10, but Tibor did; because of what its multiple-authored captions tell us about how design gets done.

For me, reading the lists, I was struck how no one - none of the critics who have posted here, none of the critics whose books were chosen - has yet managed to equal Philip Meggs amazing accomplishment in writing a complete history of design. (However flawed.) Except maybe Richard Hollis' pocket version.

Some postees seem to imagine that graphic design can emerge from the cultural backwaters with lots of books of essays, or collected blogs. All easy bits of writing. Enough of these slender books, or booklets, and design will eventually be able to stand up alongside Art and Film. But our real lack isnt these, it is big ambitious histories. Histories that fit together the sprawling and important things that big histories deal with and snippety essays dont: politics, time, people, events, schools, economic forces.

It would be fun if all the postees would post their own lists - as correctives, or expansions. Lists of 10 BOOKS, mind, no one can put evasive entries like "the internet".
Quentin Newark
12.11.06 at 07:17

I'd like to add my list following the suggestion of Mr. Newark.
I'm Italian, I live in Switzerland, Zürich, I'm 30 years old; a minimum of context, as most of the people here I do graphic design for living, I focus in book-design

In no particular order:

12.13.06 at 04:29

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Adrian Shaughnessy is a graphic designer and writer based in London. In 1989 he co-founded the design company Intro. Today he runs ShaughnessyWorks, a consultancy combining design and editorial direction. He is a founding partner in Unit Editions, a publishing company producing books on design and visual culture.
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BOOKS BY Adrian Shaughnessy

Unit Editions, 2010

Studio Culture: The Secret Life of a Graphic Design Studio
Unit Editions, 2009

Look at This: Contemporary Brochures, Catalogues & Documents
Laurence King Publishing, 2006

Graphic Design: A User's Manual
Laurence King Publishing, 2009

Cover Art By: New Music Graphics
Laurence King Publishing, 2008

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