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Comments (64) Posted 07.30.07 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Adrian Shaughnessy

Barnbrook Bible: A Graphic Autobiography



Barnbrook Bible, cover, 2007.

Jonathan Barnbrook's new book, Barnbrook Bible, ranks amongst the most ambitious personal projects undertaken by any graphic designer. It is a 330-page monograph bursting with dazzling refinement. Throughout the entire book there isn't a clumsy or unrefined typographic gesture — not a line that hasn't been weighted to perfection. The effect is like being in a Parisian patisserie — everywhere you turn there are mouth-watering options.

But the Barnbrook Bible is more than a bit fat monograph. It is a work of semi-autobiography, expressing the author's political anger and his aesthetic and professional philosophies. It therefore invites judgement by more demanding criteria than if it was just another design book. So, the big question is: does Barnbrook's magnum opus represent a species-jumping leap for graphic design, or is it the outpourings of a massive ego shot through with political rage and a fondness for typographic cartooning?


Barnbrook Bible, sample spread, 2007.

The Barnbrook Bible — which took 5 years to complete — is a comprehensive re-engineering of the designer's back catalogue, beginning with his student work and coming up to date with his Adbusters involvement. The book avoids a conventional structure; instead it is a fast-flowing river of textual and visual rhetoric. But "river" is a poor word to use in connection with the solemn precision of Barnbrook's work. He produces finely tooled graphic wizardry that distinguishes him from all other graphic designers at work today. He can mix a dozen fonts (all his own) on a single page — sometimes even changing typefaces mid-sentence — and it still looks coherent and exquisitely judged.

The spectre of religion hangs over this book. It begins with the odd-sounding note of the title and continues inside with Barnbrook's extensive use of religious symbolism and typographic conventions associated with English religious texts; Eric Gill's stark red-and-black typographic creed lives on in Barnbrook's design. The aesthetic flavour of Barnbrook's work is acutely English. It is the flavour of gravestones in rural churchyards, of dusty prayer books and the vivid lustre of stained glass windows. This iconography links Barnbrook to a traditionalist view of Englishness that is increasingly rare in multicultural Britain, and more commonly associated with reactionary conservatism.


Barnbrook Bible, sample spread, 2007.

Which brings us to Barnbrook's political commentary. Barnbrook is a political radical: American foreign policy and global corporatism are his main targets. Most of this work is self-initiated and self-funded. Much of it is sharply effective — but there is also a callowness to it. Morphing Ronald MacDonald and Osama Bin Laden into a single iconic character is witty and diverting for about 3 seconds; although perhaps it has a higher purpose which is to infuriate corporate America and Al Qaeda supporters.

This callowness means it's easy to dismiss Barnbrook's political work as typographic cartooning (planes flying into perpendicular barcodes, for example), yet the sheer brilliance of his execution prevents us from doing this. In the past, revolutionary and oppositional movements have distinguished themselves by shunning formal graphic design because of its links to political and corporate power, and turned instead to more anarchic modes of graphic expression. But Barnbrook brings the gloss and ultra-refinement of cosmetics advertising to the task of exposing U.S. bombing statistics. It's an astonishing conjuring trick that he pulls off repeatedly.


Barnbrook Bible, sample spread, 2007.

The final component in this book is Barnbrook's text. There are essays by Alice Twemlow, Teal Triggs, Kalle Lasn, Emily King and "three paragraphs by David Bowie," but the book mainly consists of Branbrook's own extensive writings which appear on nearly every page. He writes engagingly about font creation, his discovery of film-based work, and the conduct of the modern designer. His chapter on working with Damien Hirst is a cracking read.

I said earlier that this was a work of semi-autobiography. It is more accurately a work of "professional" autobiography, by which I mean that Barnbrook mainly confines his autobiographical observations to his work, and only fleetingly touches on personal matters. Nevertheless, he opens himself up for critical scrutiny in the way that all good autobiographers do. There's no self-love, no self-aggrandisement — just an old-fashioned obsession with right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. This occasionally manifests itself as sourness and personal bitterness; his dismissive response to objections to the Manson typeface is a good example of this.

I've recently got to know Barnbrook. Prior to meeting him I'd imagined him to be a stern moralist unlikely to be good company. Yet in the flesh Barnrook is an engaging, modest and uncensorious individual with a sly wit and an eccentric affection for Luton Town Football Club — just about the most unfashionable football club in football-mad Britain.


Barnbrook Bible, sample spread, 2007.

Something of the dour moralist (Alice Twemlow identifies it as a mixture of "anger, bitterness and melancholy") lingers in the pages of this book. But something else also emerges: an inspirational notion of sacrifice and self-denial. Barnbrook could make a great deal of money if he harnessed his ability to aestheticize everything he touches. Had he wanted to, he could have launched himself as the supreme stylist of his generation. Instead, he chose to follow his own path of dogged opposition to everything he despises. This seems to me to be brave — heroic even — in an age when we deny ourselves nothing, and refuse to make any personal sacrifices unless we are well paid.

Barnbrook is a throwback to an almost medieval notion of ascetic denial. He just does it with enough graphic flair to fuel a small power station.


Barnbrook Bible: The Graphic Design of Jonathan Barnbrook will be released in September. Published by Rizzoli, it is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.
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Comments (64)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Well, I feel honored to be the first to comment. Jonathan Barnbrook's work compelled me to move to england to study graphic design. One of my favorite works of typography is the book designed by him "The Wilde Years" about Oscar Wilde's life and work, a true example of post-modern deconstruction in book design. I found of particular merit his convergence of political thought and typography, for example in his piece on north korea. An intelligent avoidance of cliche, or preaching. Thanks, Jonathan.
djego
07.30.07 at 09:45

A project like this could've been botched so easily by being badly over-politicized, under-aestheticized, blah blah blah. But to see how well this book turned out feels like a real step up for design—not just as an art but as vessel for ideas and awareness.

Three cheers for Jonathan Barnbrook.
Whaleroot
07.30.07 at 11:31

Eh... from the sample pages, it looks like a junior graphic designer having a wank. Maybe interesting to a very small subset. Also, what kind of enormous ego do you need to title a book of your work "Bible?"
JR
07.31.07 at 09:39

still cranking out the same tried and true work, it's barnbrook's style but style is all it is whatever the supposed content. at least better than the hackneyed predictability of paula scher,
blake mcdonald
07.31.07 at 10:27

I think Ms. Scher's work is a bit more complicated than being hackneyed or predictable--first off, her work creates actual results. In other words, what clients pay for. The whole purpose for design. I'd argue that she's done more for the profession than just about anyone else over the past thirty years, not just aesthetically, but within the context of day-to-day business.

Barnbrook's style has always been gorgeous. It's a subjective thing, of course, but I'll agree that his attention to detail is hard to equal. Everything he creates has a remarkable level of polish and sophistication.

Without having seen the book up-close, I can't comment to any meaningful degree, but, I will say that there's nothing original about "political anger" amongst righteous graphic designers. So what. Following a liberal persuasion doesn't make your opinion any more valid than somebody else's. And I continue NOT to understand what's so wonderful about doing things out of rage and spite; it beats indifference, but taking the positive route (for lack of a better term at this time in the morning) has a much stronger chance of actually affecting something. It's just a lot harder and a lot less sexy.
Brad Gutting
07.31.07 at 10:46

I disagree with JR - it's a senior graphic designer having a wank. The work is good, but it takes a feat of ego to sell your portfolio on Amazon for $50.
Walkman
07.31.07 at 11:37

Barnbrook's design work is well done and regardless of his client, subject or scorn, he transforms messages into pleasing eyecandy. Terrorists of all sorts will rarely be made to look so good.
One has to wonder then, if the book will become as dated as the political poster art of the USSR. Lampooning current political subjects might make for witty and easy targets but illustrating the human condition is more of what I would expect in a "bible". Since I already own Kitaj's First Diasporist Manifesto, I think I have enough bibles from artists that I otherwise admire for their work.
John Harne
07.31.07 at 12:06

what kind of enormous ego do you need to title a book of your work "Bible?"

This has been addressed. See the question from Luke Prowse.

Frankly, I would've been surprised to see this not titled something like "Bible." Even the most superficial familiarity with Barnbrook's work(or hey, a ten-second glance at his sites) would obviate this question.
Su
07.31.07 at 12:45

The work is utterly hollow, yet there are many who follow.

I've seen some recent Cranbrook work (that doesn't move me) in this same vein.
rick fox
07.31.07 at 01:16

I've seen some recent Cranbrook work (that doesn't move me) in this same vein.


And what 'vein' would that be?

Please expound.

If you are going to call out the collective work of a particular institution, I hope your explanation is both articulate and knowledgeable.

Doug B
07.31.07 at 01:32

I received a copy of this a few weeks ago and, to be honest, I've already given it to the thrift shop. I found the book to be a huge disappointment; I actually came away from it thinking LESS of Barnbrook's work, not more. Way too much wankery; the "political" work seemed to me like filler for a portfolio comprised mostly of several successful typefaces and Adbusters (a noble publication, sure). The only politics I saw was garden-variety t-shirt politics, slightly better than "Buck Fush" kind, but not by much and equally meaningless.

Sorry to be such a downer.
Mark Melnick
07.31.07 at 01:58

Expound? The work looks alike. The typography looks copied stroke for stroke. If you are looking for an academic pissing match I'll not indulge you. I'm surprised at the shock -- It's not a new comparison. And the work has a similar lack of subtlety in terms of the message, making up for it with ornamentation and implied deeper meaning where none readily exists.

Morphing Ronald MacDonald and Osama Bin Laden into a single iconic character is witty and diverting for about 3 seconds. It stops there, no further explanation or excuse. I've stopped looking for an excuse as to why I dislike the work. It's hollow.
rick fox
07.31.07 at 02:21

Well said, rick.

When I was a very young designer I was very obsessed with the cran/barnbrook aesthetic, and later I found that the reason I was so crazy about it was exactly because of its aggressively beautiful yet ambiguous character. I always felt like the designer knew something I didn't, which now seems like a sort of power play, a sort of excluding rock star gesture.

I think there is immense value in conceptual ambiguity in art. This might be halfway acceptable if someone decided that it belonged in the art world, but even as something other than design, you are right, morphing mcDonald into osama is pretty much, well... boring.
Tim
07.31.07 at 03:24

It's the next to last paragraph that gets me. Barnbrook could have made piles of money, but forsook that pursuit, instead choosing to pursue his own dogged path in opposition to everything he despises. We should consider him a hero.

The clear suggestion is that, thanks to his aforementioned dogged pursuit, he is somehow better, more noble, than we poor hacks who are trying to make a living at design.

Rubbish.

As it happens, I rather despise the notion that some designer should be held up as a paragon of virtue, an example to us, because he published a completely self indulgent $50 book--probably in hopes of making some money.

Others have called him a "wanker," and I am inclined to agree. Of course, I can pursue my own dogged pursuit of things I despise and not buy his book. That'll help Barnbrook meet his noble goal of not making money. Now I'm a hero too.
Rob Henning
07.31.07 at 03:25

barnbrook is not a wanker, he just has his own style, like it or lump it. it used to be interesting, in the days when emigre was hot. now, i lump it and can understand what that tosser massimo vignelli was getting all heated up about, although his work is mostly bollocks. glaser is not worth a toss, a 60's leftover. but i much rather lump many more so called designers first, including the aforementioned paula scher and too many to list. while i'm at it, with free time, chip kidd is a comic nerd and wanker, catering to the most easy and cheapest emotions, and i rather have this barnbrook bible than that first book of his- ill designed and a waste of paper.

client= generally, person who cannot do the work but has the money to tell you what to do; most possibly and probably a real wanker.

blake mcdonald
07.31.07 at 04:53

@ blake mcdonald

C'mon, "The Barnbrook Bible" can be dismissed with a few sentences because it comes off as terribly lazy and inconsequential, all the while calling itself a Bible. The careers of the people you mentioned can't in any way be dismissed that easily. Glaser's books, for instance, are PACKED with incredibly well-thought out and executed work, no matter what you think of his style (the guy is a product of his time, he can't do anything about that). Scher's book, too, is full of work as well as a well-thought-out text. The Barnbrook book is literally one of the weakest, most padded monographs I've ever seen, all the while employing the strongest, most polemical language (both text and image).

I think I'm just falling for the bait here.
Mark Melnick
07.31.07 at 05:52

I wonder if this book features the identity Jonathan Branbrook did for Roppongi Hills? I think its a decent piece of work, but hard to fit in a leftist political agenda, and not exactly 'free' work either. If so I'd like to see how it sits with the more politically radical aspects of his practice. That would be interesting.

I havent read the book, but I just wonder, what contribution does this make? Another graphic design bloodbath of work that is supposedly rebellious as well? The notion that a critical practice vs. a corporate practice are mutually exclusive is a bit dated. Typography is something that is inherently tied to the rise of capitalism, not to mention the dissemination of Christianity around the globe. Opposition and dissent against everything you despise using the same tools that everything you despise uses without any self-reflection, its a bit adolescent and 90s isnt it? It would be interesting to see publications on design that situate practice in the complexities of the real world, and how does a critical practice emerge through work?
Manuel
07.31.07 at 06:48

could i ask something? before this wholesale demolition of my book, could some of you... well you know... do that basic thing before you post about something ...actually look at it first? its not even out in america yet, so i am pretty sure most of you havent seen it. that's not too much to ask i think.

and i will post a response to some of the 'interesting issues' which have been highlighted in the comments here in the next day or two
jonathan barnbrook
07.31.07 at 07:40

The work of Barnbrook Studio (it is not a singularity, others are implicated in this production) has consistently sought to suggest there are other modes of action possible, ones available to each and every one of us. The book is a product of a devotion to that idea, that graphic design can play an important cultural function. Indeed, much of the output of Barnbrook Studio has sought to provoke design into a deeper and more thoughtful enquiry into our lives - both as citizen and as designer. The overarching proposition is that existing in, and being reliant on the present situation is no excuse to remain quiet, grateful or accepting. Samuel Beckett in his book Murphy puts it best "Should I bite the hand that starves me so that it will throttle me?" Clearly those that work at Barnbrook have answered affirmatively

They are not the only ones to take this position, neither is theirs the only route available, but they do present a good example of a commitment to a decision. They have drawn a line in the sand and said 'no, I will not support your cause', and have also said 'yes, we think we can help your struggle'. Placed in the vice like grip of economic forces they have of course stumbled and contradicted themselves - but to notice only that is to miss the point. Indeed, what is so admirable, in any such work that concerns itself with the world, is facing the consequences of that decision - in balancing what is of necessity (e.g. paying the rent) with what is desired (e.g. destruction of property). This is no easy task.

So, rather than hearing the boom of an hierarchical authority, ascetic condemnations, or righteous judgements we could listen more carefully for the call of friendship. For the work desires to be part of a larger dialogue (hence the book), one that seeks to engage (and in turn find itself engaged also), with a deeper, richer, ethical approach to design and the world at large.

Therefore, rather than simply dismissing out of hand the position taken by Jonathan and others, we should look at actively developing these approaches and ideas. After all, isn't that what creativity is about?
MLA
07.31.07 at 07:45

The defensive ignorance of many of these posts is remarkable. The hostility aimed at the idea of a designer taking a stand (noble or otherwise) against an ideology of exploitation is depressing.

A 'wanker' is someone who resorts to providing their own gratification at the expense of, shall we say, engaging with the world - the very opposite of Barnbrook's practice, but the very model of those here who are offended by engagement.

Dismissing oppositional ideas as somehow '90's' (whenever a designer with a stunted imagination wants to trivialise or damn something he consigns it to a previous decade) or 'adolescent', is utterly reactionary - now, more than ever, we need alternatives to the distraction and destruction.

That you're 'just trying to make a living' doesn't make you a 'poor hack' - it's more likely your generic work, social irrelevance, historical myopia and inability to imagine other possibilities that does that.
Jason
07.31.07 at 08:00

That you're 'just trying to make a living' doesn't make you a 'poor hack' - it's more likely your generic work, social irrelevance, historical myopia and inability to imagine other possibilities that does that.

Wiser words have rarely made into a DO thread. Thanks, Jason.

Dismissing Jonathan Barnbrook as a style maven is perverse and ignorant; I can't think of a designer whose use of form is better allied with content. Sure, there are a few tropes that he has used multiple times, but even a cursory glance at his work (check out Why2K, or his Damien Hirst monographs) reveals a designer who's willing to do anything to make a point. Regardless of how you feel about his signature style, you have to appreciate the effort.

I'm really looking forward to this book, even if Mark Melnick feels it's weak and padded (adjectives I've heard applied -- not by me -- to his Chip Kidd monograph).

Jose Nieto
07.31.07 at 09:59

could some of you... well you know... do that basic thing before you post about something ...actually look at it first?

You're joking, right?

I can't wait to see this follow-up.
I do have to say that the review itself unfortunately indulged in a bit of pedestal-building that maybe did a little to incite this.
Su
07.31.07 at 10:59

>>"its not even out in america yet, so i am pretty sure most of you havent seen it. that's not too much to ask i think."<< I'm going out on a limb here and suggesting that most of the negative commentary on this blog is coming from England/UK, and not Americans. You generally don't hear Americans saying "wanker" , "bollocks" , and "rubbish".
J
08.01.07 at 09:06

Okay, since it was clearly my comment which prompted Jason's insult (generic work, social irrelevance, etc.), seconded by Jose, I really do have to respond. It is not my work--nor that of any other of the numerous commentators or designers mentioned--which is at issue here. I did not just publish the Rob Henning Bible. Nor did someone post a Design Observer essay about my work. The descent into childish insults demonstrates that Jason completely missed the point of my comment.

What I bristle at is the fawning hero worship contained in the original post. It's not a really a very good review. It doesn't offer any insightful commentary about Barnbrook's work. It offers nothing instructive or informative. Nope. The take away message is that I should admire this brilliant designer/hero. I should go out and buy his book as soon as I can. Because Barnbrook is just so damn great. The review reads like the work of some Barnbrook sycophant, and I am appalled by it.

I did not actually comment on Barnbrook's work before. Well, accept to affirm the wanker characterisation. That's about the fact that he's just published a book that, on the face of it, appears to be very self indulgent. No, I have not seen the book, and I am therefore not qualified to say much about his work. To do so would be just be silly.
Rob Henning
08.01.07 at 09:11

it certainly isn't too much to ask for Mr. Barnbrook. Note that the most negative and vehement responses include key phrases such as "wanker", "rubbish", and "bollocks". No American uses these terms, those are inherently British insults.
J
08.01.07 at 09:13

Umm, I'm American, but my wife is British. We live in the U.S. I love those words: rubbish, wanker. They're just too good not to use.
Rob Henning
08.01.07 at 09:20

J: You're right about the origin of the terms, but that doesn't necessarily assign geography to the people, myself included, who use them. And I don't even have the British wife.
Su
08.01.07 at 09:53

After an email exchange with Jonathan, I feel the need to clarify my comments above, to hopefully flesh out what are admittedly very broad criticisms.

There is very good work in the book, undoubtedly. As I said in an email to Jonathan himself, the Hirst book was enormously influential on graphic design trends, Adbusters, too. His typefaces practically defined a certain period of graphic design.

However, one excellent piece of work for every ten pages of - in my opinion - gradients and slogans does not make for a "species-jumping leap for graphic design".

I'm sorry if I find the other stuff to be "filler", but I do. The fact that that material also employs such highly-charged, "revolutionary", fuck-the-system rhetoric just makes it all the more empty to me. I think it's glib to attempt to meaningfully elucidate anything about world affairs with clip art of corporate logos and diagrams of Dick Cheney's oil connections. I honestly feel the same way about the "Nozone: Empire" issue, though I loved their execution. Also, "Nozone: Empire" wasn't put up for critique, Jonathan's book was.

The folks who designed that donut-shaped water container, where refugees can put a rope thru it & wheel it back to camp? THAT'S revolutionary design, or at the very least it's ingenious work that makes a real impact on people without having to wrap itself in one iota of hyperbole. By contrast, I think we can all agree that clever vector art will likely do little to afflict the comfortable.

I know full-well I'm just another privileged white guy, sitting at my computer, reading the paper, trying to wrap my head around why the wheels of society seem to have come off. I have no doubt Jonathan wonders about the very same thing. It's just that, in the end, I find that his book offers nothing more than a bombastic pose for an answer.
Mark Melnick
08.01.07 at 10:00

>>"I love those words: rubbish, wanker. They're just too good not to use."<< may I ask why you love them so?
j
08.01.07 at 11:19

All icing, no cake?

russellm
08.01.07 at 02:02

This discussion has devolved into pointless name-calling regarding personal preference or lack of for Jonathan Barnbrook's work. Come on.
Luke
08.01.07 at 03:23

Readers,
We have removed a comment for offensive language. Its author has been informed. We'd like to remind all commenters of the guidelines for this site: "We encourage comments to be short and to the point, and to be courteous to others in the discussion. We discourage comments that are unnecessarily antagonistic."
The Editors
The Editors
08.01.07 at 06:10

I think I have great respect for designers that attempt to say something of value and that feel responsible to society at large. If the gesture may seem too grand to some, it is in my eyes still better than the egocentric showing of one's formal prowess as a designer. I think this book will hopefully speak to a younger audience that may have become desensitized to world problems (maybe due to information overload, or just a malaise of the times). Maybe it will be another source of inspiration at a time when design is having (in my humble opinion) a bit of an identity crisis.

What caught my attention first about this book is that the cover has a very nicely hidden translation of the title in Arabic at the top right-hand corner, and it looks like a road signs commonly used in most Arab countries.... I am sure if Jonathan can see our newly developed Khatt Foundation set of Arabic fonts, he would've liked to use them for his cover. Maybe for his next book. I personally cannot wait to have this book and to review it on our Khatt Network for Arabic Typography.

Good work and all the best to Jonathan Barnbrook.
Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares
08.02.07 at 02:36

what is barnbrook's relation to chris ware?
xanthe
08.02.07 at 08:16

Designers? Engaging in meaningless hero-worship? Wow. Well: the sky's blue, grass is often green.

I wonder how Mr. Barnbrook feels about being the object of hero-worship. The "Bible" in the title is funny though; I remember being at an AIGA party, I think for the Voice Conference years ago, and he was actually signing a Gideon's Bible or some such for a student. I don't know the man, but from what I saw of him at that conference, he came across as quite humble.

Drone and Tourette are lovely typefaces and I'm thrilled that they exist.

But let's be real here. Graphic design has extremely limited impact on the political process, and while I certainly don't seek to denigrate it, overstating its effect is foolish.
Brad Gutting
08.02.07 at 12:41

Claims that 'Graphic design has extremely limited impact on the political process' though incessant, fail to see the forest for the trees. And are usually made by those whose are most complicit in sustaining an inequitable and exploitative system. (I say most, because for sure, we're all complicit.)

Aren't these the same designers always shouting that design can help shift units, grow profits, and transform businesses?

But can we have it both ways? Can the economic impact of commercial design really fail to make a cultural impact in a culture of hyper-capitalism. And is it reasonable to tell designers like Jonathan that their work is useless if it is directed at cultural not commercial outcomes?

From the depths of the Amazonian jungle, to the deserts of the Australian interior, to the villages and cities anywhere on the planet, design suggests, persuades and advocates for an ideology that is actually killing us. At this moment in history is there a more ubiquitous vehicle for the dominant ideology than design?

Work like Jonathan's is difficult for some because it honestly acknowledges that (whether we admit it or not) we are right now designing our future.
Jason
08.02.07 at 10:17

bible of the aestheticization of politics? just what we don't need.
nick
08.03.07 at 05:40

aestheticization is politics
bigbang
08.03.07 at 06:02

"The defensive ignorance of many of these posts is remarkable. The hostility aimed at the idea of a designer taking a stand (noble or otherwise) against an ideology of exploitation is depressing."

Lots of heat, little light. Par for the course here unfortunately. Interesting how living designers seem to receive the most opprobrium (see the Neville Brody thread from a few years back). They'll all love you when you're dead, Jonathan.
John Coulthart
08.04.07 at 12:10

Incidentally, what does the Arabic say on the cover...? Do any of you know?

Tom.
Tom
08.04.07 at 12:26

The Arabic says Barnbrook Bible
yoni
08.05.07 at 04:53

Thank you Yoni. It was silly of me to ask really. I looked up a table of Arabic letters and was pretty sure it was Brnbrwk.
Tom
08.05.07 at 10:42

it would be interesting if everyone who posted comments at DO were required to show their best graphic design work from the last decade and to explain the visual ideas behind their work. then we might be able to judge these comments a bit more clearly. a designer speaks with his work, and i'm very interested in taking a look at the book, to see what barnbrook is saying in his work..."wanker"? please. let's raise the bar a bit.
DR
08.06.07 at 08:09

I admire Jonathan's work because it is honest and human.

He could have a massive studio with 50 designers working for him but he chooses to keep small and do small projects. It is not about the money is about doing work that he believes in.

And Yes, graphic design can help facilitate change. The world - outside these walls - needs creative minds to find different solutions to the problems we now face. Discussion is only the beginning. As soon as we start putting the definitions of graphic design inside a box in a museum we will cease to find new boundaries and bridges.

I am glad some people are still trying to create alternative routes and are trying to make something more out of graphic design.
PS
08.07.07 at 08:47

I have not seen the book or the Design Museum exhibit but I did place an order for the monograph on Amazon June 20. So I can't justly react to the content of the book, but I can react to the tone of the commentary.

I am glad that Barnbook has been able to maintain such a consistency, intelligence and integrity in his vision of graphic design. It makes it all that much more interesting to theorize about how he sees the world, and, how I see the world through his eyes, his work.

I think that graphic design's ability to "change the world" is a spurious enterprise. Like many others, I dropped that (Modernist) potato when I was in architecture school and I see the same influence of capital at work in graphic design. The most that we can hope for is a critique of the world, of the cultural and capital structures that maintain the status quo. It is that same status quo seen above that dismisses Barnbrook's work as effete.

"Good" theory does not leave the object of its scrutiny unchanged. Barnbrook's work shows us that the perfection that we desire--and that graphic design reinforces--is illusory. His work is tight. Slick. Elegant. It is loud. It mummers. It knowingly winks from across the room while holding a stem of bordeaux. His work gives us what we want. It is an immediate high coupled with that immediate hangover that we justly deserve for our societal abuses.

I'm looking forward to that high and I am willing to pay the price for my indulgence: reflection, self-assessment and just maybe, a better understanding of my own complicit nature in reinforcing the flaws of society.
David Cabianca
08.08.07 at 12:10

Do it cuz you love doing it or do something else. (stress on the 'do'). Screw the rest. Critics are necessary evils but can we leave the worst of them on the client side?
rich babiarz
08.08.07 at 04:04

rich babiarz - your proposition advocates the status quo, Barnbook, anfd the like, are trying to disrupt it.
Eric
08.08.07 at 05:34

David -- you say you that graphic design's ability to "change the world" is a spurious enterprise, and that the most that we can hope for is a critique of the world... but then your write that "Good" theory does not leave the object of its scrutiny unchanged.

which is it really? come on - take a stand...
lifter
08.09.07 at 04:02

The article mentioned a release in September though.
I didn't find it available on Amazon yet (still a pre-order).
Maybe commenting after actually overlooking the book in it's entirety would make more sense?
It will give you more to judge if anything.
Julian
08.09.07 at 09:58

I did take a stand. These are not mutually exclusive concepts, just complex ones.

David Cabianca
08.09.07 at 11:25

These are not mutually exclusive concepts, just complex ones.
really? how so?
lifter
08.09.07 at 07:10

For my money Herb Lubalin and U&LC magazine presented type at it's best in their magazine and still were commercial and political in their day, when Glaser and Push Pin ruled design.
They had no computers to speak of but a trained eye and Typesetting tweaked with brush,pen,photostat machine and an exacto knife.

Barnbrooks designs resemble old coloring books.
DJS
08.10.07 at 05:25

I would love to be able to read this lengthy review, but since this blog does not even have a print stylesheet, printing out your single column of text would require 11 printed pages and would include every component of the page. Critics of design practice have poor practice themselves.
Joe Clark
08.13.07 at 02:07

I have been to see the exhibition and had a brief look through the book. What I like about his work is the continued, dogged, undermining of authority. Religion, politics, consumerism, terrorism - all come under fire. All are treated with sceptisism, subversion, and most importantly... Humour!
I think it's healthy for the design profession to have opinions and a voice like his around.
JNB
08.14.07 at 05:43

Surf's Up. Hot air rises.
David
08.30.07 at 03:55

Surf's Up. Hot air rises.

a comment from Mr Carson that's about as constructive as his work is relevant...

I'm a student, so will you post this on your self congratulatory website with all the other fawning messages, Mr Carson? I noticed afterall that they're starting to thin out...
Peta Brez
09.12.07 at 12:34

Sounds like some neo-cons got their panties wadded over this one. Waaaaah.
PatriotJim
09.30.07 at 03:11

I very much enjoyed this overview of Barnbrook's work.
vond
09.30.07 at 03:15

I purchased this book about a week into the exhibition and had it sent to Australia. I quite enjoyed the book, but mainly hearing Jonathan's direct thoughts, inspirations and rationales on his work. It was a change rather then reading and interpreting all of the for/against critics that can't think objectively to a different interpretation or approach to a problem/s or creating statements through typography and design.
At least his way is his way.
Stephen
10.24.07 at 12:26

"i will post a response to some of the 'interesting issues' which have been highlighted in the comments here in the next day or two" - Posted by: jonathan barnbrook on July 31, 2007 07:40 PM

7 months later...
A Waiting
03.04.08 at 11:15

"7 months later and still waiting..."

yeah right, and of course you would be really happy to respond after you had the got the level of childish abuse that he has here. he probably thinks its pointless and i would say he is right.


joel
04.27.08 at 09:15

Then he either respond to those that have something worth responding to, or, respond to the fact that there is nothing worth responding to. It's not ethical to say you are going to do something and then not do it, especially when it involves others.

9 months later...


A Waiting
04.28.08 at 02:44

I didnt realise how cut throat and design was. You may as well be name calling. I guess too much success can result in mass criticism, jealousy even??

Instead of picking at holes in Barnbrooks Bible I choose to take from it what I liked. For me his typefaces.

But what do I know,

Im just a student...

HELLO
06.25.08 at 08:22

Instead of picking at holes in Barnbrooks Bible I choose to take from it what I liked. For me his typefaces.
film izle
04.25.09 at 06:54


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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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Unit Editions, 2010

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

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

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

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