Way back in 1999 I was reading Design Writing Research – Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton's collection of essays on graphic design (and also the name of their design practise at the time). This was the first time I'm read anything from either author – to a large extent, it was the first time I'd enjoyed writing of this kind. It was Lupton's name that had drawn me in – I wasn't so familier with Miller – and semi-youthful enthusiasm for the subject (I wasn't that young) drove me on to consume both author's nuanced thoughts and ideas. It was full of insightful articles that helped me view the discipline of design in a more informed way.
That same year Abbott Miller joined Pentagram and slipped off my radar. Well, that's what I thought. His new book, Abbott Miller: Design and Content reveals a slightly different perspective. It turns out, I've been well aware of Miller's work throughout the last fifteen years, I'd just been missing the credit.
Written and designed by Miller, Design and Content shows diverse and intelligent design; mature work that demonstrates both masterful visual creativity and skilful wordsmithery – an essential and balanced approach that can be sadly under appreciated by those with a bias towards one or the other.
Miller and his team have worked across many specialisms which Design and Content bears witness to. Projects include branding, print, editorial and exhibition design and features collaborations with artists like Yoko Ono, Philip Glass and Nan June Paiik. Miller's work is introduced by Rick Poyner and includes essays by Miller and Lupton – and converstations with fellow Pentagramers Michael Bierut, Eddie Opera and Paula Scher.
It's a handsome volume too.
Everyone's got it, haven't they? It's a piece of graphic design history and a super-fast/low-cost read. And a useful reminder of what it's all about; I for one benefit greatly from this kind of reminder, distracted as I can be by technology and the latest this and that. Rand's "Thoughts on Design", first published in 1947, is like the Hovis bread of the design world, "As good for us today as it's always been". It reminds us, succinctly and intelligently, of the importance of study, observation, relevance and purpose; the nutrients of good design.
Secondhand Bookshop loiterers will relate to this:
I was at a nearby National Trust property, mooching around the secondhand bookshop, when I spied a scruffy oddity. A strangely tall volume wrapped in an interesting elk-based photo dust jacket that was topped off with a nasty piece of outline type.
If it wasn't for the unusual format I'd have passed it by but it was poking up, head and shoulders above the other odds and ends. So I did the thing you do – we all do it, don't we? – I slipped its jacket off.
Boy am I glad I did.
You can’t hope to improve, significantly, as a designer by merely practicing design. You’ll get better at Photoshop as you find your way around its hidden depths, your typography might creep forward with exposure to its challenges, you might have a natural grasp of colour, but progress will be slow unless you look further afield for your influences. Latching onto a sage-like mentor of some kind or bathing in the foamy mix of design history are hard to better.
Same goes for writing. Writing in isolation is unlikely to lead you along the twisty-turny, bramble-blocked path that the writer has to follow in order to hone his or her wordsmithery. Better to latch onto a sage-like mentor or bathe in the foamy mix of literary history.
Maybe, even, read a book about writing.
A friend of mine, clearly trying to tell me something, sent me Roy Peter Clarke’s book Writing Tools at Christmas. Never has a book sustained my interest so effectively. Juggling a few volumes on unconnected subjects, my pace through Writing Tools has been gentle. But that’s just heightened my enjoyment. I’ve been taking each chapter, each strategy, slowly. And with each comes a beautifully useful nugget of writing wisdom.
I’m a better writer for reading Writing Tools.
In The Design Method Eric Karjaluoto meticulously and generously details the journey he and his team at smashLAB follow through the creative quagmire. From a project’s early research stages; through strategies and cunning plans; past top-level conceptualisation and onwards, far beyond the edges of iterating, prototyping and more iterating; Karjaluoto’s design methods, rightly, leave little to fortuitous happenstance or creative genius.
It's tough out there. When you’re being paid to deliver great creative, on demand, everyday, you need a system. You need a design method; to manage the process, your client, your employer, your stress levels and your sanity. Methodology guides you through the blocks, around the obstacles and under the aquaducts of distraction.
I’ve introduced methods and systems into studios. Some have even worked. Some have been welcomed, some rejected. Others have been fought and a few have been embraced. I believe in processes because I’m not a creative genius; I’ve experienced the pressure and stress of demand. Due diligence has helped me to deliver sound creative – on time and to budget. What’s that thing Einstein said? About spending most of his time thinking about the problem and only a tiny bit of time thinking about the solution. The Design Method is all about that sort of thing. It's about following sensible procedures to take care of the business of design.
The Design Method describes more processes than you may ever be likely to eat. In doing that it might just help you find the ones that will work for you. It touches on things you’ll know, that’s what it did for me – Karjaluoto describes much that I already do, more that I wish I did do and a lot that I know I should do. On top of that it did one really great and helpful thing: it reaffirmed my faith in systems.
The Design Method provides the designer with the opportunity to find order in the creative mess. Not to stifle or restrict but to enable and liberate. If you’re starting out it could prove especially helpful – although it's likely to require discipline and diligence if you are to benefit most from what it offers. If you’ve been at it for a while, it might help you fine tune how you practise your craft.
It was ages before I got around to buying Lars Müller's Lufthansa + Graphic Design – edition 05 from their A5 series. And I completely missed edition 06: HfG Ulm. Well, I wasn't going to make the same mistake with edition 07.
This is from the Lars Müller website:
This book is the first monograph dedicated to the designer Rolf Müller who is known above all for his design of the visual identity of the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Shortly after graduating from the famous Ulm School of Design, his former professor Otl Aicher entrusted him with this work, which set new standards in international design. In parallel, he established his design firm Büro Rolf Müller in Munich.
On the basis of selected projects, the book attempts to sketch the mentality and methods of his design: For nearly four decades, the firm developed corporate identities, books, magazines and signage systems on the highest level. The firm’s projects include the visual identity of the City of Leverkusen, forged over several decades, and the magazine HQ High Quality for the company Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, of which 39 issues were published.
As a storyteller and system designer, Rolf Müller has left his mark on international design history with his work. His stance has had a decisive impact in shaping the way in which today’s communications designers view their profession.
It's as if I planned it. Following up the Avant Garde emblazoned presentation pack with Unit Editions simply marvellous compact version of their Herb Lubalin book. For a while, maybe five or so years back (maybe more) graphic design was all about Herb's most famous fonts, AG and semi-self-titles ITC Lubalin Graph. OK, that's a considerable exaggeration but the two fonts were pretty prominent for a while.
Way back in the mid-seventies it was the same. Good times for the International Type Corporation, co-founded by Lubalin at the beginning of that decade. The distinct thing about ITC was its house style. Even when re-issuing typefaces based on historical models, like Garamond, they imbued the design with a distinctly large x-height. Purists would argue that ITC Garamond is NOT Garamond. Controversial stuff.
The Unit Editions book is great; richly capturing the life and beautiful work of an important figure in typography and graphic design.
This years Pentagram holiday book records the strange case of the wild dog that sued the manufacturing giant. The plaintiff, one W E Coyote, disgruntled by the poor performance of products purchased from the defendant, the Acme Company, sought damages for loss of income and personal injury suffered following the use of the afore mentioned items.
With supporting diagrammage and wit, it's a very funny little book. The text, by Ian Frazier, was originally published in The New Yorker in 1990 and re-purposed here with products designed by Daniel Weir and illustrated by Simon Denzel.
You can read more about it here.