Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Ten Books — A Graphic Designer’s Reading List

March 27, 2012, 2:30 PM

Thinking about Eye Magazine’s question, ‘How should we choose texts to guide students through the info-blizzard?’, I checked my library to see what I would recommend reading first to a younger me. I remember that when I was in college, and during my junior years, I was always struggling with which book to buy next. Choosing one on a specific topic, say typography, meant many late hours spent on reading reviews, looking for photos of spreads and so on. So many, but which one would ‘teach the most’? There were no libraries or bookshops to check first, and I couldn’t afford to get a ‘wrong’ one, postage was quite expensive.

Unlike the lucky ones living in London, New York or other big cities with proper libraries, book shops and art schools, the rest have to settle with buying online. Without guidance, this can be daunting, especially on Amazon, with its huge range. You might get a bibliography from your school, or you could find reading lists of great designers (see end of article for links), but these are rarely short, affordable or, most importantly, helpful and relevant for a less experienced person.

This is why I’m keeping my list to ten books. Five ‘basic’ books that will get you through almost anything, five more that will help you build on the first. Most of them are about graphic design, but those that aren’t will help you just as well, maybe even more. Here they are, each with a short reason-why:

 

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul
by Adrian Shaughnessy
ISBN-10: 1856697096
ISBN-13: 978-1856697095
This book will give you a very good general idea on what it actually means to be a graphic designer. Whether you plan to find a job or start on your own, Mr Shaughnessy offers plenty of details on what you need to know and do. He also interviews several high profile designers, asking for their tips. The table of contents, laid out on the cover, is more than self-explanatory.

 

The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst
ISBN-10: 0881792128
ISBN-13: 978-0881792126
While there is no such thing as too many typefaces (unless they’re on the same layout), this is less valid for typography books. Good typography is the backbone of any design, whether it’s a small Christmas card or a large supergraphic signage system. Hermann Zapf’s ‘wish to see this book become the Typographer’s Bible’ written on the back cover says it all.

 

Grid systems
by Josef Müller-Brockmann
ISBN-10: 3721201450
ISBN-13: 978-3721201451
The 80’s are some thirty years back now and fortunately David Carson is just one, so you’ll need to learn the basics of grid systems, especially now that webdesign has finally caught up in using great typefaces and proper, even flexible grids. While the previous book will explain some of the basics, this book by Müller-Brockmann is the cornerstone. You don’t have to become a gridnik like Mr Crouwel, but any piece of design – just like architecture – needs a good structure.

 

The Brand Handbook
by Wally Olins
ISBN-10: 0500514089
ISBN-13: 978-0500514085
Unless you’re living on a remote mountain, growing your own vegetables, you’ll know by now that brands are all around us. In this day and age, understanding branding has become maybe even more important than classic skills like typography or grid design. This book explains what brands are and how they work. If you’re involved in any commercial business, branding is essential for success, whether you’re a designer or not. You’ll rarely find such concise, no-bullshit writing on branding as from Mr Olins – and these days everyone writes about branding.

 

Steal like an artist
by Austin Kleon
ISBN-10: 0761169253
ISBN-13: 978-0761169253
This book has just recently been published, but I’ve rarely seen such concise pieces of advice for any creative venturer. You can read its ten short chapters in less than an hour, but you’ll find invaluable advice, ranging from copying as the best form of learning or freedom from debt to the importance of habits and perseverance. Buy it, read it, keep it on your table and browse it again and again.

Graphic Design, A Concise History
by Richard Hollis
ISBN-10: 0500203474
ISBN-13: 978-0500203477
Graphic design has changed significantly with the introduction of PCs in the 1980s and with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s and especially the 2000s. Still, the core ideas remain pretty much the same as the ones used by the Bauhaus or Paul Rand. The past is a great source of inspiration, as long as you keep in mind that you need to steal from many, not just one. Hollis’s book is a great start (also look for the Meggs tome if you have the time and the money).

 

A Smile in the Mind
by Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart
ISBN-10: 0714838128
ISBN-13: 978-0714838120
Design without ideas is mere styling. This book shows plenty of memorable examples of fine design, the kind that makes you smile with admiration. The projects shown range from playful, witty to humorous or ironic, covering the main business sectors. It also contains interviews with 26 of the best designers, explaining how they got their ideas. A must have for any designer striving to learn how to think.

 

Paul Rand
by Steven Heller
ISBN-10: 0714839949
ISBN-13: 978-0714839943
Probably the best monograph ever written about a designer, especially about Paul Rand. He is regarded as one of the finest thinkers, with work spanning from advertising, publishing to corporate design and children’s books. This book will show you the endless possibilities in design (even before the web) and introduce you to one of the best heroes you could have.

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
ISBN-10: 0099526158
ISBN-13: 978-0099526155
It’s not about design, but this book will teach you about the importance of perseverance. Murakami offers great insights into what it takes to have a long and fruitful career. It also talks about the benefits of sport, especially for creatives that are bound to their chair for most of the day. Btw, this cover shown here is designed by Chip Kidd, look him up too.

 

Siddhartha
by Hermann Hesse
ISBN-10: 0141189576
ISBN-13: 978-0141189574
This is my all time favourite book. There’s so much to learn from it, but the main reason I’m including it here is that it talks about the importance of leaving your familiar places to experience diversity and about the search for meaning. It’s a great book for any designer that learns that best things come from ‘seeing’ (not just looking) around you, and dares to step out of the ‘bubble’ designers usually tend to live in.

Ending note
Making the list hasn’t been easy. I had to leave out many gems like ‘From Lascaux to Brooklyn’ by Paul Rand, ‘Make it Bigger’ by Paula Scher or the wonderful “The Art of Looking Sideways” by Alan Fletcher. Also, the recently published ‘An A-Z of Visual Ideas’ by John Ingledew and ‘LogoDesignLove’ by David Airey are worth reading and keeping close, for daily references. All these will help you a lot, but in the end, the best way to learn is still working with a senior (in addition to doing a lot of work yourself, paid or personal). Read these and go out and find somebody better than you, learn everything you can, then find somebody even better and repeat. Good luck!

FURTHER READING & LINKS
— read the Eye Magazine article that triggered my post;
— browse my Anobii online library — ask me if you want more recommendations;
— read my reviews of the LogoDesignLove book and other great books;
— check out Designersandbooks — the favourite books of many great designers;
— also worth browsing, Frank Chimero’s and Jason Santa Maria’s book lists.

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A book cover for La Fontaine’s Fables from the 50s

February 27, 2011, 9:10 PM

While I was a kid, and well into my teenage years, I would spend summers at my grandparents’, far into the north of Transylvania, ‘bookworming’ through their large library, trying to beat my own reading records. As my grandmother is half German, half Hungarian and my grandfather is Romanian (mother side), their library was — and still is — packed with Romanian, Hungarian and Russian (because of the long comunist regime) books. Luckily, some of them were translated in Romanian, as I didn’t know the other languages (too young to catch Russian hours in school, not long enough with my grandparents to pick up proper Hungarian from them). Anyway, it was a wonderful thing to be able to read literature from such different countries. Most of the books were from the 50s and the 60s, when my mother and her brothers were kids, but some were even older — grandpa had a large old chest in the attic with books from his teenage years — such a joy to browse through.

Unfortunately, I only have a few photos of them, but here is one that always fascinated me: La Fontaine’s Fables. It wasn’t among my favourite reads, but its illustrations and typography were always a pleasure to look at:

Oh, I don’t think I need to tell you that all those books smelled wonderful, do I? :)

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Reverting to Type — A Treat from the New North Press

January 17, 2011, 6:05 PM

Held at the Standpoint Gallery, “Reverting to Type” explores the modern execution of letterpress. Curated by Graham Bignell of New North Press and graphic designer Richard Ardagh, the exhibition showcases the work of twenty contemporary letterpress practitioners from around the world, contributions from three leading art colleges and the first eight in an ongoing series of prints with especially invited collaborators.

The show opened on 10th Dec 2010 and it’s still on till 22nd Jan 2011 (this Saturday), so if you’re in London and you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favour and go see it — open daily from 10 to 6.

The beautiful poster and invitation for the exhibition.

Here’s a close-up teaser (more images after the jump):

» Continue reading

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Iancul.com — Hardest Thing, Designing My Own Website

November 12, 2010, 9:49 AM

A SMALL BACKGROUND

Designing your own identity must be the hardest thing for a designer — the old shoemaker saying still holds, after all. The first version of this site was made almost five years ago, mostly in Photoshop since I didn’t know enough Dreamweaver or HTML. It was a fresh graduate’s portfolio, with half of the works being school projects while the other half being done for a few small agencies I’ve worked for during college. It did its job, though, allowing me to move from Cluj to Bucharest and start working as an Art Director (my CD at that time, Avi (Octavian Giosanu), had much greater confidence in my skills than I did). The domain of that website was www.ibarbar.ro, an abbreviation of my name. After serving its purpose, I closed the portfolio and started a blog, mostly because it seemed a good exercise in writing and clearing my ideas about design and other things.

THE DOMAIN NAME

Iancul.com came just a year and a half ago, in January, 2009. While ibarbar is a short name, it’s less memorable and sometimes difficult to understand. And I wanted a more ‘serious’ website, hence the .com instead of the lifetime-paid .ro. Iancul is obviously based on my name, Iancu, the ‘l’ being the Romanian definite article, just like ‘the’ is in English. I wasn’t very sure about adding so much emphasis on my name, but I went with it because the .com domain was available and the six letters were much easier to design as a Japanese-like stamp, an idea I’ve been playing with for a long time. It also reads as Iancool, which I’m sometimes called, but I can’t really remember if it was before or after the website :).

THE ‘STAMP’

While obviously functioning as a logo, I like to see it more as an inkan or hanko, a japanese type of stamp (wiki). The idea came from my passion for Japanese prints, on which artists and publishers used to sign their names with different types of stamps (everyone knows Hokusai, but I’m a big fan of the Shin-hanga movement, as I’ve written before). I’ve drawn many versions, all using a fude-pen, a wonderful drawing tool, which allowed me to keep a personal, hand-drawn feel to it. All the crisp, unmodulated-line versions I’ve made looked cold, unballanced, soul-less. The only exception is the website’s favicon and the ending blog posts slug — the small size makes it work. So, while it’s not exactly a logo, it works like one in several ways, just as a handwritten signature sometimes does.

THE ‘BIG’ IDEA

Being a big fan of the International Typographic Style, I first wanted a Vignelli-like website — you know, Helvetica on a well-built grid (my german blood longed for it). But almost all the big design blogs used this approach (well, at least at the time I started designing my website): ex-NYTimes-Design-Director Khoi’s excellent Subtraction, Antonio Carusone’s AisleOne and The Grid System (go figure), David Airey’s LogoDesignLove or his just-launched Identity Designed (don’t be fooled by the serifed titles). Clearly, no matter how much I loved Müller-Brockmann, I had to do something different.

… maybe it was time to go back to the roots, book design.

Still using a Swiss-style grid (you can’t beat your own stuborness, you can only work around it), I started drawing Georgia-based layouts, thinking that if everybody’s doing modernist pages, maybe I should follow Mr. Tschihold‘s example and go back to the roots, book design. Wasn’t before long that I settled on the idea of having each blog post or case study (as I wanted the same layout for both, with minor tweaks) as a book page, with wide margins, page numbers (post’s number) and footnotes.

THE GENERAL LOOK


The top menu is as simple as possible, providing fast access to all the sections and showing what the website is mainly about. The interesting part here is the ‘More in footer’ button, which does exactly what it says, as I’ll explain in a minute. The menu is followed by a generous white space, containing the ‘logo’ and a ‘Food for thought’ quote from some of the great designers, meant to set the tone — I’m not into just posting links, pictures or videos from other websites and my work is definitely not just pretty colours and typefaces, there’s always some thinking involved, serious or not. I change the quote from time to time, as I have a small collection. On the portfolio page, the quote is replaced by the secondary menu, pointing to each case study and other work-related sections. Another difference between the blog and the portofolio is the background colour: cold, professional grey to support the works, warm brown for a comfortable feel while reading blog posts.

Whitespace. There’s never nearly enough whitespace.

Good books have wide margins, meant for your thumbs. This meant the classic sidebar had no place either on the left or the right, so I moved everything down in the footer. This allows the reader to follow the posts without any distraction. It also provides a lot of whitespace, ‘sliced’ every now and then by image captions, quotes or short but important paragraphs — these ‘tricks’ are meant to draw you into the main article, as we all fast-browse these days, scrolling down the pages and just reading here and there (a long, even column of text and images easily turns into a boring, monotone block that your eye begins to slip over without something to focus on). Of course, titles follow the same idea, starting from the left, easy to catch even if you roll your scroll wheel like a 6-shooter’s barrel when playing russian roulette. Another element that sticks out is the footer of each blog post, especially the social sharing part, since it doesn’t matter how good, witty or funny you are if the only one reading you is your girlfriend (not that’s anything wrong with that, either :) The ‘page’ ends with the post/page number and the up and down arrows that take you instantly to the top or to the footer.

Finally, the footer concentrates all the details that would usually be in the sidebar, together with an extended menu that provides access to other parts of the website that are not mentioned in the main menu. Search bar, categories, tags, featured posts, latest comments — they’re all here, helping you browse the content any way you feel like. Next to them, a short description of the website and the regular social networks links, RSS and email subscription buttons.

THE GRID

Based on a 960-pixel width, making use of 12 columns and supporting the 960 Grid System initiative, the grid is easy to guess, as all elements align on it with very few exceptions. Each column is 60 px wide, with 20 px gutters and 10 px margins. Even if the typography is mainly serifed, the ex-centric grid is definitely modernist, inspired by Hans Rudolf Bosshard‘s complex grid systems . Most elements are aligned on a 21 pixel-baseline grid, as the leading of the body text, but this baseline grid is more of a local one, for each ‘page’ rather than for the whole website. This is because grids are usually excellent helpers, making everything a lot faster to design, especially when dealing with multiple layouts that need to be part of a ‘family’ — but, they do have the bad habit of becoming too rigid to follow all around, every now and then. Striving to design the ‘perfect grid’ feels many times just as achievable as finding the Holy Grail.
(click on the image for the complete view)

THE STYLES

Typography is based on the ever-reliable Georgia (designed in 1993 by Matthew Carter), supported here and there by Lucida Grande (designed by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes) for notes, subtitles and footnotes. There are 7 pre-set paragraph styles that cover almost all needs, but I sometimes set type in custom sizes or colours.

TITLES ARE SET IN GEORGIA BOLD, 21/21 PT, ALL CAPS — WELL, IT’S ONLY 16/21 PT IN THIS PARTICULAR EXAMPLE, BUT YOU GET THE IDEA.

First paragraphs or introductions are set in Georgia Regular, 16/21 pt — They usually run along a few more lines, so I’m going to use lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, just to add a little weight to the paragraph.

Quotes or other important ideas that I want to underline are set in Georgia, mostly italic, 16/21 pt, grey — as you can see, they have the same width as the body text, but they start right from the left side of the page, just like titles.

SUBTITLES ARE SET IN LUCIDA GRANDE BOLD, 12/21 PT

Body text is set in Georgia Regular, 14/21 pt. That’s a little on the larger side, since I think there’s too many tiny-written design websites. A 12 pt line might be more than readable on paper, but on screen that’s a totally different story.

Lists are of several kinds:

  1. Numbered lists, indented from the main body.
  2. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip.
  3. Consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

then there’s the

  • Bulleted list style, that has the same indent as the numbered lists one.
  • Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip.

and the third,

  • em-dash lists style, again with the same indent, but using em-dashes instead of bullets (wouldn’t have guessed it, right? :P).

Other styles include inside quotes — the real ones, actually, as I tend to use the other italic style more as an attention drawer, as it can’t support long quotes, like this one:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work … It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions … It’s gonna take awhile … You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass

and finally, the notes style, almost always at the end of the article, also sharing the style with captions and texts in the website’s footer:

Notes are set in Lucida Grande, 12/16 pt — I’ll have to use that lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat again, just to make my point.

Whew! Now that we got text styles out of the way, on to…

THE IMAGES

Grids are usually built with type in mind — they’re called ‘typographic’, after all — but being a designer’s website, images are just as important, so there are several presets that can be used.

Normal blog and portfolio images are 540 px wide, going as tall or short as necessary:

Then there are special cases when some blog images are 630 px wide and go all the way to the right margin, like in this case:

Rarely, I can use large, margin-to-margin images, that have a 780 px width:

Last but not least, there’s the small, squared image that can fit in the left side whitespace column. It’s size can vary, but only up to 220 px, over the 3 columns. Here’s an example (with some quotes, just to make it more interesting):

“Often people forget,” he elaborates, “that how clever you are with the latest technology is not the point. The equivalent would be like someone coming up to you and saying ‘Have you seen this book? It’s printed on great paper!
The true challenge is what messages are you putting over? How do you want people to feel about the work you’re doing? It’s a dialog. It’s never a monolog. Wherever possible, we’ve consciously tried to make sure that visual communication is an open-ended process.
If I manage to create a situation where someone had to think twice about something they’re doing, I would call that a success. I think the objects I leave behind are not the legacy I’m interested in. It’s whether I can leave behind a thought process.”

— Neville Brody

THE ARCHIVE

One thing I’ve always wrestled with is writing constantly on the blog. Some of the WordPress templates I’ve used in the past had post-per-month counters, but their Archive system was rudimentary. So the new design is meant to do two things: first, helping readers that browse the website’s history with reading the titles fast and checking which posts have more comments, and second, giving me a clear view of how many posts I’ve written each month.

THE INFLUENCES

Spread from "The Typographic Grid", by Hans Rudolf Bosshard.

One of my favourite books to look for type & grid inspiration is “The Typographic Grid”, written by Hans Rudolf Bosshard. Some say it’s the second part to Müller-Brockmann’s “Grid Systems”. Either way, it’s a wonderful book with plenty to learn from and admire. It’s here I admired the beauty of flush left titles with body texts begining just from the middle of the page and large, extremely letter-spaced titles (not set in all-caps, mind you).

As for website examples, I must admit I had a too-large list of good links (just go to Siteinspire and you won’t know which one to check out first). However, there were a few that I’ve kept coming back to more than often. First of all, Cristian -Kit- Paul’s Kit·blog, an excellent showcase of Leica photography (it used to be more about design, but lately it has become an impressive photo-blog — read his colophon). Second, Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction, a classic already, and Aegir Hallmundur’s Ministry of Type, also a beauty. Miles Newlyn’s website (designed by Gabi Toth), Erik Spiekermann’s blog, Frank Chimero‘s, Jeffrey Zeldman‘s, Brian Hoff‘s and A List Apart also had their good share of influence. Ah, and Edenspiekermann‘s, one of the best websites around.

Last but not least, this website wouldn’t have been online without the help from the guys at Dream Production, who patiently endured my type-obsessed feedbacks and coded this website. If you need WordPress (and not only) specialists, definitely give them a call.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far
— oh, all right, goes for the ‘skimmers’ as well :)

LATER UPDATE:
Feedbacks on the website’s redesign have been great, but one in particular made me very happy: Erik Spiekermann saying he loves my website. That is really something — thank you!

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‘Gastrotypographicalassemblage’ — Lou Dorfsman’s Most Impressive Creation

November 11, 2010, 12:50 AM

Just like the other greats, Lou Dorfsman‘s work is always a pleasure to watch, to analyze, to admire silently, filled with awe. Known mostly for overseeing the identity of the CBS channel for more than 40 years, Lou Dorfsman was a master typographer and designer, involved in all the aspects of CBS’ branding. Luckily, the Shoreditch-based Kemistry Gallery recently held an exhibition presenting one of Dorfsman’s most impressive works, the 11-metre wide handmade wooden typographic wall entitled “Gastrotypographicalassemblage”.

The exhibition's poster

Here are some more details from the gallery’s website (link):

Created during an era when designers were both artisans and well-trained communicators, the wall is the largest modern typographic artefact in existence, described by Michael Bierut as ‘an irreplaceable piece of design history.’ With custom type created by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, the wall contains almost 1500 individual characters.

“There are few pieces that represent the typographic and design spirit that illuminated that moment of history, and certainly none on a scale as ambitious.” — Milton Glaser.

The original wall is still in restoration, but even if finished, moving it would’ve been quite a feat — the gallery showed a large, 1/2 scale print of the wall. Several parts were reproduced in real size, though. Other posters and prints were presented as well, next to a huge plastic CBS logo and an old TV from the wall’s era. More photos after the jump.

» Continue reading

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Best wishes to all!

December 25, 2009, 10:17 PM

May we all have a wonderful year in 2010!

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Town Magazine: B&W photo+typography=perfect marriage

December 9, 2009, 1:29 PM

Wonderful spreads from the Town Magazine (1952 -1968):

You can read more about it here.

(via Things To Look At)

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Serifed wayfinding in Gatwick, London

November 1, 2009, 4:06 PM

This really drew my eye last night as I was checking out in Gatwick, London: serifed wayfinding.

How about that, these chaps don’t give a damn about legibility theories and it’s such a good thing they don’t, every sign looks so beautiful, friendly and comfortable to follow. Only ermergency signs are written in sans, mostly on green colour (did see one on yellow, but I think it was just a mistake), well differentiated from the others. Take a look:

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Type & patterns — beautiful work by Andrew Townsend

October 22, 2009, 7:46 PM

I wish I made these. They’re that beautiful. Andrew Townsend‘s NTU Degree Shows 09 invitations and print materials look just wonderful. Mixing patterns with colour and a strong typeface surely hits the right spot. See for yourself (definitely browse his website for more treats):

60_ntui7

60_ntui6

52_ntub1

59_gfw1

60_ntui1

59_gfw6

59_gfw3

(via Graphic-Exchange, thanks Cipri)

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Big-Typography-River

October 16, 2009, 6:16 PM

This beautifully-set-typography poster knocked me out. If the film is half as good, it’s definitely worth watching (Big River Man on IMDB). Wonder who made it—movie posters are rarely this well-designed, they usually go for big, red Futura Ultra Bold or the ‘classic’ Trajan.

big_river_man

(via Graphic Exchange, thanks Cipri)

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