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Coffee Table Books

Are Graphic Design books more than pretty pictures and cool images?

With the popularity of biographical books, Sagmeister, Cahan and Associates, Tolleson Design, DED Associates, the list could go on and on, is there more to designer books than mere self-gratification and the achievement of celebrity status? Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at these books, they have great design and are very inspiring. But sometimes they just seem too shallow and empty.

For me, a few books have made a difference. A few in college, others through recent years. And these are books with more than just trendy design. They made me think of Design in a different way.

Here is a list of my favorite books (in no particular order):

1.- The end of print: the first book about design I ever read. First year of college. Obviously I was very impressed with the design, but the thing that stuck to me the most was his “follow your intuition” approach to design. I’ve always done that ever since. Nowadays I don’t like Carson’s work so much, but it was a huge influence for me as a young designer.

2.- Emigre (the Book) Graphic Design into the Digital Realm: what can I say? they are one of most ground breaking group of people. And this book tells the story.

3.- Tibor Kalman, perverse optimist: best book EVER.

4.- Edward Fella: Letters on America: whenever I feel uncreative I turn to this book, the collection of images is inspiring. And Fella’s artwork is unbelievable.

5.- Typographics 1: second book I purchased. So much typography, so well done. Copied a lot of the work found in that book during college, but eventually helped me to develop my own style.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.21.2002 BY Armin
Darrel’s comment is:

"is there more to designer books than mere self-gratification and the achievement of celebrity status?"


On Oct.21.2002 at 11:01 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Succint and sincere.

On Oct.21.2002 at 01:00 PM
Darrel’s comment is:


On Oct.21.2002 at 01:57 PM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

a few that should not be forgotten: Bringhurst's _The Elements of Typographic Style_; Tschichold's _The New Typography_ and _The Form of the Book_; Gunnar Swanson's _Graphic Design & Reading_; and I couldn't leave out McLuhan's _The Medium is the Massage_. I'll stop there for the sake of short attention spans.

On Oct.21.2002 at 03:32 PM
Jon’s comment is:

I pretty much despise David Carson and refuse to purchase any of his books. He was my first encounter with the 'designer as bloated ego' type, and this was back in '95 (he was still at Raygun) at Portfolio Center. He did half a 2-day seminar, went to a party that night, got wasted and didn't show up the next day. Real inspirational.

Now, Michael Bierut, who may indeed have a large ego (and one must to thrive at Pentagram), is a very nice person who took time after giving a lecture at school to go out to dinner with the graduating designers. Plus, when I finally got the courage to approach him for an interview a year later, he actually remembered me and was willing to meet.

So, compare and contrast if you will. I still say being a nice person gets you farther than ego and arrogance.

On Oct.21.2002 at 05:27 PM
Jon’s comment is:

Ok, that last post had nothing to do with books. Sorry.


Beware Wet Paint by Alan Fletcher really rocks.

Revival of the Fittest is a great typographic resource, showing many different iterations of digital revivals with a little history thrown in for good measure.

On Oct.21.2002 at 05:35 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"He did half a 2-day seminar, went to a party that night, got wasted and didn't show up the next day. Real inspirational."

Ha! That was the EXACT same experience I had with the guy. He's a total ass.

I should clarify my earlier post. MOST graphic design books are solely just 'hey, look at me' books. Yet, GDers buy them, so who's really to blame?

On Oct.21.2002 at 05:44 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>He's a total ass.

Seems to me be the overall feeling about him wherever you go. The fact that he turned everybody's head in the design world still remains. And that made his ego pretty big. I'm not defending his being a prick, I'm just saying...

On Oct.22.2002 at 08:52 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Another great great book on typography: Stop stealing sheep.

On Oct.22.2002 at 04:15 PM
Jon’s comment is:

>great book on typography: Stop stealing sheep.

There's an updated version of it that should be out or coming soon. Definitely a must have, especially for those fresh from school.

On Oct.22.2002 at 09:21 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Wow, this post is about two years old. I was still a junior in art school.

I was searching through 'Speak Up' archive to see if anyone has commented on a subject such as this one. I was at B&N the other night and after randomly going through the books at the 'Graphic Arts' section I notice time-and-time again that all design books are nothing more than 'Hey, look what I have done'. Now I don't have a problem with at all. I love looking at these books and seeing what great designers have done throughout their careers. It's pleasing and inspiring. And to be honest these books are different from all other books and magazines at B&N.

Now what I really have a problem with is that I haven't yet seen a book that goes into the mind of the designer and explains the unique procedure each and every designer goes by to reach the ultimate solution. I know that's too much to ask, but wouldn't it be great to find out more personal-creative stuff about great designers. Well, I might be young and books like these might exist. If they do, can someone point me in the right direction?!

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:36 AM
graham’s comment is:

robin kinross books (two book set) on anthony froshaug is wonderful-as is kinross' modern typography. the weingart book is good too-as will be, i imagine (and hope), the saul bass book. i always liked the big lovely book on bradbury thompson (sorry can't find it at the mo-all my stuff is in boxes), and there's 2 or 3 great books on the eames. i can't think of anything, though, that really goes as deep as it could in terms of graphic design/ers. there's plenty on other forms, though. 'sculpting in time' by andrey tarkovsky is one i always go back to, along with robert graves' 'the white goddess' and jean-claude carriere's 'the secret language of film'. maybe the 'graphic arts' section isn't the best place to look.

On Aug.03.2004 at 01:57 PM
Armin’s comment is:

There is a book that I have seen a couple of times at the bookstore that is a "look" into 10 or 15 creatives' minds. I can't think of the name and I can't picture the cover� so I may be hallucinating but if I find it or remember it, I'll post it here.

Karlssonwilker's book — if taken as a lighthearted read — is pretty revealing into what goes through these dudes' minds. Nothing close to the books graham recommends, but what I liked about that book is that they remove the luster off their projects and they just "tell" what was going on during the project.

On Aug.03.2004 at 02:32 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Graphic Design for the 21st Century: 100 of the World's Best Graphic Designers

I just picked this one up last month. I figured it was one of those (many) lame (I tend to get bored with most of them) showcase books. But as soon as I began flipping through it, I could not for the life of me put it back down. It has so many different styles, and yes while it is a "see what I've done" kind of book, it's really fucking good eye-candy. Plus, as a "bonus" it has a minor synopsis on what kind of philosophy each design(er)/house adheres to (it's self-described too, so some responses not typical).

Also, ABZ is a great book as far as showing examples of existing type treatments. Really good for getting ideas, or just enoying great typography being excercised.

On Aug.03.2004 at 05:28 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Well, I will have to check my balance and head to Amazon.com and make some major transactions...hmmm, come to think of it - I might (I just might) get a discount...Will post again soon with my thoughts...if anyone cares of course...Thanks: Graham, Armin, and Michael.

PS: Armin, I actually purchased Karlssonwilker's book the other day at amazon it should get here any moment.

On Aug.03.2004 at 08:42 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

If you're thinking about getting Graphic Design for the 21st Century, there's an article worth reading here.

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:14 PM
Anthony’s comment is:

The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst

oh yes oh yes Boys and Girls. Not exactly a coffee table book but a designer book if ever there was one. Just cause it don't have contrasty pics and loopy text doesn't make it not-designey. Um, yeah. The text block and footnote and subtitle are Bringhurst's Bread and Butter. Steak and Potato. Tomato and Mozzerella. Mustard and Cracker.

As a design school grad a scant two months into the real world (real, hahaha) I can say that the Carsons and Emigres and Sagmiesters and Kidds and Victores and even the Tschicholds�were much more in the spotlight of my education than the...um...Jansons? I guess my point is that a book of excellent typographic standards is something I find myself turning to much more than something by the rockstars. Terrifyingly enough, my generation of designers I think is being raised to some degree on a standard of strangled type and earth-quaked graphics. Which can be beautiful of course but even for me I wouldn't want that to be a standard. Of course my typography professors for the first couple years were like good parents, made us eat our typographic vegtables and for that I am grateful. It will be interesting to see what happens out there in the next couple years when rockstar type becomes more and more the norm (look at comedy central, tide ads, the apparel industry). The Bringurst-quality typographer will become more scarce perhaps, and more difficult to notice among the shouters.

Interesting though, that the newer medium of web design limits to an extent the amount of type-strangling which can go on due to contraints of html. Of course the flash intros continue to be a mess. There's no stopping that trainwreck. Skip intro every time.

Forgive me for getting off topic. All I'm saying is that if had a coffee table it would more likely than not be graced by a copy of Elements by Bringhurst. Complete with coffee flecks and sugar-packet bookmarks.

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:22 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Yeah, The Elements of Typographic Style rocks.

I read Stuart's review for Graphic Design for the 21st Century over at Typotheque and honestly feel that he was targeting the book simply to prove his point (comparing to another book for the subject: Two poles of design documentary). Granted, I'm not as familiar with his body of work as I should be (and am probably an insect in comparison), but he seemed far too critical of the book.

The title certainly makes one expect something out of the book, something that is not delivered. However, the contents of the book should not be so quickly dismissed as it earns it's own merit. The eye candy is really nice (many many different styles), and whether or not most of the responses to the 'future of graphic design’ question truly "read like rushed late-night emails"... it's all subjective anyway and some responses are pretty entertaining. Besides, who's really to judge what one thinks the future of design is?

Just tell me you can place this book in your hands and not want to put it back.

On Aug.06.2004 at 04:22 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Since you did ask, I have flipped through it and placed it back on the shelf. I ended up picking up The Fortress of Solitude instead. It didn't grab me as a book that I wanted to invest time with. If it's enriched your visual vocabulary than it was worth your purchase.

On the flip side I enjoyed Paula Scher's Make It Bigger immensely while the review in eye wasn't exactly kind to it. For me, that book would have been just as worthwhile sans images as with. The value for me was the sharing of experiences that I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to hear.

On Aug.06.2004 at 04:59 PM
michael’s comment is:

I hear ya Michael. Thanks for at least giving it a spin. I'm still expanding my visual vocabulary so maybe that's why I liked the book. I will definitely give the other ones you mentioned a looksee as well.

On Aug.06.2004 at 07:28 PM