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Shelves of Inspiration

I’ve never met a designer with a small library. Some collect books. Others are fanatical with their books, refusing to bend the spines or dog-ear the pages. Designers look at books on design or books that are “well designed.” Designers love books. However, most will read about the thing they love, the thing they do—design. Whether it’s medium, message, form, technology, or history, designers want design-related books. But what about the other genres?

Before we approach the others, let’s consider design first. How a designer came to be constitutes their personal history, their origin and evolution. Designers are made, not born. Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys follows a young graphic designer’s growth and maturation. Kidd paints the picture of an ambitious student who wants to taste greatness. His character fights through school with such passion that’s almost heroic in nature. We each have a story about how we came into design and why we continue. Some like the science plus art. Others appreciate the relationships with clients. A smattering failed as architects. No matter which, it’s a personal tale. Reading about other designers, who aimed for the best, will put your motivations into perspective, and even shape what you do next. It can be fictitious like Kidd’s story, or (auto)biographical. Scan the shelves at Barnes & Noble or your neighborhood library for the big graphic design books—the monographs filled with a lifetime’s work.

Sometimes, these big books will put the designer and their work into a broad historical context that includes cultural, technological, economical, or societal issues and influences. But mostly, they focus on the design artifacts. I’ve witnessed some designers purchase these books to own them and later reference them, even pointing at pages, “I’m doing something like that for the award invitation I’m designing.” These books stimulate designers during times of need. Call it appropriation. Call it borrowing. Call it driving oneself to create. Whatever you call it, it’s part of a process of getting from one point to another. When writers have writer’s block, I’m told that they read or just stare at the ceiling. When designers have creative block, it seems they stare at books filled with design. Those books serve the purpose of making. Designers see what’s possible and are motivated to generate form. Hopefully, it will surpass other design, old design, competitor’s design, peer’s design, design, design, design…

It can get redundant and this is why designers must go elsewhere. Other interests (genres) will broaden the horizon. Books about art shed light on how design can be viewed through a new lens. Sociology develops our understanding of clients. Ecology tells us the significance of being environmentally conscious. Humor shapes our wit. Philosophy provokes examination, questioning oneself and one’s creative actions. Or why create at all?

Examining AIGA’s suggested reading list from 2003, you may be surprised by the wide range of titles: Punk is Not Dead, Montage and Modern Life, Barthes’ Mythologies, In Praise of Shadows, The Film Encyclopedia, or Learning from Las Vegas. And reviewing books from Paul Rand’s library delivers titles like Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish Religion or On the Old Saw: That May Be Right in Theory, But It Won’t Work in Practice.

Ask yourself, “What was the last book I read?” If the last piece of fiction you read was The Cheese Monkeys, it’s time to look at somebody else’s reading list. If the last piece of non-fiction you read was Looking Closer Four, branching out is okay. Books are important for designers because they assist us in doing, making, and thinking, but when we look outside of design, new genres can yield fresh possibilities.

AIGA Suggested Reading Paul Rand: Bibliography as Biography

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Feb.26.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
jose’s comment is:

since imported books are very expensive here in manila and well designed and especially design books doubly so, i collect well designed old magazines. ive got boxes and boxes of them.

On Feb.26.2004 at 02:48 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Outstanding, Jose. I've been thinking about this topic for quite a while now. There's an old bookstore I walk by each weekday with free books out front. I've managed to find some interesting things, but how they shape me as a designer, I'll never know... but they somehow will.

On Feb.26.2004 at 02:57 AM
justin m.’s comment is:

Books I am currently in the process of reading:

The Acidhouse - Irvine Welsh

Glue - Irvine Welsh

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe

Education of a Design Entrepreneur - Steve Heller (thank you to the person who recommended this book)

The books on my shelf range from The Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-care, every book by Hunter S. Thompson and Frank Herbert, to the stacks of Linux, mySQL, and communications books that surround my desk. Other random books include Tupac's book of poetry, Jim Morrison's poetry, about a dozen Bibles, Catcher in the Rye, MLA style guides, books on photography, Animal Farm, Food of the Gods, the Constitution of the United States of America, and more.

I like to think that I have an acceptable library for someone my age and I am constantly working on it.

On Feb.26.2004 at 07:18 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Psychobible: Behavior, Religion & the Holy Book by Armando R. Favazza is what I'm reading now. My office is doing a magazine article on the author and I am amazed at how interesting his book is. It looks at the different ways the bible is interpreted and how those interpretations affect human behavior. It is very critical of religion, but remains respectful. I’d never thought I’d stay up late reading a psychology book, but I can’t put it down. It’s so relevant to current issues.

Books like this are invaluable to me as a designer. They cause me to think about tough subjects in a different way. Design annals don’t do that for me. If designers read nothing but design books, then our work would become inbred and shallow.

On Feb.26.2004 at 08:30 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Like Josh, I'm reading something I'd never thought I'd be reading with such enthusiasm. It's called Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. It's a look at creativity not in look at the pretty pictures my son can make rather a thorough examination of creativity as medium to change the world. The book examines over 50 people over the age of 60 who have won Nobel prizes, Pulitzers and includes scientists, poets, CEOs, musicians, etc. The common trait in these people is that they have used creativity to change their domain and their creativity is recognized by their peers (according to the book creativity can't take place without thorough crtitique and acceptance). Anyway, the book is great and I'm not explaining it very well.

These past few months I've been reading a lot of design books though. But I need a break soon so I'll turn to novels for a little bit.

I enjoy anything by David Sedaris and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'll pretty much read anything my wife, a big reader, recommends.

Not literature, but I highly enjoy Dover's clip art books.

On Feb.26.2004 at 08:53 AM
griff’s comment is:

I understand you are looking for non design books, but ironically, I have spent the last two weeks re-reading my 20 year old design books from college (ran across them in an attempt to clean my office). I'ts strange because as I read them, I remember the thoughts I had when I originally read them. And now I realize how wrong and shallow my original thoughts were. Reading the books with actual design experience under my belt completely changes them.

Anyway, a non design book? I have been reading a The Series of Unfortunate Events books to my kids. Very dark and miserable stories writen for children. They go against every rule for writing childrens books. They are fantastic. Which made me think about design, and what confines we put around ourselves when designing for a specific audience because we think we know that audience well.

On Feb.26.2004 at 08:58 AM
Christopher Johnston’s comment is:

Design annals don’t do that for me. If designers read nothing but design books, then our work would become inbred and shallow.

I agree with you Josh. I tend to avoid buying design books that aren't directly related to either Art History or efficiently running a studio (business side of...). My opinion is that most Design Crit and Commentary tends to be based solely in trend, personal philosophical rhetoric and/or political propaganda. Not that the authors don't have every right in publishing their works, I am just not interested in reading them.

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:07 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

Current books that I am reading:

Universal Principals of Design

How To Lower Your Taxes Big Time

I tend to read out of a nagging need to know something. Things that seem beyond my comprehension, such as taxes and investing, have been plaguing my mind lately. Just as my fears about not knowing enough about home buying kept me from taking that step, my lack of tax knowledge -- specifically strategies, has made me fearful of progressing with my design business.

I've been in my home for a little over a year now.

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:08 AM
Christopher Johnston’s comment is:

The Series of Unfortunate Events

Griff, which one are you on? My fiancé and I are collecting the set for our future brood of young Johnstons. We take them on long car trips and almost end up driving off the road in morbidly caused hysteria. Great books!

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:15 AM
griff’s comment is:

Christopher - Just finishing up the second. Recently my mother in law visited and began reading book 2 to my kids (5 and 6). After only a few pages, she put it down in disgust and refused to read any more. We had to wait a week for her to leave before resuming. I am now sure she thinks I am an evil father.

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:21 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

My book shelf NEVER stops growing.. I am always on the discounted books at B & N discount pages... as well as half.com and overstock.com...

I have a problem with books, almost an addiction!

I love books about narratology and aesthetics... they make me feel smart!

On my book shelf right now:

Nicolas & Alexandria

Photoshop Type Effects Visual Encyclopedia

and I have been working on this for a while... keep putting it down for some reason...


Will Start soon... cannot start until I finish the others...

The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:34 AM
Christopher Johnston’s comment is:

After only a few pages, she put it down in disgust and refused to read any more.

Ahh the joys of tounge-in-cheek humor. My soon to be Mother-in-Law is probably cut from the same cloth as yours. She is a great lady, but in most circumstances, totally perplexes Erin and I.

Now remember that reading these stories to your kids might mean that in 10-15 years you could be coming home to your house being filled with the macabre sounds of Bauhaus or The Jesus and Mary Chain. hehe Just a heads up. We can't wait.

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:44 AM
Jeff G’s comment is:

The series of unfortunate events is brilliant!

Reading - recent, current and coming soon:

Elegance, Katherine Tessaro, because it's so pretty to look at

Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor, because Americana is so much more appealing once you leave America.

Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien, because in my imagination it looks so much better than the movie

Atlantic Monthly Magazine, because it makes me think

New Scientist Magazine, because I was waiting for a delayed flight. Wish I could affort to subscribe

Dracula, Bram Stoker, because my wife requires it.

Cold Comfort Farm, because I should be able to fix life that easily

The Art of looking sideways because it is so fun and it also makes me think

Marketing to the Affluent, Thomas J Stanley, because rich clients are better than poor ones

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:15 AM
bryony’s comment is:

My library is one of the most important things in my life, and I have nightmares about fire swallowing the entire thing up. It can be divided in three main sections: a) literature (of all kinds, English and Spanish); b) design books: and c) non design books that can be applied to design, the client, me, the conference room, anything out there can be helpful or add something to the life of the designer (psychology, philosophy, sociology, history, you name it).

Current pre-sleeping time book: Alicia, by Alicia Appleman-Jurman

Current design related book: The Illustrated Voice, by Craig Frazier

All time favorite: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Some non-design books:

The Spectrum of Consciousness, by Ken Wilber

The Discovery of Being: Writing in Existential Psychology, by Rollo May

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

Stacks: The Art of Vertical Food, by Deborah Fabricant and Frankie Frankeny

Listen to Her Voice: Women of the Hebrew Bible, by Miki Raver

Jung on Active Imagination, by C.G. Jung and Joan Chodorow (Editor)

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:34 AM
surts’s comment is:

A couple good page turners I've got going at the moment;

Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

Big Nowhere

James Ellroy

Brick Lane

Monica Ali

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:37 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

ooo..bryony...I love my Bird by Bird... great to always have around!

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:43 AM
Jerel’s comment is:

We actually have a fiction prohibition plan in place at our house because our book buying habits were totally out of hand. We catalogued all of the fiction in the house and noted if we had read it or not. Neither my partner or I are allowed to buy a new fiction book until we've read all of the books on the list. There's an intricate set of rules, but basically if one of us falters and purchases a new fiction book we owe the other one ten new books. This is all supposed to motivate us to use the library for our fiction needs.

But I'm an avid non-fiction reader which I managed to get excluded from the program for "work-related" reasons.

Currently reading:

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers - Daniel Ellsberg

Other Criteria Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art - Leo Steinberg

Warburger - a collection of war related comics collected/edited by Stripburger

The Slow Food Guide to New York City: Restaurants, Markets, Bars - Patrick Martins

Next up:

Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy - Dave Hickey

A Rulebook for Arguments - Anthony Weston

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:44 AM
mitch’s comment is:

most recent books:

Morphosis: Buildings and Projects - architecture from the brilliance of Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi. i reference this book all the time as inspiration.

I am currently on a big kick of reading anything i can from Chuck Palahniuk - currently in the middle of Choke, and i just finished Survivor: A Novel

I have always loved Douglas Coupland and i recently finished Hey, Nostradamus!. Not bad, but his masterpiece of geek culture and dreams will always be Microserfs.

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:46 AM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

I totally agree with the original post, though I often find myself caught in the design-only reading rut. the ironic thing is, the AIGA list mentioned is largely just design books written by designers (or those close to the field). you really don't see much concern for (or awareness of) branching out.

my most recent non-business read (though not exactly text heavy) was Tim Burton's "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy".

On Feb.26.2004 at 11:20 AM
KM’s comment is:

As an avid Steve Martin fan, I just finished reading The Pleasure of My Company: A Novel.

An intern returned a book of mine Jan Tschichold: Typographer after lending it to him for recommendated reading. I just reread it - excellent.

A must read/look for tattoo collectors: Tattoos of the Floating World: Ukiyo-E Motifs in Japanese Tattoo.

On Feb.26.2004 at 11:35 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

KM, I am halfway through Steve Martin's book. It's amusing to see how his character David is a grid nazi (magic square enthusiast). Surely, there's a designer in him deep down inside. Or is there an OCD sitting in each designer? OCD or ADD, I see that designers do read. And despite criticism, the ones here are reading books outside of design. To those who say, "Designers just don't read," I say, "Oh, really?"

Any books you go back to again and again?

When have you recognized a read as inspirational to your work and/or creative process?

How would you reply to those who claim designers just don't read?

On rare occassions, design appears in fiction.

Cite examples you know of.

On Feb.26.2004 at 01:35 PM
marian’s comment is:

I used to not allow myself to start a new book until I'd finished the one I was on. What an idiot. Now I let myself do whatever I want.

Currently I am educating myself in the history of design and have a little reading spot by the fire surrounded by 10 design history books. I'm giving myself a year to complete my crash course in design history.

I am also reading

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Quimby Mouse by Chris Ware

Original Minds by Eleanor Wachtel (interviews with authors)

"on hand" are various gardening books, a stack of art books a dear friend sent me, and Jane's Guns: recognition guide

I just finished Life of Pi which i wrote about here (and publicly recognized that I'm the last person to read it).

Before that I read (and then wrote about) Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood.

My next novel will probably be Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, having just read his fabulous Cryptonomicron

Also waiting in line is User-centred Graphic Design by Jorge Frascara, on loan to me by surts.


There are two novels that I recommend to everyone I meet.

#1 - How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman

I own 2 copies, one for me and one for lending. The language is seemingly difficult but you get used to it. The subject seems bleak but is actually, in the end, optimisitic.

#2 - The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey. I bought this book because of the cover design by Chip Kidd:

and it turned out to be one of my all time favourite books, proving that you can judge a book by its cover.

On Feb.26.2004 at 02:52 PM
big steve’s comment is:

I was in Barnes & Noble on sunday and the woman next to me began telling me about how much she loved Murder She Wrote books, but at a steep $5.95 each, she refused to buy them... I'm guessing she opted for only one copy of Helmut Newton's SUMO.

sometimes i wish i could take a tent or sleeping bag into the Taschen Store or Hennessey & Ingalls, but nothing compares to having those brightly coloured, unique volumes in your own library. my roommate, an english major, has three seven foot bookshelves filling with at least three time the number of books i own, but i wager than at $50-150 each, my collection is far more valuable... And really, nothing gets the ladies like laying out a Mapplethorpe, a LaChapelle, and a Keith Haring book along with the stacks of SPEAK magazine and some Black Books or SOMAs on the coffee table.

ps - i treat my magazines with all the love that i treat my books: from my adolescent collections of Lowrider Magazine and Vibe, to my complete set of SPEAK and growing collections of fashion rags and VICE, they're trendy and emphemeral, but they're my babies

On Feb.26.2004 at 03:58 PM
big steve’s comment is:

disregarding my above tangent, i have trouble with fiction for stubborn principled reasons, but i've got a few that are great reads over and over again...

The Fall, by Camus. It's a simple, barebones look at existentialism, but every time i read it, the intent of the author changes.

City of Quartz, by Mike Davis. The definitive book on the history of los angeles.

Being Peace, Tich Gnat Hahn. I hate douche bag cultural tourists (madonna, are you listening!?) but this book is a quick read and does what little else in this world can; it calms me down.

Keith Haring: Journals, by Keith Haring. Peeking into the life of an idol is a frightening, but fantastic thing.

Revenge of the Latchkey Kids, Ted Rall. It's funny 'cos it's true.

Requiem For A Dream, Hubert Selby Jr. If you thought the film was a trip, try getting through a chapeter of this book.

On Feb.26.2004 at 04:20 PM
Michael Ziegenhagen’s comment is:

Being relatively young and starting a business with no money or guarantees, The Fountainhead has helped me to get by. It inspired more than I thought a piece of fiction possibly could. I named my goldfish Howard after reading it. Ha. It just affirmed all of my notions of how I work and ethical stands i feel are important to take. Just started Atlas Shrugged. Not moving through it quite as quickly.

On Feb.26.2004 at 06:17 PM
Phillip’s comment is:

This is a personal topic for me b.c of worked in libraries (one city pulic, one academic) from 14-23. So, as you can imagine, I've read (more like skimmed) books on everything from foot ailments to affirmative action in India, while having memorized the entire design section (remember those good old NC's from college?). So, in those 9 years, here's the must haves that I've gotten for my shelves...

Bruno Monguzzi- A Designer's Perspective: Though being a book on design, a lot more can be taken from it. It is an outline of what it means to be passionate and daring while keeping it all in perspective (hence the title).

Kalle Lasn- Culture Jam: A gentle reminder of what's wrong with our society, and just agrivating enough to make you want to do something about it.

On Feb.26.2004 at 07:22 PM
surts’s comment is:

I was wondering if someone was going to mention Rand. (I named my old hard drive Rearden). A friend passed me on to those two books the Christmas of my last semester at school. I didn't know whether to thank or punch him after reading them. Atlas Shrugged probably affected me more long term. It changed my attitude towards business and clients that pursue their ambition.

On Feb.26.2004 at 07:54 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

Designers are NOT well-read, and designers' "reading" is as superficial as their work.

We all know that it would be absurd to admit that we don't read very much. After all, we are the people who "create" the books, magazines, and so on that other people read. That and we're trying to build some credibility for our profession, so we have to appear to be "smart".

Any designer who is well-read, and wants to appear well-read, in the area of creativity and learning would recognize Howard Gardner's or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's names and would not miss a chance to drop those names. Well-read designers would be aware of various definitions of "creativity" and "genius". They would be aware of debates on intelligence and mind. We're not even intelligent enough to make ourselves appear to be smart. So, the point is, if you really are doing this just to appear smart, don't do the equivalent of saying "I just found this really cool design book; it's really fresh" (referring to Paul Rand's Design Form and Chaos), or "There's a good new book that goes through all the steps of setting up a grid." (referring to the reprint of Mueller-Brockman's Grid Systems). If you want to prove that designers DO read, don't make a post where dozens of designers can make themselves look ignorant.

This is the problem with blogs like SpeakUp in general. It only makes us feel better about ourselves. It doesn't challenge anything. It seems like the conclusion to this post is "look, see, we ARE smart". Whatever. Why can't we just admit that we're not so advanced? Why does this obsession with appearances pervade everything we do?

It may seem incredibly smart (to the less "intelligent") to mention a handful of obscure (or cultish) books, but no one is impressed outside of our little design world. Everyone who has ever read a few books wants to advertise it. Then you start getting over it. You realize that nobody cares what you read unless it makes you look cool for THEIR purposes, and they certainly aren't going to take your suggestions, if they're true readers.

Obviously, everybody goes through learning stages, and 5 books are better than none, but come on--this is not "reading". Get over yourselves. Anyone who thinks they have to read a whole book before moving on to the next is not a "reader". Listing books on here is a sign of insecurity.

No, I am not impressed by people who have read the Fountainhead, because they never seem to have learned anything from it. I'm not going to read it, probably; it's too freakin' long. My fiancee keeps telling me to, but I watched the movie. Yeah it was cool. But I get the feeling that most of us would rather imagine that we're like Howard, or just live vicariously through him, than actually BE truly and beautifully selfish. Respond on my blog if you like.

On Feb.26.2004 at 08:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Any designer who is well-read, and wants to appear well-read, in the area of creativity and learning would recognize Howard Gardner's or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's names and would not miss a chance to drop those names.

I didn't drop his name 'cause it's too fucking hard to write down but I did include it as my current reading, I hope that at least makes me look smart Tom.

Just watch the accusations you make — they are mostly false generalizations. It's OK to voice your opinion but to come to a conclusion based solely on that is unrealistic and unsmart. You, as a reader of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, should know that unless the domain accepts your ideas — and takes and implements them as ones that would further the domain — they are pretty much useless.

You can say whatever you want here, just be respectful please.

On Feb.26.2004 at 09:29 PM
Jill’s comment is:

It may seem incredibly smart (to the less "intelligent") to mention a handful of obscure (or cultish) books, but no one is impressed outside of our little design world.

The laddie doth protest too much, methinks.

On Feb.26.2004 at 10:38 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I didn't drop his name 'cause it's too fucking hard to write down but I did include it as my current reading, I hope that at least makes me look smart Tom.

Sorry, I realize that; I was just making what I thought was an important point about the difference between the way the real "smart" pros write (on say, DO--they would almost never, except in a very weak moment, say something like "anyway, the book is great, I'm not explaining it very well."), and the way most things are written here. On the downside, it creates a much more exclusive and uninviting environment. On the upside, it preserves image.

I'm thinking about the connections between design culture and image manipulation as opposed to sincere communication. With the trend toward blogs and discussion, this is where a rethinking of Design is in order. Whether that will be seen as "creative" or not is something to be decided by future generations and not me. I'm just flowing; you can't plan creativity, and most people are resistant to it.

When you write with authority, you'll have more power. That's just a fact. If you ever do, I will both like it and hate it more. Personally I prefer an innocent approach to the "professional" one, and I see any long-term commitment to verbal interaction as respectful. While I don't aspire to be a "professional", I didn't think it was a false generalization to assume that you do. But I might be wrong.

On Feb.26.2004 at 11:57 PM
Teal’s comment is:

Hmmmm .... and hmmmm ....

While I have been filling my head with XML goodness (nonsense?), and trying to practice reading PHP, which is different than reading a book, but (for me anyway) very challenging, I don't recall the purpose of reading as making oneself incredibly smart?

Nor was the purpose of the thread that. It was about inspiration, conceptual stretching, and acknowledgement of the ties between people who enjoy design (Ok, practice, but I think the enjoyment is generally a precurser to the practice) and books. Books, wether they be Literature, Picture Stories, trashy fun or ... ?

And people were responding beautifully.

Now, back to our fireside chat.

For sheer cultural contemplation, I would recommend Edward T Hall. The Hidden Dimension is like, whoa. It is a book about time (and space) as percieved by different cultures.

Another interesting set by Hyemeohst Storm, starts with Seven Arrows. It is Native American (Cheyenne if I recall), and both a history and a collection of traditional teaching stories. The first story is explained, to give you some clues on how to think about the later stories.

Nods to Kalle Lasn.

Writing in general and the Short Story in particular by Rust Hills is an excellent book on stories and meaning. (I read it at the library years ago, and have a new copy to re-read, but have yet to do so.)

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, is a good book on how we pass on the myths that are told to us, without ever examining them. It is a book on American History.

One of my favorite design books, which I don't quite know the title of is another book I read at the library. I would look at the books waiting to be reshelved and pick them up on the Serendipity principle. I picked up this book on manual writing by some people at a nuclear power facility.

A tremendously good, well thought out, well explained discourse on what improves comprehension in technical documents. Someday I have to track it down again. I felt very perverse at the time that I recieved so much pleasure from instructions on how to decide wether to include numbers as numerals, or spelled out, in different reading contexts.

Since I have started trying to train myself in graphic design (oops) my view of objects has changed. I am used to being aware, but now I view things as pieces of possible designs. Shopping catalogues, especially.

It's sorta weird, but fun.

On Feb.27.2004 at 01:23 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

For those that are new to Speak Up, allow me to introduce the emphatic postings of Tom Gleason. His communication style lingers someplace between assertive and aggressive. If I compared his posts to a car: Humvee.

On Feb.27.2004 at 01:41 AM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

Wow, Hummers rule. Thanks Jason.

To those who say, "Designers just don't read," I say, "Oh, really?"

Yours is the comment that got me thinking you wanted a "see, we ARE smart" post. Armin somehow ended up taking the heat.

Let me try to ease my writing into the form of a more realistic, less intimidating vehicle...let's say a 92 Cutlass Supreme with floppy headlights wedged into place with folded papers, speedometer variably 10-20 mph off accuracy, broken side mirror, odometer reading "ERROR", break pedal sinking to the floor, a Teaching Company tape eaten up and stuck in the cassette deck, full of books and papers and empty lipton tea bottles-- still in the wrong lane, still tryin' to turn against the flow...(Long live Neil Young).

My opinions on this are uncharacteristically (haha) adversarial because of an experience in school:

-Teacher telling the story of how he tried to use "not reading" as an advantage in a job interview: "I don't want to be influenced by current trends." That apparently didn't fly, so he learned that "reading" was a plus on resumes. Didn't seem like he ever learned WHY he should read, beyond that.

I remember him recommending Steve Heller's Paul Rand book, and I already had it, so I thought I'd talk to him about it. But it seemed like he was only interested in proving that he knew more than I did. I just wanted to talk, but school was always a power-struggle; I constantly felt like people were trying to "put me in my place", and I didn't like the "dumb student", "walking before I run" role that I was supposed to play. I saw people becoming too comfortable in that role and never learning to think for themselves.

So that was when I became aware of people pretending to read for status. Both students and teachers.

Obviously, it's not all pretending. Books are cultural capital, and knowledge really IS power. Sometimes. Scientific knowledge is definitely power, and all of the power that designers have is in the "scientific" side of their knowledge. They are valued because of their technical ability and their more or less objective aesthetic skill. This is why the computer-science majors-turned-web designers are making big bucks in our world.

The Humanities, on the other hand, often have a dulling effect on people outside of academia. There is knowledge to be gained and it can be valuable, but the purpose of the humanities is wisdom. You can't hate as much, you don't want as much (well, in theory), and you think more about how your actions affect others. Or the opposite. These can be paralyzing effects, but I'm not convinced that they are wrong. At the same time, you learn to feel, to love, and see beauty in the good and the bad.

It is a rare designer who is valued for deeply understanding history or culture, and the ones who can make something of it do it in, surprise, academia. That is the safe place for dropouts, like a monastery. But obviously the point is that in some way this precious human knowledge should seep out into the world. Should we let it happen? Will it paralyze us or envigorate our wisdom? Or will it make us stupid drama-queens?

The more novels you read, the more you understand different people and different ways of being. I think it was Rorty who said that's why we need to read fiction and not philosophy. It makes us human. You can't read Harlem Renaissance literature or Eastern sutras without having your heart open up. You can't listen to Cat Stevens without understanding his conversion to Islam! I can't hear Neil Young's "Ohio" without getting tears. It's impossible to hate anyone you have made an attempt to know. But as your horizons broaden you can lose your "self". It is debatable whether it is good to have a self or not. The self is both the cause of all problems and the vehicle for all happiness. It's a contradiction; it's absurd at the base. It really is hard to value the Humanities when the general cultural tendency is to avoid dealing with life.

It's wonderful to see people reading Camus. Novels like The Fall or The Stranger have been described as mirror-like. You see what you are. (don't psychoanalyze me!! :) I remember Thich Nhat Hanh talking about how Mersault became enlightened at the end of the novel (yeah, even as he cursed the priest). To many people he looks like the most cold, evil person in the world. In A Happy Death, Mersault lives a completely different life where he kills a man for money and lives happily ever after with three women--- there are other possibilities for the archetypical absurd life! But Camus didn't pick that one. I'm constantly wondering whether being a judge-penitant is miserable or holy. Did anyone else notice that The Plague didn't have women characters in it, but the movie did? Of course, the one who needed to go to the doctor and get naked. Is it a coincidence that literary greats from, for ex., Thoreau to Kerouac often looked more like criminals or weirdos than great writers?

I dropped out of my first school the day after reading Sartre's Nausea. DeBeauvoir's A Very Easy Death numbed me again. The first conversation I had with my fiancee involved her saying, "Hell is other people," and since we both understood that phrase as sincere and not cynical, we used our absolute freedom to choose to love each other, constantly aware that our relationship is in danger of becoming a sado-masochistic struggle for power.

The more novels you read, the more you want to drop out, free up, or at least dramatically change your way of being. Or maybe the books I happened to read just happen to have that kind of effect. But I read Twain too, and I'm just not a Tom Sawyer. No, I like Huck. Or I choose not to be Tom Sawyer. Someday I might pick up different kinds of books and inspire a plot twist in my own life. Who knows? It's like doing magic, and it's fun.

On Feb.27.2004 at 03:45 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Sorry, I realize that; I was just making what I thought was an important point about the difference between the way the real "smart" pros write (on say, DO--they would almost never, except in a very weak moment, say something like "anyway, the book is great, I'm not explaining it very well.")


For the sake of friendliness on the site, no comment.

On Feb.27.2004 at 08:27 AM
Jared Cole’s comment is:

You should check out You Can't Win and In The Hand of Dante.

On Feb.27.2004 at 08:46 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

Tom - Great comments. I may not agree with them, but I don't think that I've ever learned anything from hearing what I wanted to hear.

As I've kept up with following this site I've been able to watch personalities develop from what were once just names. The diversity of opinions is what keeps me reading. People like Design Maven wake me up when a tread seems to be drifting into reiterations of common perspectives. The occasional out-of-character comments, such as Marian's recent rant have a similar effect. Is this part of the power you wrote of Tom?

Anyway, back to a message from Captain OJ Readmore...

On Feb.27.2004 at 10:15 AM
Sam’s comment is:

In all the time I've been reading Speak Up, which is about 13 months, I have never seen an individual singled out for personal censorship as Tom has been lately. I just want to say for the record, without any kind of endorsement or agreement of what Tom's written, that it's very dangerous territory, y'all. I see nothing that's more deserving of the "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Tom Gleason..." tone of Jason's comment above or Armin's quasi-threat last week to "tone it down" than a lot of other things that have been said here under the aegis of opinion and commentary. Nor do I find Tom's tone any more or less assertive or obnoxious than many others, in my personal view. That his opinions may be unfriendly or generalizing or critical or negative or whatever is not, I hope, anything even remotely like fair grounds for singling him out. Go ahead and disagree and all that, but this marked attitude towards Tom is probably not a direction we want to take the site.

On Feb.27.2004 at 10:48 AM
jesse’s comment is:

Well. I was going to recommend some books, but don't think I'll bother now.

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:10 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Sam, I don't mind strong, contrarian opinions, I don't mind assertive tones and it may be that I'm the only one finding offense in those comments — but insulting is something I don't like to see here.

Many times you have proved me wrong and told me I'm full of shit. And I can respect and accept your opinions because they lack the condescending and negative tone I sense in the above comments.

I apologize for the singling out and I'll do my best to not do it again. And that's all I have to say about that.

Now, Jesse, what books does Sasparrilla like?

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:25 AM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

no go ahead, jesse.

Thanks for the support.

I was mainly talking about power in a negative way, although some people misinterpreted it. The kind of power that is used by "elite" people to shut other people up. I wasn't encouraging it, and I don't consider my voice authoritative in that sense. Yeah I changed the thread a bit, sorry, but I would hope every comment changes the thread in its own way.

And there's always room for people who want to ignore this tangent, I hope. You know, how on Instant Messenger, talking is different...the whole dynamic is different...you can have two lines of conversation simultaneously with the same person, and it's almost necessary, because of delays and such. I'm off to NYC now...at ease.

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:26 AM
miss amanda’s comment is:

Griff, I am also a huge fan of "A Series of Unfortunate Events". My husband & I are just waiting for the next box set to come out so we can quickly buy it and argue over who gets to read them first. Entertaining, fun writing style, and just lovely pencil illustrations.

For those who have read The Illustrated Voice, by Craig Frazier...what did you think?

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:31 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> For those who have read The Illustrated Voice, by Craig Frazier...what did you think?

Hold that thought for 30 minutes… you'll see.

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:38 AM
S-M-R-T ... smart!’s comment is:

Come on, Armin, Sasparilla's smart, but he can't read. Yet.

Currently reading:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Some personal favorites:

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

The Outermost House by Henry Beston

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle by Marcel Pagnol

The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch

Great Possessions by David Kline

Waterland by Graham Swift

PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon

Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier

On Feb.27.2004 at 11:52 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> > For those who have read The Illustrated Voice, by Craig Frazier...what did you think?

OK. Go.

On Feb.27.2004 at 12:03 PM
miss amanda’s comment is:

wow. that is just amazing service!


On Feb.27.2004 at 12:19 PM
MC’s comment is:

More than ever, my focus has turned to content. Here's a list of my current favorites.


Emotional Branding -- by Marc Gobe


The Rise of the Creative Class: And How Its Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life"-- by Richard Florida


Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age -- by Tom Peters

Great book on business transformation. Peters rants and opinions are highlighted throughout this book. He challenges everything. Peters is angry and annoyed and not afraid to tell it like it is. He is successful because he offers solutions, and challenges the reader. I have only read a few chapters, but this is a book that I would frequently reference. Read about this book in FastCompany

At the end of the article is a sidebar which highlights Peters principles. The last entry about design stands out:

Design, the ultimate edge

In the world of Tom Peters, design is so critical that it should be on the agenda (along with a professional designer) of every meeting in every single department. Design, like lifestyle, is one of the few differentiating factors, and companies that ignore the power of elegant and functional design will lose.

I love this book, but I admit, I want to redesign it! While it is admirable that they took a risk with the design of the book--tying to make the medium as interesting as the message--the layout needs more refinement. Some pages are too distracting. In a few cases this takes away from the content.

However, he took a departure with this book for a reason. He is not speaking to everyone in corporate America, although corporate America should be required to read Peters transforming ideas in Technicolor.

On Feb.27.2004 at 01:02 PM
MC’s comment is:

oops! My apologies. This was my first post. Next time I will remove the space breaks!

On Feb.27.2004 at 01:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:

No worries MC, I fixed it.

On Feb.27.2004 at 01:19 PM
marian’s comment is:

Although there seems to be some kind of consensus to let Tom's comments go, I find they've been nagging at me, and I have some things to say in response.

First off, in a strange way, I appreciate what Tom said -- or rather, that he said it, despite being hurt, in that he struck at some of my basic insecurities.

But without prejudice, I have several responses. First, for myself I originally commented in response mostly to "what are you reading now?" and not happening to have anything really impressive on the go, I chose not to fake it. Second, I am not and have never been a fan of name-dropping of any kind. If I were to read some Great Work, or talk to some Great Person I would be far more likely use whatever I had learned from them to advance conversation in the context of an idea rather than say "But Kierkegaard says ..." or "I was reading Derrida the other day and ..." The exception would be "If you're interested in X, you should read Lewis Carrol." [intended humour] Thirdly, I was not aware that anyone here was saying "Aren't I smart." I thought they were saying, "These are the things that interest me and which I have enjoyed recently." which brings me to ...

Is this shallow? Is it unintelligent to share likes and dislikes without critical commentary? I know we are all short of time, and we come here in our spare moments to shoot the shit, drop some opinions or some bombs and then leave. But still I worry. I drop in and say "I like this/don't like that" (see the Friday Variety thread for one of my more incredibly vapid posts of the year so far), and then I think "what the ... what was the point of that? What are we doing here?"

In that respect, Tom, I feel your pain -- in the full awareness that I contribute to it. And I have really mixed feelings about it. I love Speak Up. I love what we have here. But I worry. Although I know this is not, never will be, and never should be the Lecture Hall of DO, I do worry sometimes that we are in danger of becoming a rabble of thoughtless opinions.

In the meantime, I will come back to this thread, and refer to what other people are reading, take some tips, and continue to expand my own circle of knowledge or enjoyment.

On Feb.27.2004 at 07:55 PM
Steve’s comment is:

I like to read design books, and have amassed an alarming quantity over the last year or so, but I have to admit that they aren't exactly a catalyst for original thought. The fabulous "Art Chantry: Some People Can't Surf" makes me want to make posters and use lots of big chunky halftone screens. A book about Lester Beall made we want to use "old" color schemes and use Illustrator to make big simple forms...etc. We can learn from looking at the past but I personally have to be careful not to just emulate the styles I fall in love with. That said, Veronique Vienne's book about Chip Kidd made me try to figure out how he thought of the cool stuff he's done. It was weird to be able to suddenly recognize his works by glancing at spines in the used bookshop. I hope it inspired me to make sure I'm trying to take an original path to solving problems.

Fiction: Stephen Fry's, "The Hippopatamus", McSweeney's pulp fiction anthology, Jake Arnott's crime fiction novel "The Long Firm" and the usual Sedaris...etc.

On the subject of "trying to seem smart" I have to mention one little peeve I have about Heller's design books. I had never, EVER heard anyone use the word "quotidian" in my 34 years on this earth. I had to look it up. Heller has not failed to use it at least once, usually more, in every book he's written. It's one of those things, like a high pitched noise coming from your computer. Once you notice it, you can't help but focus on it and be annoyed.

On Feb.27.2004 at 09:44 PM
Greg’s comment is:

and then I think "what the ... what was the point of that? What are we doing here?"

It's funny you mention that. I started to write a long speech in rebuttal to Tom's accusations of being too...a word I've heard that would fit here is "pseudo-intellectual." I was all up in arms about his comparing DO to SU in an unfriendly light, and then I went back to reread what I'd written, and thought, "What the hell am I saying?"

I hit the cancel button.

Maybe more of us should do that.

On Feb.27.2004 at 10:56 PM
Sarah B!’s comment is:

Not literature, but I highly enjoy Dover's clip art books.

I love Dover's Thrift Editions

And you can get many of the Clip art series here as well... I like the borders!

On Feb.28.2004 at 12:09 AM
eric’s comment is:

Steve, re "Quotidian". It's one of those really shitty art buzz words that caught on mostly because Dave Hickey ("Air Guitar" etc.) used it all the time in his essays in the early 90s. Hickey made art writing fun. Everybody wanted to be Hickey so everybody used it. Haven't noticed anyone still using it. However, I'm with you... "quotidian" can be buried in the same plot as "architectonic" and "screens".

On Feb.28.2004 at 08:48 AM
Jason T’s comment is:
I thought they were saying, "These are the things that interest me and which I have enjoyed recently."

Yes, I think so too.

On Feb.29.2004 at 01:19 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Favorite book on creativity: Act One by Moss Hart

Hart was a playwright, not a designer, but his autobiography has some wonderful (and amusing) descriptions of the creative process

Funniest book: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Hapless and tormented college teacher Jim Dixon is original comic antihero

Most beautiful use of the English language: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre

Featuring one of my favorite sentences: "And suddenly, with the terrible clarity of a man too long deceived, Leamas understood the whole ghastly trick."

Guilty pleasure: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Okay, I read it six times between high school and college, except for John Galt's notorious Big Speech, which I've never read. (Rand's editor, Bennett Cerf, asked her politely whether she'd consider editing it, seeing as how it was an uninterrupted 57-page piece diatribe that reiterated points that had been made elsewhere in the book. Rand replied, "Would you edit the Bible?")

And, the book I'm reading right now: Bandbox by Thomas Mallon

A satirical look at the world of 1920's magazine publishing

To my knowledge, none of these books feature the word quotidian (which I have said out loud, and with pleasure) although I can't vouch for those 57 pages in Atlas Shrugged.

On Feb.29.2004 at 10:31 AM
Brian Warren’s comment is:

miss amanda - I highly recommend you and your hubby reading those A Series of Unfortunate Events out loud to each other when the next set comes out.

My wife and i read the latest Harry Potter book out loud to each other (yeah, it took awhile). But it was a blast, and we didn't have to fight over who would read it first. And also, there's something kinda special about the spoken word like that.

On Feb.29.2004 at 04:02 PM
Michael Freimuth’s comment is:

Coming to the discussion a bit late, I realize... but I've been meaning to get this off my chest for a while. I'm a designer and yet I can rarely finish a design book. I was beginning to think something was wrong with me. I push through Heller and others, and find myself throwing the book behind my bed. Id much rather sink into anything else really...

Try reading a different Heller all together, try Joseph.

On Mar.01.2004 at 05:09 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

The more I sink into design the less I am able to finish anything longer than (at best) a New Yorker article. There are perpetually 15 books in progress (currently 13 or so are design). And my education is English Lit, so I'm just now getting around to all the stuff that some people here find so-last-week. I loved reading through the comments for more fodder.

As ridiculous as it may sound, I always find something in Alice in Wonderland - probably my favorite book.

A very funny book when you feel like you can't quite get moving on that project - Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer about his attempt to write something about DH Lawrence.

And if you just want something that makes you crave the tactile, a quick little read just to get your head someplace else is People with Dirt on Their Hands, which is short stories. In particular the chapter on growing roses is great.

I have the smarty-pants books on my shelves, however to avoid dreaded posturing, I'll stick to recommending the easy stuff.

What I'd like to be making it through right now is a tie between A Timeless Way of Being, A Pattern Language, and The Language Instinct. What I'm actually reading right now is Lamb: The gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal - which is hysterically funny.

On Mar.02.2004 at 06:31 PM
jesse’s comment is:

My wife just read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal and said it was a hoot.

Reading old Bloom County books always puts me in a creative mood. And usually cheers me up if I'm grumpy.

On Mar.02.2004 at 08:07 PM
mitch’s comment is:

I just caught a lecture by author Dave Eggers (of McSweeney's fame) so the next book on my pile is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:00 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Mitch, was that the 826 thing? I was there too! Eggers's second book, You Shall Know Our velocity is pretty great too, maybe even better than the first.

On Mar.03.2004 at 09:10 AM
mitch’s comment is:

Sam, actually I saw him lecture at school this past Sunday night (at RISD). He did talk about 826 happening in Brooklyn, but there was no way I could get down there in time to go.

On Mar.03.2004 at 04:11 PM