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08 MAY, 2012

100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design

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From visual puns to the grid, or what Edward Tufte has to do with the invention of the fine print.

Design history books abound, but they tend to be organized by chronology and focused on concrete -isms. From publisher Laurence King, who brought us the epic Saul Bass monograph, and the prolific design writer Steven Heller with design critic Veronique Vienne comes 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design — a thoughtfully curated inventory of abstract concepts that defined and shaped the art and craft of graphic design, each illustrated with exemplary images and historical context.

From concepts like manifestos (#25), pictograms (#45), propaganda (#22), found typography (#38), and the Dieter-Rams-coined philosophy that “less is more” (#73) to favorite creators like Alex Steinweiss, Noma Bar, Saul Bass, Paula Scher, and Stefan Sagmeister, the sum of these carefully constructed parts amounts to an astute lens not only on what design is and does, but also on what it should be and do.

Idea # 16: METAPHORIC LETTERING

Trying to Look Good Limits My Life (2004), part of Stefan Sagmeister’s typographic project '20 Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far.' Words are formed from natural and industrial materials and composed in situ.

Idea # 83: PSYCHEDELIA

Gebrauchsgraphik (1968). The youth style influenced by drugs and rock and roll quickly became a commercial visual vocabulary. Founded in San Francisco, this German version smoothed out some of the rough edges.

Idea # 31: RED WITH BLACK

A Season in Hell (1944), a black-and-red assemblage of stark and wobbly forms characteristic of Alvin Lustig’s highly abstract visual vocabulary, is a graphic equivalent of the tormented prose of poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Heller and Vienne write in the introduction:

[Big ideas] are notions, conceptions, inventions, and inspirations — formal, pragmatic, and conceptual — that have been employed by graphic designers to enhance all genres of visual communication. These ideas have become, through synthesis and continual application, the ambient language(s) of graphic design. They constitute the technological, philosophical, forma, and aesthetic constructs of graphic design.

Idea # 19: VISUAL PUNS

Gun Crime (2010), illustrated by Noma Bar, is a commentary on the tragic toll of gun-related violence in the UK. The trigger serves as the mechanism and outcome of gun attacks.

Idea # 17: PASTICHE

Chez Panisse Second Birthday Celebration (1973), a poster designed by David Lance Goines in an homage to the Jugendstil style of the Vienna Workshops and Vienna Secession movement.

Idea # 80: TEEN MAGAZINES

Teenagers Ingenue (1962) capitalized on the developing female teenage commercial market for fashion, cosmetics, and other beauty aids. Teens were now treated as young adults.

Idea # 35: EXPRESSION OF SPEED

Rainboeing the Skies (1971), an ad introducing the new Boeing 747 to El Al Israeli Airlines by graphic designer Dan Reisinger. This iconic image is at the center of an Internet controversy, with some claiming that it was in fact an Air Canada poster.

Idea # 25: MANIFESTOS

First Things First (1964), published by British designer Ken Garland, who intended to radicalize the design practice that was fast becoming a subset of advertising. In 2000 an updated version was printed in cutting-edge magazines including Adbusters, Emigré, Items, and Eye.

Idea # 38: FOUND TYPOGRAPHY

Alphabet with Tools (1977), by Mervyn Kurlansky, takes everyday objects found in homes and workshops and transforms them into the letters of the Western alphabet.

From how rub-on lettering democratized design by fueling the DIY movement and engaging people who knew nothing about typography to how the concept of the “teenager” was invented after World War II as a new market for advertisers, many of the ideas are mother-of-invention parables. Together, they converge into a cohesive meditation on the fundamental mechanism of graphic design — to draw a narrative with a point of view, and then construct that narrative through the design process and experience.

Idea # 15: ENTREPRENEURSHIP

A Catalog of Roycroft Books (1905?), designed at the Roycroft workshop in East Aurora, New York. Influenced by William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement, Elbert Hubbard established a crafts colony that sold books, textiles, and other products.

Idea # 48: TRIANGULATION

The Best of Jazz (1979), a typographical masterpiece by Paula Scher, was done when she was discovering Aleksander Rodchenko and El Lissitsky. She recalls her work being acclaimed as 'new wave' and 'postmodern' when in fact it was a private homage to the pioneers of the Russian avant garde.

Idea # 37: DUST JACKETS

Ulysses (1934), hand-lettered and designed by Ernst Reichl, was said to be influenced by the paintings of Piet Mondrian.

Idea # 66: PUBLIC SERVICE CAMPAIGNS

Give a Hand to Wild Life (2008), by Saatchi & Saatchi Simko agency in Geneva, is a series of clever and beautiful photographs of human hands camouflaged as wild animals by bodypainter Guido Daniele.

On the latest episode of Debbie Millman’s invariably excellent Design Matters podcast, Heller talks about the process and rationale behind 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design:

History, as we all know, is written by the survivors. And there are certain historical facts that never get covered. And, in graphic design, it’s fascinating how many things don’t get covered until somebody uncovers them.

Images courtesy of Laurence King

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08 MAY, 2012

A Poetic Definition of Science Circa 1997

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“…science is a human cultural activity, not a purely dispassionate striving after truth.”

Adding to last month’s omnibus of famous definitions of science is John Gribbin’s poetic 1997 meditation from the introduction to Almost Everyone’s Guide to Science: The Universe, Life and Everything — an ambitious survey, reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s iconic tome, A Short History of Nearly Everything, that sets out to explain what we know about everything from the microest of micro to the macroest of macro in a humanized, articulate way, without dumbing down any of the science. Gribbin writes, presaging — and perhaps inspiring — Brian Eno’s “Big Theory of Culture”:

Science is primarily an investigation of our place of the Universe — the place that people occupy in a world which ranges from the tiniest subatomic particles to the furthest reaches of space and time. We do not exist in isolation, and science is a human cultural activity, not a purely dispassionate striving after truth, no matter how hard we might try. It is all about where we came from, and where we are going. And it is the most exciting story ever told.

In other words, as Adam Bly put it in the title of his excellent anthology of interviews, Science is Culture.

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07 MAY, 2012

Harry Clarke’s Haunting 1919 Illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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Artful Edwardian-era erotica at the intersection of the whimsical and the macabre.

Somewhere between Henry Holiday’s weird paintings for Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey’s delightfully grim alphabet fall Harry Clarke‘s hauntingly beautiful and beautifully haunting 1919 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination — a collection of 29 of Poe’s tales of the magical and the macabre.

So lavish was the artwork that a copy of the “deluxe” Clarke-illustrated edition went for 5 guineas in 1919, or about $300 in today’s money. The book, an epic volume of 480 pages, was eventually reprinted by Calla Editions in 2008, and is now available for the much more reasonable $27, or free with a trip to your local public library.

Eerie and erotic, Clarke’s illustrations bring his Edwardian-era aesthetic and early Art Nouveau influences to the post-Victorian liberated fascination with sensuality.

See more illustrations at the always-wonderful 50 Watts, who took care to scan the images above.

Clarke’s style brings to mind a beautiful German short film I recently shared, titled The Boundaries of Life and Death and inspired by Poe:

50 Watts FastCo Design

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07 MAY, 2012

Reason & Emotion: Pseudoscience Meets Gender Stereotypes in 1943 Disney Wartime Propaganda

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What resisting a double fudge sundae has to do with Freud and defeating the Nazis.

Whether we call it “rationality vs. intuition,” as Albert Einstein, Anne Lamott, and Steve Jobs did, or “reason vs. emotion,” being human means being bedeviled by the near-constant polar pull of two opposing forces. And yet, we’ve seen the “divided brain” is a reductionist myth, and perpetuating it has dangerous sociocultural consequences.

In 1943, however, the clear-cut dichotomy between reason and emotion was not only perfectly acceptable, it was also a perfectly exploitable propaganda talking point. This animated Disney short film, created the same year as the now-infamous Disney employee handbook, enlists the same comically appalling era-appropriate gender stereotypes to deliver a steady dose of wartime propaganda against the Axis, portrayed as governed by unreasonable emotion, which the Allies could combat with the force of reason and restrained emotion.

As amusing as the gender treatment might be in its appallingness, one particularly appalling chasm is what happens to each gender when its bearer is possessed by emotion and negligent of reason: The man merely gets his sexual advances met with a slap, whereas the woman spirals into food binges, which promise an undesirable body, which in turn makes her unworthy of said sexual advances. In other words, reason ultimately serves the man in both scenarios, while emotion merely distracts from his most desirable outcome.

Of course, the analysis of what any of this has to do with going to war is best left to Freud.

For a similar look at wartime propaganda from the other end of the world, see this collection of vintage Russian animated propaganda.

Open Culture

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