Brain Pickings

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design

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Six centuries of seminal design history, condensed into a stunning artifact.

Every once in a while, along comes a book-as-artifact that becomes an instant, inextricable necessity in the life of any graphic design aficionado. This season, it’s The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design — an impressive, exhaustive, rigorously researched, and beautifully produced compendium of 500 seminal designs spanning newspapers, magazines, posters, advertisements, typefaces, logos, corporate design, record covers, and moving graphics, examined through 3000 color and 300 black-and-white illustrations in their proper historical and sociocultural context.

Though the concept is hardly novel, wedged somewhere between 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design and Bibliographic, the book-in-a-box execution holds a rare kind of mesmerism, its dividers inviting you to organize and explore the wealth of design legacy by designer, subject, chronology, or alphabetical order.

The Man of Letters or Pierrot's Alphabet (1794)

Paul Rand: IBM (1956-1991)

Saul Bass: Vertigo (1958)

Charles Minard: Chart showing the number of men in Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign army, their movements, and the temperature they encountered on the return path (1869)

Aleksandr Rodchencko: Luchshih Sosok ne bilo i nyet (1923)

A. M. Cassandre: Dubo Dubonnet (1932)

Featuring such beloved design icons as Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Saul Bass, and Paul Rand, the selections explore how graphic design coalesced out of the traditions of printing and fine art thanks to two key developments — the invention of the printing press in 15th-century Europe and the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries — emerging as one of the most powerful, ever-evolving tools of modern human communication.

At once a stunning artifact and an illuminating time-capsule of design history, The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design isn’t just a beautiful addition to your personal library — it is in itself a miniature, portable library of watershed graphic design work and the cultural context that gave it shape.

Some images via It’s Nice That

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