Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

03 JUNE, 2011

Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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02 JUNE, 2011

Dear Me: Letters by Luminaries to Their 16-Year-Old Selves

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What the renouncement of dieting has to do with love and buying shares in Google.

Some moons ago, I came across this installment in The Rumpus’ wonderful Dear Sugar advice column, which proceeded to dash right past my unforgiving cheesiness radar and settle into that Really Excellent Read place. In it, Sugar shares 40-something wisdom with her 20-something self, reaching for those hard-learned truths with remarkable humor, vulnerability and grace. The piece reminded me of Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self — an absolutely fantastic older anthology of retrospective letters by luminaries spanning just about the entire cultural spectrum, from Oscar and Pulitzer winners to doctors to comedians to musicians and more, envisioned and compiled by Joseph Galliano. The roster of contributors includes icons like Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, Debbie Harry and many more, with proceeds from the book benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Elton John

Dear Debbie, Moon, Debeel, or Deb,

Just because you have a lot of different names, and maybe feel like there’s a lot of different yours, don’t be confused. Give yourself some time and all the ideas and possibilities that these names conjure up for you will become clear to you. The pieces of the puzzle will reveal themselves and all you have to do is keep finding out what makes you feel happiest and this oftentimes will be the easiest thing for you to do. This is remarkable in itself. That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.”

~ Debbie Harry

Alan Carr

Actually, buy shares in Google. That should sort just about everything out.” ~ Danny Wallace

Emma Thompson

When he says he doesn’t love you, believe him. He doesn’t.” ~ Emma Thompson

Annie Lennox

Sandra Bernhard

Stephen King

Equal parts poignant and entertaining, Dear Me is an endearing reminder of how much we’ve grown and, perhaps far more importantly, that the only way we grow, the only way we get things right, is by getting them horribly, horribly wrong first — and that’s quite okay.

Thanks to the lovely Letters of Note for the reminder

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01 JUNE, 2011

thxthxthx: The Art of Finding Happiness in Everyday Gratitude

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What laundry and bee stings have to do with the secret of happiness.

We live in a culture with far, far too much pessimism, cynicism and dystopianism going around. It’s easy to dismiss any inkling of positivity as self-serving Pollyannism, yet there’s plenty of evidence that recognizing our simple blessings greatly increases our well-being. I’m certainly a believer.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Leah Dieterich‘s fantastic THXTHXTHX thank-you-note-a-day blog and, this week, it’s joining this running list of blog-turned-book success stories with the publication of the truly wonderful book of the same name, thxthxthx: Thank Goodness for Everything — a lovely compendium of everyday gratitude in the form of 200 of Dieterich’s original handwritten thank-you notes on everything from clean sheets to empty bars to the “th” sound.

Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes vulnerable, and always profoundly human, the notes are a gentle, non-preachy reminder that, heck, we’re incredible beings living in an incredible world and why oh why do we make such a tragic habit of forgetting that?

Far from merely being one of the most charming books to come by this year, thxthxthx is a timeless and much-needed reminder that happiness is a choice we actively make, not a divine courtesy bestowed upon us by some arbitrary higher power.

An speaking of gratitude, a big “thank you” to Jason Bitner of Cassette From My Ex fame for flagging this.

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