Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design books’

20 FEBRUARY, 2013

I Used to Be a Design Student: Advice on Design and Life from Famous Graphic Designers

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“Work your ass off + Don’t be an asshole”

“A designer without a sense of history is worth nothing,” iconic graphic designer Massimo Vignelli famously declared. But this maxim holds true — if not truer — of personal history: It’s that agglomeration of lived experience that centers our sense of self and fuels our slot machine of creativity. In I Used to Be a Design Student: 50 Graphic Designers Then and Now (public library), the more pragmatic counterpart to Advice to Sink in Slowly, Billy Kiosoglou and Philippin Frank set out to reverse-engineer the power of personal history by tracing the creative evolution of influential designers, who reflect on their education, profession, and how their preferences in everything from reading to food to modes of transportation have changed since their university days.

Besides short interviews and work samples, the book features several than-and-now comparative grids that reveal a number of recurring patterns — designers tend to cycle, walk, or take public transit to work; consistent with the life-stage evolution of our internal clocks, their wake times have gotten slightly earlier; many couldn’t, and still can’t, imagine any calling other than being a designer; their influences are wildly eclectic; their most precious valuables have shifted from status symbols and technical tools (camera, watch, walkman) to existential anchors (love, legacy, literature).

One of the questions asks for a piece of advice and a single warning to a budding designer. Here are some favorite responses:

Like another wise woman of design famously advised, Margaret Calvert urges:

Enjoy +
Don’t waste time

Reminding students to define their own success and beware of prestige, Kai von Rabenau advises:

Follow your own path +
Don’t do it for the money or glamour — neither will come true

Like other famous champions of the habit, Isabelle Swiderski swears by the sketchbook:

Sketch, sketch, sketch +
Don’t fall in love with your ideas

António Silveira Gomes cautions against over-reliance on technology:

Design affects the way we perceive information. Students must understand the consequences of their work before placing a new artefact into the world +
I would like to quote Cedric Price: ‘Technology is the answer, but what was the question?’

Emmi Salonen echoes artist Austin Kleon in reminding us that “the world is a small village” and kindness is king:

Avoid automatically applying your ‘style’ to a project — let each assignment influence you, your approach and the way you work +
Be nice to people, respectful.

Lars Harmsen echoes Jackson Pollock’s dad:

Work awake +
Get out of the dogma house

Michael Georgiou stresses the line between plagiarism and influence:

Do as much research as you can +
Never copy, only get influenced

Renata Graw reminds us that the fear of failure is one of the greatest hindrances to creative work:

One can never say something won’t work until they have done it +
Don’t be afraid to fail

Richard Walker assures in the dignity of ignorance:

Always finish your work +
Don’t feel obliged to have an opinion on everything. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.

But perhaps the sagest, most timeless and universal piece of advice comes from Stefan Sagmeister, who makes a case for the timelessly potent combination of work ethic and kindness:

Work your ass off +
Don’t be an asshole

I Used to Be a Design Student comes from British publisher Laurence King, who previously brought us the formidable Saul Bass monograph and the fantastic series 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Film, 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture, 100 Ideas That Changed Photography, and 100 Ideas That Changed Art.

Complement it with How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer.

Images courtesy Laurence King

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24 JANUARY, 2013

Celebrating Cassandre: Gorgeous Vintage Posters by One of History’s Greatest Graphic Designers

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“He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.”

French-Ukrainian painter, commercial artist, set designer, lithographer, and general visual savant Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, better-known as A. M. Cassandre, is celebrated as one of the most influential graphic designers in history. Though perhaps best-known for his iconic 1932 Dubonnet wine posters, highlighted in The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, Cassandre created an enormous corpus of graphically groundbreaking work, including travel posters, typefaces, and advertising. His sensibility was influenced by cubism, surrealism and the work of painters like Picasso and Ernst, yet his aesthetic was breathtakingly original. But Cassandre’s story is as tragic as his design is brilliant — after losing his advertising agency business at the onset of WWII and serving in the French army, Cassandre eventually returned to design and easel painting after the war but struggled with bouts of depression for many years, until he took his own life in 1968.

In 1985, Cassandre’s son Henri told the story of his father’s life and legacy in A. M. Cassandre (public library) — a beautiful volume published by Rizzoli, but sadly long out of print.

In Debbie Millman’s excellent How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer — which gave us Massimo Vignelli on intellectual elegance and Paula Scher on creativity — celebrated Swiss designer Steff Geissbühler extols Cassandre:

DM: Who is your favorite graphic designer?

SG: A.M. Cassandre.

DM: Why?

SG: A.M. Cassandre was the ultimate poster designer — he knew exactly how to use scale, perspective, focus, and color to express the essence of the message. He was one of the few painters who created and understood the power of the poster and, with that, created the profession we now call ‘graphic design.’ His formal ideas have never lost power and grab me to this day. He made typography an integral part of the image. He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.

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23 JANUARY, 2013

Popular Lies About Graphic Design

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Debunking the misconceptions, half-truths, and dangerous mythology of creativity.

“Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag famously wrote in her private rant against intellectual shorthand. And yet, young creators starting out are bombarded with aphorisms and simple mantras to which to adhere, without much questioning. While there might be tremendous value in learning how to think like a great graphic designer, the operative word is still “think.” In Popular Lies About Graphic Design (UK; public library), New-York-based British designer Craig Ward sets out to debunk the “misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies” embedded in the familiar aphorisms and maxims instilled in young designers — a crusade against putting blind religion rather than critical thought at the heart of the discipline. From myths about work ethic to the cult of ideas, Ward tackles 35 such “lies” with all the deftness of a proper devil’s advocate.

For instance, he takes head-on the contention that nothing is truly original — an idea famously championed by Mark Twain (“…all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources…”) and Lord Byron (“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.”). Ward writes:

The human brain is a wondrous and infinitely complex organ, its capabilities and limits still, as yet, undefined. When fed the right combination of inspiration points a well educated, well read, hydrated and healthy brain will come up with original idea after original idea.

With its aesthetic minimalism and conceptual clarity, Popular Lies About Graphic Design manages to walk the challenging line between being critical without being complacently contrarian.

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