Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

20 JUNE, 2013

If the Web Preceded Print: The New Golden Age of Book Design and Creativity on Paper

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“This is an important and wonderful time to be a writer, a storyteller, a designer, a reader.”

“The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book,” Nabokov wrote in his treatise on what makes a good reader. And yet, as the future of storytelling hangs in anxiety-inducing uncertainty and the question of how to read a book continues to evolve its answers, analog books are challenged to reinvent themselves in marvelous ways and the value of exceptional book design is celebrated with rising reverence. There is something increasingly reassuring today about the physicality of print books, about using one’s hands and fingers as well as one’s mind and brain as the instruments of reading.

That’s precisely what the fine folks of Gestalten — who have a knack for pictorial magic, visual storytelling, and art as sensemaking — explore in Fully Booked — Ink on Paper: Design and Concepts for New Publications (public library). Lavishly produced and beautifully art-directed, this gorgeous large-format tome — though regrettably too Western-centric to include such gems as the stunning handmade books of Indian indie powerhouse Tara Books — is as much a showcase of exceptional and innovative books by designers from around the world as it is a living manifesto for the very subject of its celebration.

In the introduction, which begins on the book’s very cover, Andrew Losowsky presents an irreverent and brilliant in its perspective-shifting quality reversal of media history:

Let me state this for the record: The internet is not dead. Digital will not disappear. Print will not kill the web. It’s easy to forget that when physical books were invented, news websites ignored them, and then laughed at them as a niche pursuit for geeks. Now here we are and the same journalists are declaring the death of Internet, as the hype and excitement surrounding print and paper travels inexorably around the world. News companies have even rushed into creating news-papers, long before any clear business model has emerged to pay for them. We are in a print world now.

It has changed so many things in our lives that it can be hard to remember a time before print, when everything was digital. Yet doing so is the only way to understand exactly why and how print became so important, so quickly.

Of course, when the first companies started to print books, they were pale imitations of the on-screen experience, near-perfect reproductions of the visual language of digital without any of its functions or its essence. People who grew up with digital laughed at these early iterations, dismissing the idea that print could ever have a value beyond being a pale echo of the digital reading experience. They would never, they swore, read a book printed on paper. It simply wasn’t the same experience as that with which they’d grown up.

However, print began to take off among the elderly and the young, the former embracing the simplicity and highly limited demands of interactivity offered by print, while the latter came quickly to understand the near-limitless freedoms granted by physical ownership.

He concludes by peeling away at the essence of what this irreverent satire — like all great truth-telling satire — bespeaks:

Everything in this book is a physical expression of print storytelling, gloriously non-digital and proud of the fact. Indeed, stories told in these ways would not work on a screen — even though most, if not all of them could not have been created without computers.

[…]

The very best in print books teach us what it is like to reach out and touch a story, to hold it in our hand, to interact with it in a personal, physical, uninhibited way.

This is an important and wonderful time to be a writer, a storyteller, a designer, a reader.

Long live print.

Among the projects and creators profiled in this magnificent tome of nearly 300 pages, including such favorites as Tree of Codes and The Story of Eames Furniture, is British book cover designer Coralie-Bickford Smith, of whose singular Penguin covers I’ve been a longtime fan. In this lovely short documentary, Bickford-Smith pulls the curtain on her creative process and inspiration:

Books have to work harder to justify their physical presence.

Fully Booked is wonderful in its entirety, as enchanting to the eye and touch as it is heartening to the booklover’s soul.

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17 JUNE, 2013

How Charles Eames Proposed to Ray Eames: His Disarming 1941 Handwritten Love Letter

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A modernist fairy tale of true partnership.

Charles Eames (June 17, 1907–August 21, 1978) — pioneer of the modernist aesthetic, endlessly quotable sage of design, rare interviewee, legendary visualizer of the scale of the universe — was also one half of one of the most celebrated couples in creative history, the architect/painter powerhouse he formed together with his wife, the painter and reconstructionist Ray Eames. And while extraordinary love letters generally have an ineffable and enduring appeal, there’s something particularly mesmerizing about epistles exchanged by two people who are partners in every possible sense of the word and whose romantic relationship is also a creative collaboration.

Joining these ranks of love letters, like those between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, and Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, are the Eameses, who fell in love at the legendary Cranbrook Academy and remained together until Charles’s death nearly four decades later.

In this disarming love letter — a true testament to the modernist ethos of piercing honesty, exquisite simplicity, and elegant imperfection — Charles proposes to Ray:

Letter from Charles to Ray Eames, 1941 (Library of Congress)

Dear Miss Kaiser,

I am 34 (almost) years old, singel (again) and broke. I love you very much and would like to marry you very very soon.* I cannot promise to support us very well. — but if given the chance I will shure in hell try –

*soon means very soon.

What is the size of this finger??

as soon as I get to that hospital I will write “reams” well little ones.

love xxxxxxxxxx

Charlie

Ray, of course, said “yes.” Fourteen years into their marriage, the romantic spark was still very much ablaze as Ray sent Charles this charming collage of a love letter:

Letter from Ray to Charles Eames, 1955 (Library of Congress)

Complement with the fantastic exhibition-in-a-book Eames: Beautiful Details (public library), inspired by Charles’s signature immersive slideshows.

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11 JUNE, 2013

Design in a Nutshell: One-Minute Animated Primers on Six Major Creative Movements

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From Gothic Revival to Postmodernism, or how Bauhaus ushered in the age of minimalism.

From the fine folks at Open University — who have previously brought us delightful 60-second animated primers on philosophy’s famous thought experiments and the world’s major theories of religion — comes Design in a Nutshell, a lovely six-part series of their signature animated primers on six major design movements.

Gothic Revival gave us many of the ideas that changed architecture, including the magnificent vaulted ceilings of European cathedrals, and without it Lewis Carroll may never have given us Alice in Wonderland:

The Arts and Crafts movement emerged as a rebellion to the negative impact of mass-production and the Industrial Revolution, and its romantic ideals still reverberate today:

Bauhaus, one of the 100 ideas that changed graphic design, revolutionized design education by introducing a cross-disciplinary curriculum and embraced the intersection of innovation and inspiration:

Modernism emerged from a disillusionment with history after the World War and spanned every corner of creative expression, from art (e.g., Agnes Martin) to music (e.g., John Cage) to design (e.g., Charles and Ray Eames), becoming the single most influential creative movement of the 20th century:

After The Great Depression erased consumer demand, American industrial design set to out rebuild the world of tomorrow and reignite people’s appreciation for objects by making things that previously didn’t need to appear attractive now sleek and desirable, effectively bridging form and function and ushering in The Century of the Self:

Postmodernism criticized modernism for having failed at reinvigorating society and set out to transform culture politically, philosophically, and creatively, pushing society to question why things are the way they are:

Pair with the best design books of 2012.

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