A brief history of music for the eyes, or how to go from brown paper to design revolution in 7 pounds.
By Maria Popova
Alex Steinweiss, father of the album cover, lived to be ninety-four, but his legacy will endure for centuries to come. The record sleeves and album artwork we know and love, and have come to take for granted, owe their existence to the iconic designer, who in 1940 created the first illustrated 78 rpm album package as a young art director at Columbia Records. The company took a chance on his idea — to replace the standard plain brown wrapper with an eye-catching poster-like illustration — and increased its record sales eightfold in mere months. His covers, blending bold typography with elegant, graphically ambitious artwork, forever changed not only the way albums were sold, but also the way audiences related to recorded music. He made, as critics now frequently say, “music for the eyes.”
I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music.” ~ Alex Steinweiss
Steinweiss’ extraordinary work and legacy live on in Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover — a lavish Taschen volume by triple Grammy Award-winning art director Kevin Reagan and prolific design writer Steven Heller (yes, himagain), cataloguing three decades’ worth of Steinweiss’s magnificent classical, jazz and popular records, as well as logos, labels, advertising ephemera and even his very own typeface, contextualized with essays that illuminate their historical importance, visual innovation and cultural legacy.
And because it’s Taschen, the 420-page tome weighs in at 7 pounds and is also available as a lust-worthy ultra-limited-edition of 1,500 copies, each signed by the artist and including a serigraph print, for $700. (Cue in donation prompt…)
What Brazil’s favelas have to do with field science and Milton Glaser’s creative process.
By Maria Popova
The nature and origin of creativity is the subject of manyatheory. But, rather than theorizing about it, wouldn’t it be great if we could just lift the lid of a great creative mind and see just how the machinery works? Well, we sort of can — by way of great creators’ private notebooks and sketchbooks, which offer a trip to as close to the creative process as we can get. After last week’s rare look at Michelangelo’s, here are five cross-disciplinary favorites, spanning everything from street art to field science.
In Street Sketchbook: Journeys, Tristan Manco takes a rare peek inside the sketchbooks of 26 of the world’s hottest new graffiti artists. From Brazil’s iconic favelas to Tokyo’s backalleys, it reveals both globe-trotting adventures and rich internal landscapes in 227 large-format pages and lush double-spreads of pure creative genius.
I firmly believe science is a creative discipline, so no look at the creative mind is complete without a look at the scientific mind. Field Notes on Science and Nature offers exactly that thought beautiful reproductions of pages from the journals of the world’s greatest field scientists. Twelve essays by professional naturalists from such diverse disciplines as anthropology, botany, ecology, entomology, and paleontology contextualize the doodles, drawings and marginalia with equal parts infectious curiosity and affectionate enthusiasm.
In 2009, creative academics and researchers Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison set out to investigate the minds of the advertising industry’s greatest creative thinkers in a series of experiments, analyzing the “process drawings” of these top creative professionals — artwork that answered the deceptively simple question, What does your creative process look like? The results, illustrated with a Sharpie on what Griffin and Morrison call a “process canvas,” were published in The Creative Process Illustrated: How Advertising’s Big Ideas Are Born — a fascinating glimpse of the routes leading creatives take to finding and catching ideas.
What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.
By Maria Popova
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.
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.
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.
Happiness, messiness and what unstaged photos have to do with setting the stage for genius.
By Maria Popova
Yesterday, we took a rare peek inside the sketchbooks of 26 of the world’s hottest street artists. Today, we’re turning that same voyeuristic eye to the broader world of creative professionals — designers, illustrators, writers and other exceptional creators — whose workspaces and toolboxes are like miniature museums of their unique brand of creative curiosity.
FROM YOUR DESKS
Since the dawn of creative time, an artist’s studio has been a reflection of his or her creative process — a private, sacred and deeply personal temple of meaning and ideation. From Your Desks explores the contemporary incarnation of the artist’s studio — the creator’s desk — through candid, unstaged portraits of workspaces.
A Desk is where we work. Symbolic. Psychical. Present. A second home. A Desk is a platform. A hearth. Roots are planted. It’s where upon hours on hours pass.”
FYD is the brainchild of writer, photographer and blogger Kate Donnelly.
ON MY DESK
On My Desk is the slightly more promiscuous predecessor of From Your Desks. Since 2006, the site has served as a place for designers, artists, illustrators and other creative types to share their work and workspaces. It’s closer to a crowdsourcing project than a curatorial one, since just about anyone can apply for a blogger account to post to the site, but it’s fascinating and delightful nonetheless.
design*sponge, one of our favorite design blogs, has lesser-known yet wonderful section entitled What’s Inside Your Toolbox, probing into the creative processes of prominent designers, illustrators and artists by way of the tools they can’t live without. From legendary tastemaker and Anthropologie buyer Ketih Johnson to Brain PickingsfavoriteMaira Kalman, the rubric covers a vibrant spectrum of creators.
The column always features the same fill-in-the-blank question — “When I am in my studio, I feel______” — which inevitably reveals one simple yet recurring truth: There’s an enormous and profound correlation between happiness and creativity.