Archive for January, 2013

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design Companion, Part III Book

Add comment January 28th, 2013

I am always tempted to see the printed book as having begun with Gutenberg, movable type, and the Bible.


But, of course, the truth is somewhat different. And The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design shows that first book, Buljo Jikji Simche Yojeol, “a collection of essential Zen Buddhist texts” published in South Korea about 80 years before Gutenberg’s Bible.


Without a formal design education, I studied and trained on my own, learning about book design initially as a proofreader, copy editor, and, eventually, just looking at books and then making them. The books in Phaidon’s collection form a great foundation, starting as they do with the first pieces above and including some great examples of books that push the boundaries of book design.




The Bauhaus, Swiss, and Russian influences are, I think, the ones that I find most affecting. Not that I want to make books just like those, but they are the ones that seem so different from what I learned a book to be from my childhood on up to the days I began designing books.




So much typography and book design are displayed in the pieces that are part of the Book section! They provide a virtual survey of book design, and one that it sounds like Phaidon will add to over time. What I can imagine using this particular section of The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design for is to jump start one’s vision for book creation. The idea, of course, is not to steal whole designs, but to use these pieces to stimulate new designs of one’s own.




I recommend the Archive to students and practicing book designers.

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design Companion, Part II Advertising

Add comment January 2nd, 2013

I must admit to kind of a natural bias against advertising. As a business, as an art, my instinctive tendency that advertising is hucksterism wants to overwhelm at every chance. When I began looking for freelance design work almost twenty years ago, I started by perusing every Sunday’s New York Times classified ads for graphic design employment opportunities I might apply for on an off-site freelance basis. I shied from the ones in advertising: I did not want to become a salesman.

So I waited uncomfortably for the first advertising piece to turn up, as I worked my way through the Archive. Oddly, I was well into the box—viewing/reading through in chronological order—before the first such piece turned up. From the very first one, for Pelikan Ink by El Lissitzky, Phaidon blew my prejudice out of the water. Some examples …


In reading Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography and about Tschichold himself, again and again I read about the Bauhaus, Constructivism, and (among other designers and artists) El Lissitzky. The first and last of these were easy for me to comprehend in the simplest way: the Bauhaus was a school and El Lissitzky was a Russian artist and designer. Constructivism—a concept, a style of art—was tougher to grasp. By now I know what constructivism is. But for a student, or perhaps just a dabbler reading art history, the Pelikan Ink piece ably demonstrates, quickly, that constructivism is a style of art based on fairly strict organization of elements—and the accompanying text explains it a bit.

One of the beauties of The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design is how a single piece can bring home such a concept with such ease.

More of the Russian/German modernism of the early twentieth century came into focus with the work of the English designer Ashley Havinden for the American automaker Chrysler. Again underlining the value of the Archive as a learning tool, the piece has art deco leanings. It actually reminded me of the art deco architecture of New York’s Chrysler Building. The common thread of art deco style is instructive as to how a theme may be made to run through various expressions of a brand.


Another Bauhaus veteran—though he left the school for advertising and eventually emigrated to the U.S.—was Herbert Bayer. Interestingly, his ad for Adrianol Emulsion, a hay fever remedy, does not scream Bauhaus.


Rather it takes the Archive on a bit of a fantastical turn and actually reminds me of something Dali might create. But this is part of the task of being, it seems to me, a survey of graphic design. And, really, the wider the survey, the more useful it can be to the designer poking around for inspiration. Not to steal, or even borrow, as Picasso famously quipped, but to light a fire under one’s imagination.


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