17 Design Commentators/17 BooksBy Steve Kroeter April 17, 2012
To complement the recent publication of our “100 Designers/100 Books” list, today we bring you “17 Design Commentators/17 Books,” which celebrates the book lists that have been contributed to Designers & Books by our commentators—critics, curators, editors, educators, executives, writers, and other distinguished design community members.
As with “100 Designers/100 Books,” we’ve paired each of our commentators together with a book chosen from the book lists they’ve submitted. Click on a book title or cover image and you’ll get detailed information on the book along with all its Designers & Books recommenders. Click on a commentator’s photo or name and you’ll get the commentator’s full book list and links to biographical and other information.
No matter what the nature of your design interest (architecture, fashion, graphic design, interior design, or product design) and no matter what the context of that interest (academic, critical, curatorial, or otherwise), you are sure to find book recommendations and commentary that will be both entertaining and enlightening. And whether you focus on the 17 books below or the more than 270 books that the commentators have chosen in total, you can count on each of the titles to be important and inspired sources of creativity, innovation, and invention. — SK
The House of Life
Stanley Abercrombie: An art historian’s autobiography written in the form of a tour through his own house on Rome’s Via Giulia, seeing its furnishings, art, and objects, remembering their sources and significance for him. As a result we review his whole life. Of more importance, we are poignantly reminded of how meaningful and communicative are the inanimate objects we choose to live with.
Playing and Reality
Alberto Alessi: Winnicott’s theory of transitional phenomena and transitional objects enlightened my understanding of design as play and as a new form of contemporary art.
The Invention of Tradition
Barry Bergdoll: This book really changed the way I thought about myself as a historian and what I wanted to study. It is one of the great models for thinking about the ways in which buildings tell stories at certain times that because of their longevity become part of the stories that cities in turn tell.
Syrie Maugham: Staging the Glamorous Interior
Dominique Browning: We think of Hollywood glamour as quintessentially American, but it actually grew out of the style of an English designer credited with designing the first all-white room. She worked in New York, Chicago, and Palm Beach; many of the techniques she employed are still popular today. Maugham was a contemporary of Elsie de Wolfe’s, and though their tastes differed, each left a profound impression on the history of interior design.
Akiko Fukai: Speaks to the essentials of all design.
AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.)
Paul Goldberger: It may look like a reference book, but it is filled with sharp observations, and there is a decent amount of wit among the encyclopedic listings.
The Elements of Style (Illustrated)
Ellen Lupton: There remains no better guide to writing than this classic work. E. B. White reframed the ideas of his own English teacher into a charmingly proscriptive guide to building seaworthy sentences. Maira Kalman repackaged The Elements of Style in a later edition by illustrating the original book’s exemplary prose with her concise, declarative paintings. No writer or designer should be deprived of Kalman’s ingenious reissue of this useful book.
The International Style
R. Craig Miller: One of the most influential exhibitions and catalogues of the 20th century, The International Style not only introduced modernism to an American audience, but it also established modernism as the “holy grail” for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, a conceptual approach that the institution has embraced for almost three-quarters of a century.
The Architecture of the City
Mohsen Mostafavi: This is one of the most concise reflections on the relationship between architecture and the city. Rossi brings together his knowledge of history, sociology, and geography to enhance our urban imagination.
Swiss Graphic Design
Rick Poynor: An important study illustrated with many significant works that also exemplifies Hollis’s approach to design. The main text is in bold, often in a central column, with reference pictures and extended captions running in parallel along either side. The pages are dense with information, but retain a sense of precision and clarity. It’s a book that could probably only have been conceived by an author who is also the designer.
Design Like You Give a Damn
Zoë Ryan: This book illustrates the power of design to change lives.
Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade
Witold Rybczynski: If you never took Scully’s course at Yale, or had the privilege of hearing him lecture, this book is a good substitute. This is not a conventional history, rather a series of essays that examine the intersection of the built environment and the natural world: Greek temples, Italian urbanism, French classical gardens.
Valerie Steele: A super-brilliant book by a German scholar who explores topics such as Chanel’s female dandy versus Dior’s transvestite, and why the “hundred years of fashion” (from Worth to Yves Saint Laurent) ended with Comme des Garçons.
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
Susan S. Szenasy: Postman warned against context-free information as he wrote, “The milieu in which Technopoly [which he located in the U. S. at the time, 1993] flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose is severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.” The “information glut” we are enslaved by today (how many e-mails, tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn entries, and must-see blogs do you click on every day?) seems to have disconnected us from everything but “data.”
Is it time to revisit Postman? I say, yes. We need to bring his clear thinking about what makes us human into our discussions of everything that occupies designers, from software to classrooms, from smartphones to cities. By and large, Postman’s thinking did eventually reach the design community. Long known for chattering about the great and beautiful things they “create,” designers are now deeply engaged with the large issues that shape our world: technology and sustainability (both environmental and social).
Ways of Seeing
Véronique Vienne: Oddly enough, what I find most appealing about this slim paperback is its awkward layout. Set in Univers 75 black, the heavy text jars you out of your comfort zone, frays your nerves, and wears down your resistance with short forcible sentences, until you surrender, bleary-eyed and furrowed brow, to the logic of its Marxist and feminist analysis.
The Finest Rooms in America
Susan Weber: Covers our greatest interiors—from the Tea Room at Jefferson’s Monticello to an Albert Hadley modern sitting room.
World Dress Fashion in Detail
Claire Wilcox: I hope the extraordinary garments in this book inspire designers to regard creative fashion design as a discipline in which anything is possible.
And, if there is particular book that has been especially inspirational to you, we’d be interested in hearing from you below in a comment.