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5 Notable Design Books for Summer Reading: Rick Poynor

By Rick Poynor July 10, 2012

Guest blogger Rick Poynor—also a Designers & Books commentator—brings us five books published this year worth exploring this summer. — SK

Rick Poynor

Guest blogger: Visual culture critic Rick Poynor (Design Observer, London)

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These books about graphic design, typography, and photography would all make fine summer reading and viewing, though none is the kind of lightweight volume that can be slipped in a pocket or beach bag. Take two or three of these monsters on vacation and you will need an extra case. Overviews of this type—wallpapered with images, exhaustive in sweep, if not definitive—are one reason why devotees of the graphosphere still depend on the printed page. With reproductions this alluring, possessing one of these surveys feels half like owning the seductive originals they gather and display.

Graphic Design: A History, 2nd Edition

Stephen J. Eskilson

When Stephen J. Eskilson’s Philip Meggs-challenging history of graphic design appeared in 2007—then subtitled A New History—it drew some heavy fire from critics at Design Observer. Just five years later, a substantially overhauled new edition has arrived, suggesting that the book succeeded in finding an audience. Eskilson has made necessary corrections, expanded the sections on Swiss, postmodern and contemporary design and the bibliography, and added 75 new images. His book is well illustrated, cleanly laid out, and the mass of text is readably presented—vital in a production on this scale. For anyone seeking a broad, serviceable introduction to graphic design history, these refinements add up to strong competition for the latest (posthumous) edition of Meggs’s survey.

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The Avant-Garde Applied (1890-1950)

Manuel Fontán del Junco, Richard Hollis, et al.

This 470-page catalogue, available in a fluent English translation, accompanied an exhibition at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid, and it remains to be seen whether it will receive wide distribution. Packed with images of 700 works, mainly from the collections of Merrill C. Berman and José María Lafuente, it is one of the most exhaustive and lusciously illustrated surveys of avant-garde graphic design yet published. At its center is a masterly “transverse reading” of experimental typography by Maurizio Scudiero, and British designer and historian Richard Hollis also provides a good overview. The catalogue closes with two insightful interviews with the collectors, whose curatorial vision has helped to focus attention on the achievements of avant-garde graphic design.

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FUSE 1-20: From Invention to Antimatter—Twenty Years of FUSE

Neville Brody, Jon Wozencroft, and Adrian Shaughnessy

FUSE, instigated by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft, was one of the most inventive and challenging typography projects of the 1990s, though curiously sidelined in its day and not much remembered since. There was a clear need for a book to collect the quarterly publication’s work and reassess its contribution, and the entire project is here, dressed up in a brown box like the original floppy disk and poster sets. New FUSE fonts, such as Jonathan Barnbook’s mysterious Rattera pictograms, can be accessed by password on the TASCHEN website. In this chunky, detailed retrospective, FUSE is presented very much from its founders’ point of view. The one thing missing is a critical and historical overview to cement the venture authoritatively within the lineage of the “applied avant-garde.”

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The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation

Mathieu Lommen, ed.

The Book of Books is an über-book—a gallery of dozens of the most stunning book designs saved for posterity in the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. From Aldus Manutius to Herbert Bayer, from Andreas Vesalius to Quentin Fiore, these generously sized reproductions have enormous impact on the page. Only in its more recent selections does the survey seem to waver, though no one could argue with the inclusion of Joost Grootens or Irma Boom. It must also be said that The Book of Books’ design lacks the elegance its subject matter demands, particularly in the bold, excessively line-spaced chapter intros. Once sampled, though, the panoramic scope and cavalcade of masterpieces make this a volume that book design lovers and bibliophiles will find hard to resist.

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The Dutch Photobook: A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards

Fritz Gierstberg and Rik Suermondt, eds.

Despite some stiff competition, this survey of the Dutch photobook is my most notable visual book of the year to date. It is one of those ground-breaking publications (certainly for non-Dutch readers) that takes a field one knows only in fragments, puts it all together, and gives it new coherence—the obvious precursor is Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s two-volume history of the photobook. The editors organize the photobooks by theme, each topic succinctly introduced—landscape, youth culture, industry, travel, the city—and give each example a page or two of pictures and a short text. Joost Grootens builds the layouts with real sympathy for the material, and rounds off the story with an elaborate visual index that shows the books on a timeline, and classifies them by photographer, designer, physical size, and size of print run. A marvelous book.

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