Book List of the Week

Book List of the Week: Mark Fox

Insight and beauty

By Steve Kroeter March 10, 2014
Mark Fox, Graphic Designer: Design is Play (San Francisco)
View Mark Fox’s Book List

Logo designer Mark Fox, one-half of the studio Design is Play (with Angie Wang) and one of the first designers to send us a book list three years ago, recently updated his list with some additions and thoughts about the role of books in his life and work.

In a new introduction to his book list, he says, “I learned to read at an early age by singing hymns at church . . . Although I am no longer religious, I am nonetheless drawn to books that are, in some manner, revelatory. Insight and beauty—this is what I seek when I read. To experience revelation through art is to invite joy into your life.”

Among his new selections—added to an original book list that includes typographer Adrian Frutiger’s Signs and Symbols (which argues that “every mark has meaning”) and also Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (“I share McCloud’s concept of ‘amplification through simplification' with my graphic design students every semester,” says Fox) is Susan Piedmont-Palladino’s Tools of the Imagination. This book, according to Fox, is “part history, part celebration, part elegy” and “explores the evolving relationship between technology, drawing, and architectural renderings.”  “In particular,” he says, “I recommend the essay by architect Paul Emmons, “The Lead Pencil: Lever of the Architect’s Imagination.”  

Fox has also added a few books of fiction (and nonfiction) that speak to imagination and the creative process.

We are fans of Roald Dahl in the Fox & Wang abode, and have read a number of his books to our (collective) three children. Not long ago we read Dahl’s 1977 memoir “Lucky Break—How I Became a Writer” (included in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More) for the first time. On the second page he offers seven tips to would-be fiction writers that, perhaps not surprisingly, are relevant to would-be graphic designers. Number one on that list: You should have a lively imagination. . . . After a moment, though, I have to ask: What does it mean to “have a lively imagination,” anyway? Marcel Proust observed that “The essence of the writer’s task is the perception of connections among unlike things.” Whether writing or designing, I believe it is through seeing, through forming surprising or illuminating linkages, that one puts a lively imagination to work. It is being, in a word, playful.

University of California Press logo, created by Design is Play (Mark Fox and Angie Wang). Photo: Courtesy of Design is Play

Two other new book choices are Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel about a future without books, Fahrenheit 451, and You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier, whom Fox calls “ a sharp-eyed critic who effectively weighs the promise of digital culture against the reality of its impact on the culture at large.” Reading the two books close together, Fox finds that “the juxtaposition is startling.” That juxtaposition gets explored further in a short essay by Fox that we’ll be publishing next week.

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