Graphic design

Hundreds of Doors: Abbott Miller’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter November 29, 2012
Abbott Miller

Graphic designer Abbott Miller: Pentagram (New York)

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Pentagram’s Abbott Miller sent along to Designers & Books a list of 15 books “that were influential on me as a student” because “as I get older I realize that they continue to influence the way I think about art, architecture, and design.”

Miller, whose graphic design projects are often “concerned with the cultural role of design and the public life of the written word”* counts among the books that continue to influence him those that investigate politics, art and architectural history, literary and linguistic theory, psychology, and film.

Cover of 2wice (2006), the performing arts journal edited and designed by Abbott Miller. Issue devoted to the collaborative dances of Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg

His selections for Designers & Books include Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage (“A model of design and writing, and an exceptional case study of a partnership between a public intellectual and a great designer”) and Roland Barthes’s Mythologies, which Miller calls “a book that opened hundreds of doors to reading design, art, music, and film with the eye of an anthropologist and an art critic. Barthes infused everything else I wrote and thought about afterward.”

Also on Miller’s book list is Imagining Language, edited by Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery—“a sort of perverse ‘coffee-table’ book in that it is a serious study of ways in which language and thought have been visualized. For me it functions to kickstart thinking about type, structure, and spatial aspects of layout. It has radical experiments, vanished languages, and truly strange ‘proposals’ for how thought can be transmitted visually.” Another choice is filmmaker Hollis Frampton’s Circles of Confusion: Film, Photography, Video, Texts, 1968-1980, which Miller says he loves “because of how comfortably Frampton sat on both the creative and analytical sides of the desk.”

Not only in his work as a designer but also as an editor and writer, Miller has collaborated with performers, curators, artists, photographers, and writers, as well as with publishers, corporations, and institutions. He is the editor and designer of 2wice, an award-winning performing arts journal, and has worked with artists such as Matthew Barney, Yoko Ono, William Kentridge, Philip Glass, Twyla Tharp, and Nam June Paik, among many others.

Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, Design/Writing/Research: Writing on Graphic Design, 2008, 1996 (Phaidon Press)

Miller has pioneered the concept of the designer as author and, with his wife, the graphic designer Ellen Lupton, is the author of the essay anthology Design/Writing/Research: Writing on Graphic Design. “When it appeared in the mid-1990s,” Rick Poynor has observed on Designers & Books, “Lupton and Miller’s highly original collection of essays had a tremendous impact on a generation of young designers committed to critical reflection and writing. . . . The authors designed their own text and the book remains unusual to this day—one has to wonder why—for taking such a highly visual approach to design criticism.”

A survey of Abbott Miller’s design work will be published in fall 2013 by Princeton Architectural Press. Among the many projects featured will be those on book design. “A book,” Miller commented on a panel discussion on book design at Pentagram at the recently held Designers & Books Fair 2012, “is a kit of parts, a piece of sculpture, a movie you hold in your hands.”


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