Bruce Hannah

Product/Industrial Designer / United States / Hannah Design and Pratt Institute

Bruce Hannah’s Book List

I was introduced to reading in my junior year at Pratt by Rowena Reed Kostellow, my mentor and teacher. After reading something I’d written, she suggested that I start reading the profiles in The New Yorker. Her thinking went that if you read well-written stuff, you would write better. I suggest books to my students for that very reason.

I’ve come to understand that most books, in the end, are about design in some way or another. The plots of most novels are designed, and the people who inhabit them are all struggling with creativity in one way or another. Books are also touchstones that remind us of something (or someone) that moves us or challenges us. Reading is also just plain fun, which may be its greatest pleasure.

13 books
Alan Lightman

What is time? Why does it exist? When, some years ago, I asked students to design a clock, one student designed a clock made of chocolate that had only an hour hand. When I asked him why, he said, “It’s a Swiss clock, designed for Einstein.” I think Lightman’s book explains why that clock would have made sense to Einstein.

Edward de Bono

Reading Eureka was the first time I understood the effect ideas and inventions could have on humanity. It catalogues the greatest inventions in categories such as materials, mental aids, and key devices—inventions that seem completely logical and at the same time aren't. On the pages devoted to geometry there is a Chinese proof for the Pythagorean theorem that predates Pythagoras. This one bit of information changed how I look at the world.

Norman Mailer
Jon Naar

I hate graffiti! I think it’s vandalism or worse, but I’m almost persuaded by Mailer’s prose and Naar’s photos to admit it might be art. Anyone who is interested in what art might or might not be should read this book. It’s also a wonderful look at New York City in the 1970s, a reminder of the good times and the bad. I always refer to this book when I’m starting to believe I know what design and art are and can define them very clearly.

Charles Bukowski

The drinking man’s Sylvia Plath, Bukowski reassures me that the creative process is a minefield of disasters and successes. Every one of Bukowski’s books delivers a diatribe of angst about technology, “the Typer” (his manual typewriter), people (usually ex-wives or girlfriends), and society that make the writer crazy and unable to break writer’s block. It’s comforting to know that you are not alone in experiencing difficulties making something.

Why should we be comfortable? Witold Rybczynski explores the origins of this and other ideas that have consequences beyond just our domestic well-being. His concerns expanded from trying to save the world one toilet flush at a time to looking at the design ideas that might affect all of us long before the catch-phrase “green design” took hold. Again, required reading, if you really want to be a designer.

Thomas Armstrong

If you ever wondered why some kids tap their feet in class, this is the book for you. In Their Own Way is Armstrong’s take on Howard Gardner’s work with Project Zero on multiple intelligences. Word smart, number smart, picture smart, music smart, body smart, people smart, self smart, and nature smart are the ways we are all smart. Some of us tend to use some of the ways we learn and see the world more than we do others. A very helpful book if you profess to teach anything, and one that I find delightful, informative, and transformative. It helped me to understand that I can’t teach anyone anything, but I can show them what they don’t know, and perhaps might be interested in learning.

Henri Matisse

Whenever I’m tempted to do graphics I pull this book out and after looking through a few pages I’m cured of the affliction. Matisse invented modern graphics with this little publication that is so good you don’t even have to read French to enjoy the thoughts that cover every page.

Toni Morrison

Reading Toni Morrison allows one to enter a society that includes everyone. There are no barriers, but there is a lot of pain and joy and humanity. It isn’t a coincidence that Jazz is a great title—jazz is great music/art that transcends and transforms just about everything you think is true and false. The book also helped me understand what America might be all about.

Dava Sobel

Who knew that longitude as a navigational aid didn’t exist until a “tinkerer,” John Harrison, perfected the “clock”?  Who knew there was a Longitude Act, passed by Parliament in 1714? These, along with a multitude of other facts and figures—including why there is Greenwich Mean Time—all become very clear once you read Longitude. One of those numbers that reads out on your iPhone telling you your location is longitude. Thank you, John Harrison.

Stephen Jay Gould

The Mismeasure of Man helps explain the insanity of trying to measure intelligence, from the beginnings of the “science” of testing to our contemporary dilemma of testing everyone all the time. It helped make me skeptical of just about any measurement humans develop, from actual measurement (which is only important if one has capital to invest abstractly) to “normal” anything.

Richard Feynman

The life and times of Nobel Prize-winner Richard Feynman, in his own words. Read it and learn why his playing the bongos may have been more important than his creating some of the first theoretical physics drawings. It taught me that creating stuff has common vectors, whether you’re writing theoretical physics or doing furniture design. There are also some very funny stories and some terrific advice about life.

John McPhee

Reporting is something all designers should learn to do. John McPhee’s story of Henri Vaillancourt, one of the few people today who can build a bark canoe, is about the irony of craft and the survival of just about everything related to it. This is required reading in my design classes, not just because of the brilliant writing, but also because of the connections between design and craft. The history lessons are an added bonus.

Primo Levi

The story “The Sixth Day” is a must-read for anyone ever caught up in one of those design meetings where everything is impossible and nothing can change, “because, that’s the way it is.” Levi’s explorations of the “mimer” (a duplicating machine that makes three-dimensional copies) and other fabulous American devices foretell much of what might be the future.

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