Graphic design

5 Notable Design Books of 2011: Rick Poynor

By Rick Poynor November 3, 2011

We welcome guest blogger Rick Poynor—also a Designers & Books commentator​—​who shares his selection of notable design titles published during 2011. — SK

Rick Poynor

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


These five titles deal with some aspect of visual culture and they are all books I have enjoyed this year. Only one, 100 Artists’ Manifestos, is an entirely pictureless read; the others are intensely visual, but their texts are important, too. I single them out because, in each case, I felt a rush of excitement as soon as I laid hands on them. The subjects were of great interest to me, the books made an instant connection and I coveted them for my library, though I’m still saving up for The Ruins of Detroit. I might just have to put that one on my Christmas list.


Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May ’68 Paris Uprising
Johan Kugelberg and Philippe Vermès, eds.

As the “Occupy” protests spread around the world, this high-impact record of the May 1968 uprising against the French government in the streets of Paris couldn’t be timelier. The simple one-color poster designs, many shown full-page, jump with raw energy. The book also gathers translations from contemporary documents, a timeline of events, pictures of the Atelier Populaire workshop by participant and co-author Philippe Vermès, and photos of slogans scrawled on the walls.


100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists
Alex Danchev, ED.

This collection is a great idea. Instead of treating artists’ manifestos only as documents of the movements they supported, it invites us to read them as works of literature, and even as classics. The “heroic” years of manifesto-making, c. 1910–30, are as bombastic as you would expect (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism), but there are many compelling later examples, including the priceless Stuckists, and architectural manifestos from Rem Koolhaas, Lebbeus Woods, and Charles Jencks.


Ootje Oxenaar: Designer + Commissioner
Els Kuijpers

For admirers of Dutch graphic design, the new monograph about R.D.E. (“Ootje”) Oxenaar is a treat. Already successful as a designer, at 40 he joined the Dutch Postal and Telecommunications Service where he became a national champion of excellent design. Els Kuijpers’s text is exhaustively researched and intellectually satisfying. Jan van Toorn and Mart Rozenbeek’s design packs in a huge portfolio of visual material with no sense of strain. Graphic design history needs more studies like this.


The Ruins of Detroit
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

I was staggered the first time I saw whole neighborhoods in a state of disintegration on a visit to Detroit. How could a city in such a wealthy nation resemble a war zone? Car plants, hotels, theaters, apartment buildings, school classrooms, police stations, dentists’ surgeries, bank vaults—in brilliant pictures, taken over a five-year period, we confront a vision of economic disaster and a city fabric gripped by entropy. A deeply alarming survey and, we have to hope, not as prescient as it feels.


Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design
Pat Kirkham AND Jennifer Bass

We have waited far too long for a monograph about Saul Bass, one of the greatest designers of film titles and a master of corporate identity. This monster volume treads a careful line between warm celebration—Bass’s daughter Jennifer designs it respectfully—and properly thorough design history. Pat Kirkham’s profuse endnotes are almost a book in their own right. A highly readable work of reference that is likely to remain the key study of Bass for years to come.

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