Book List of the Week

A Candid Search for Meaning: Pierre Bernard’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter May 31, 2011
Pierre Bernard

Graphic designer Pierre Bernard: L’Atelier de Création Graphique (Paris)

book list

Who in the design community doesn’t believe that good design makes life better? Even the cynics among us must admit to at least occasionally hoping it’s true.

French graphic designer Pierre Bernard’s take on this central of all design issues might be described as optimistic, yet also realistic. “Graphic design will not turn the world into a paradise, but it may contribute to a more humane world," he says. In recognition of his success at helping to create a more humane world, in 2006 Bernard was awarded the Erasmus Prize—given for exceptional contributions to European culture, society, or social science—honoring his accomplishments in “design for the public domain . . . the domain of shared values, from the street and town architecture to the virtual domain of the internet; from postage stamps to signposting of railway-stations and airports.”

The scope and diversity of his work and clients include the visual identity program he developed for the Louvre and the distinctive and ubiquitous graphics he designed for the French National Parks. What all his work has in common, as the Erasmus citation emphasizes, is that it is “not just something to look at, but something to think about.”

The books on the list that Bernard sent us provide worlds to think about. There is Roland Barthes writing about “love of the written word”—and also Edgar Morin pleading “for a new way of analyzing global issues, one that doesn’t take for granted the very notion of progress.” Bernard also includes Georges Perec’s first novel, Les choses/Things, which deals with consumer culture—a topic he confesses that as a designer with left-leaning convictions he has wrestled with all his life.

Referring to Milan Kundera’s L’art du roman/The Art of the Novel, Bernard says he views fiction as a “form of narration that can still be an antidote to the numbing effect of mass media.” He goes on to say that he sees “a strong parallel between the work of the novelist and that of the graphic designer.” This last sentence particularly caught our attention because on our “soon to be published” roster is the book list of Chip Kidd, a graphic designer who is, in fact, also a novelist (or would he say it the other way around?). Kidd’s list will be accompanied by an interview in which Véronique Vienne (who, by the way, introduced us to Bernard) speaks with Kidd about his most recent novel, The Learners.

On the one hand, Bernard’s list can be seen through the lens of “thinking,” but at the same time he recognizes that there are elements of our world that don’t fit into the thinking framework. “I can’t explain,” he confesses about Marcel Aymé’s Les contes du chat perché—the book of stories featuring talking animals that was a childhood favorite—“why this book is important, but I feel that the characters’ candid search for meaning is not unlike my own quest as a graphic designer.”

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