Book List of the Week

Diving into a Sea of Letters and Ornaments, Thoughts and Words: Massimo Pitis’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter January 29, 2013
Massimo Pitis

Graphic designer Massimo Pitis: Studio Pitis (Milan)

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“My selection of books reflects my interests in history, sociology, design, and education,” Italian graphic designer and art director Massimo Pitis explains in the introduction to his Designers & Books book list. “What I propose here is a dive into the depths of design thinking—a sea where letters and ornaments, thoughts and words, passions and theories fluctuate constantly, producing new ideas and new words.”

Pitis’s deep dive brings up ten intriguing titles. Among these are The Styles of Ornament (1910) by Alexander Speltz, which Pitis calls “a comprehensive, even maniacal, catalogue of ornament in architecture and design from pre-history to the late 19th century”; and the more recent Typoésie by Jérôme Peignot (the grandson of the founder of a famous French type house), about which Pitis says, “From the calligram to concrete poetry, from design to art, this book collects hundreds of very good examples of great typography. Designed by Massin, it’s a book Herbert Spencer might have done after his experience as editor of the design journal Typographica.” There is also the modern classic Designing Design by Kenya Hara (also on the book lists of Akiko Fukai and Adam Tihany)—the Japanese designer is on Pitis’s “shortlist of the five best graphic designers ever.”

Selection of type, lettering, and book design by Massimo Pitis

Pitis has taught for a number of years the Polytechnic University of Milan, among other institutions. From his viewpoint as an educator he recommends The Form of the Book by Jan Tschichold (the German original is on Erik Spiekermann’s book list): “A journey through typography, layout, paper, lettering, and all the rules and tips every designer (and writer) should know when approaching the empty page.” He calls Richard Hollis’s Graphic Design: A Concise History “a good read for students,” with “one small criticism: it is very Anglo-Centric and mainstream.” Perhaps one of the most important lessons for students can be found in another of his book choices, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson. “It’s a book about the need to become ourselves against all the limitations that modern society and schools impose,” Pitis says. “Brilliant!”

Massimo Pitis has also written about graphic design. He is the editor of Pino Tovaglia: La regola che corregge l’emozione/The Rule that Corrects Emotion (2005, Edizioni Corraini), on the work of Pino Tovaglia, a leading figure in the “Milanese school” of rationalist graphic design in the 1950s–’70s.

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