Ellen Lupton

Curator; Writer; Lecturer; Designer; Educator / Graphic Design / United States / Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Maryland Institute College of Art

Ellen Lupton’s Notable Books of 2013

7 books
Mark Sinclair Essayist
Claudia Klat Editor

This luscious compendium of contemporary typography and lettering is stocked with enough eye candy to make your teeth hurt. It’s like a 300-page Tumblr blog blown up onto big, tactile pages of print. A selection of historical examples at the front of the book and a sturdy, well-crafted essay by Mark Sinclair provide critical context. The rest of the volume, compiled and designed by Tony Brook, proceeds alphabetically by designer. Brook makes no pretense at deep structure. In place of themes or movements or geographical relationships, you get a raucous onslaught of visual energy. Fresh, surprising, and sometimes hard to look at, the work comes from dozens of designers, most of them young and European.

Sinclair’s essay is called “The Text is the Image,” a slogan that justly captures the project’s focus. Type Only is not about long-form typography applied to complex bodies of content; it is about making pictures, mostly abstract ones, with letters and words. The book’s predominant medium is the poster. Despite the poster’s waning public function, this vehicle remains the archetypal proving ground for experimental graphic design, inviting designers to build compact compositions and serial campaigns that viewers can absorb at a glance. Themes emerge if you look for them. Communication and “concept” succumb to extravagant formal play. Letters are cut, sliced, warped, and repeated. Strange beauty emerges from ugly accidents. Digital glitches disturb the hallowed ground of print. Is the end near at last?

Codesign
Rajesh Dahiya Creative Director
Mohor Ray Editor
Abhijith K. R. Designer
Foreword by Kumar Vyas
Foreword by Steven Heller

Dekho is a remarkable new book about design in India, edited and designed by Codesign, a brand and communication firm in Gurgaon, India. The book examines work based in culture, research, and economic development. This is not a picture book of slick brands or vernacular truck signs. Instead, it is a thoughtful exploration of the processes and motivations behind a range of practices, from typeface development for diverse linguistic communities to co-design projects with rural craftspeople.

The book is organized as a series of meaty conversations with nine different designers and teams, including Neelakash Kshetrimayum, a type designer reviving a local script, and Lakshmi Murthy, who works with low-literacy communities to create effective social communication. The page designs are active but reader-friendly, set in Peter Bilak's beautiful Greta typeface. The book ends with a series of responses and visual work by Wolfgang Weingart, Stefan Sagmeister, and Casey Reas.

Preserved and repackaged for immediate enjoyment, this compendium of dimensional lettering is richer than a typographic fruit cake. Studded with dense chunks of visual history, Shadow Type presents examples from the early nineteenth century through the 1950s. Shadows offer a special kind of embellishment. They skirt the edges of dominant letter structures, employing bevels, highlights, side panels, and cast shadows to emphasize and underscore the primary letterform. Functioning as more than mere distraction, shadows not only give letters a decorative identity but can actually enhance their legibility and visibility.

As a genre of ornamental lettering, shadow type evolved partly from the needs of sign painters. Shadows allow text to stand out against complex backgrounds—including glass—a fact that proved equally useful for mixing type with photographs and illustrations. As structural ornament, shadow letters have a natural affinity for architecture, and yet their purpose is fundamentally illusionistic. Steven Heller and Louise Fili call these shadowed letters “three-dimensional,” yet their magic lies in carving light and depth out of flat surfaces.

Go is a book about graphic design aimed at anyone aged 10 years or older. That includes me. This hardcover book is fun to hold and handle. Despite its generous trim size (8.5 x 11), this is no coffee table book. It’s for reading and using, not for contemplation or display. After reading the whole thing on a recent flight from Baltimore to Denver, I exited the plane with a renewed grasp of visual thinking. This sharply written, boldly designed volume actively shows and demonstrates visual principles. Kidd's book resembles a good keynote presentation transformed into print. While many instructional design books cram their layouts with pictures and captions and explanations, Kidd keeps his pages simple and direct but always surprising. Since many of the examples come from Kidd’s own work, a frisky subversive magic pervades the book. A spread on “Light and Dark” features two of Kidd's psychologically disturbing photographic covers. A sequence of pages on “Big and Small” takes the reader through a series of exciting transformations. After making short work of formal principles, Kidd presents a compact and compelling guide to typography (wow, that was easy), and then amazes the reader with ideas about how to build the bridge between content and form through metaphor, literal and suggestive imagery, ironic conflict, and more.

I could easily use this book in a college-level introduction to graphic design or a workshop for adult learners. Kidd makes graphic design accessible, compelling, and real.

Michael Rock

Michael Rock’s Multiple Signatures belongs to a new breed of monograph that showcases the work of a designer or studio through a diverse collage of documents rather than through lavish reproductions. Multiple Signatures attempts to perform the work rather than merely represent it. Some projects appear in tiny reference shots inserted into a discursive text (reminiscent of Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture), while others enter the stage as large-scale images that are not so much reproduced as re-enacted. 2x4, the design consultancy co-founded by Rock in 1994, emerges as the book’s primary subject; the book situates the studio’s influential practice within a larger discussion about design authorship and the techniques and clichés of visual form-making.

A rich picture emerges of how design is practiced in a large multidisciplinary firm with a unique critical voice. One essay features a cartoon-style conversation between Rock and his partners Susan Sellers and Georgie Stout; each character is illustrated with a deadpan drawing of a talking head. The ensuing conversation feels at once honest and contrived—like good theater. One head pronounces, “Our enthusiasm is one of our most recognizable products . . . it has also nearly driven us out of business a few times.” The book also includes many of Rock's essays and lectures, covering a span of more than two decades.

See my comments on Lella Vignelli for another volume in the Hall of Femmes series of smartly edited monographs celebrating the life and work of female designers who helped shape the American design landscape at mid-century and beyond. Created by Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio in Sweden, the books unfold a canon of inspiring female role models for women in the profession. From Tomoko Miho we learn about her unique way of viewing the world and her interactions with George Nelson, Irving Harper, and John Massey.

Hall of Femmes is a series of smartly edited monographs celebrating the life and work of female designers. Created by Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio in Sweden, the books unfold a canon of inspiring female role models for women in the profession.

The latest volumes explore the work of Lella Vignelli and Tomoko Miho, two women who helped shape the American design landscape at mid-century and beyond. Consisting of 64 tall, narrow pages, each brisk and invigorating book will instantly expand your sense of design’s horizon. Replete with illustrations and vintage photographs, the volumes emphasize the human dimension of design practice, presenting moving portraits of women who have excelled in a field where even today, few of us make it to the very top. Generous in purpose and method, each Hall of Femmes book transmits the designer's voice through compelling interviews, thoughtful critical essays, lovingly selected vintage photographs, and dozens of reproductions. From Lella Vignelli we glimpse the energy of one of modern design’s great partnerships.

More than just a publication series, the Hall of Femmes project includes lectures, exhibitions, and events, all conceived in a joyful spirit by the founders and authors.

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