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

10 books
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.

Pat Kirkham Editor
Pat Moore
Pirco Wolframm
Photographs by Brent C. Brolin

At once scholarly and intimate, this book honors the unique life and artistic achievements of Eva Zeisel. Born in Hungary in 1906, Zeisel endured two world wars and the Soviet revolution, spending 16 months in a Russian prison and escaping Nazi persecution before emigrating to the U.S. in 1938. Pat Kirkham’s biographical essay unfolds beneath a timeline of historic photographs plucked from over a century of family history. Kirkham’s personal friendship with Zeisel adds depth and feeling to the biographer’s meticulous research. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Zeisel told Kirkham about watching the countdown to the year 2000. “‘It was my century,’” Zeisel said with tears in her eyes, having lived through the best and worst those decades of violence and invention had to offer.

After the astonishing life comes the equally astonishing work, photographed with magical light by Brent Brolin and chronicled by Kirkham and her co-authors, Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm, who also became devoted friends and scholars of all things Zeisel. Whether emerging out of darkness or basking against a warm, bright glow, each piece pops with boldness of contour and subtlety of surface. Zeisel was a master form-maker, but she also had a flair for decoration. A 1930 tea set is spotted with soft blue and yellow dots; a 1955 kitchenware ensemble for Hall China Company is glazed in a v-neck of pink and blue. Zeisel called herself a modernist with a little “m.” She knew enough about the so-called Machine Aesthetic to reject it for something all her own. She made her pieces in families, creating relationships of form and counterform that suggest love among people rather than things. That love, and the love that people had for her, comes through on every page.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp, an expert in sound design, is working to harmonize the cross-sensory driving environment at the Engineering Centre of Ford Motor Company in Cologne, Germany. His book Synesthetic Design is the most fascinating piece of design writing I've encountered in many years. Scientific yet accessible, Haverkamp’s book assesses mountains of research related to human perception to reveal correlations between the senses of sound, sight, smell, and touch. First, Haverkamp provides a useful, research-based update on the Gestalt psychology principles that most designers studied in school (grouping, common fate, figure/ground). Then, he applies these ideas from the visual realm to how we perceive sound and how we connect audio and visual input with input from the other senses.

The book’s layout, typography, and graphics, designed by Andreas Hidber, make this text a joy to read and navigate. Beautifully re-interpreted diagrams bring visual clarity to abstract concepts. Diagrams and illustrations are inserted into the text precisely where they are referenced, while elegant call-outs that summarize key points enable efficient scanning. Also included are a CD and a grid of QR codes connecting readers to a collection of sounds. This book is a must-read for any product designer, architect, interaction designer, or graphic designer seeking to understand design and the human experience.

Tom Dixon

How do designers represent themselves in the medium of the book? Tom Dixon has released a fascinating self-portrait constructed in the medium of print. Crafted as a marvelous physical object that unfolds over time, Dixonary takes its inspiration from the designer’s own slide lectures, which pair an object or image from the world of pop culture and technology with a piece created by Dixon. The book introduces each work with a spare page of text and an image suggesting a cultural reference (pin-up girls, machine parts, genre paintings). The reader turns the page of text to reveal a Dixon object; these range from one-of-a-kind chairs bent from steel bars to sleek totemic stools and lamps. The text pages have been printed on a soft, warm stock that contrasts with the hard surface of the photographic plates, and they have been cut short at the fore edge to modulate the experience of flipping through the book.

Dixon is a hands-on maker who began creating furniture and objects in Britain in the late 1970s, where his raw, welded pieces attracted an immediate association with punk. Dixon claims to have never really been a punk, but he did draw energy from the movement’s rough-and-ready, do-it-yourself rebelliousness. He went on to become an influential designer with a diverse output, from art furniture to manufactured pieces. Dixonary is alive with the designer’s own voice as well as the culture that inspires him.

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?

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