Jonathan Barnbrook

Graphic Designer / United Kingdom / Barnbrook

Jonathan Barnbrook’s Book List

None of these are design books. I don’t read directly about design, but instead look to the philosophies and experiences found in literature to influence my work. To be a good designer, you need to understand human beings, and for me the novel is still the best way to understand how people experience, affect, and are influenced by the world around them.

4 books
J. G. Ballard

This novel made my head explode. It contains the exact text of what would happen to me if I ever became mentally ill. It also has on every page enough concepts and amazing visual ideas for me to explore over several lifetimes. The themes contained within it distill all the important motivations, irritations, memes, and distractions of the late 20th century. The storyline about reconstructing the assassination of JFK to stop the outbreak of a third nuclear war is fantastically creative. The style of writing, which jumps from cold, analytical medical text to short-attention-span advertising-style copy, makes it a breeze to read. It’s full of madness but contains a logic that makes it a complete and self-contained work of art.

Milan Kundera

I love all of Kundera’s books but this is the one I think is the most beautiful and sensual and relevant. His analysis of the use of memories and the discarding of them provided me with many concepts for my political work. Kundera is from a communist country so the way he lived with a regime he was forced to live under when he was younger is central to the construction of this book. It was the start of my trying to look at politics in a way that was poetic, emotional, and human rather than dogmatic.

George Orwell

Orwell is one of the most influential 20th-century writers in Britain and my teenage years were consumed with voraciously reading everything by him. His more documentary-style books, like Down and Out in Paris and London or The Road to Wigan Pier, have a clear unfussy style, yet he still manages to tell a story brilliantly. Orwell’s 1984 has been so influential on my work, from the way he analyzes dictatorships to terms like “Newspeak” and “Doublethink,” which crystalize how our thoughts are shaped (or repressed) by the society we live in. I am constantly going back to him for ideas to include in my work.

Hermann Hesse

This is the “bible” of my youth and it put me on the path to being a designer who couldn’t separate “the self” from the message in the work. It’s about a man who feels conflict between the instinctive and the intellectual sides of himself. He wants to rise above being merely “human” to lead a purely intellectual life, but also yearns to be very much part of society and live in the moment. It’s beautifully and profoundly written. When I first started to read it I couldn’t breathe for the first few pages—it was like someone had experienced my life and emotions already. Importantly, the book is first and foremost optimistic. From it I understood that we do have to live in the moment: laugh, love, live as much as we can, as well as appreciate, grow, and try to comprehend the big themes that every person faces in life.

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