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Book Review

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I don’t make any secret of the fact that Paul Sahre is one of my biggest design inspirations, needless to say, I was keenly really been looking forward to the release of  his book, Two-Dimensional Man.

Paul Sahre is renowned for his book design for a number of well-known authors, so it is probably inevitable that he has finally gotten around to releasing a book of his own, and it doesn’t disappoint.

The designer monograph has become a sort of right-of-passage for ‘famous’ designers that have reached a certain level of acclaim, where once it was reserved as an end of career compilation, anyone who is anyone in the design field these days needs to have their name on the spine of their own book to broadcast that they have ‘made it’.

I don’t mean that as a criticism, what designer wouldn’t want their own book about themselves. Humility generally isn’t a large part of a designers character! There’s certainly plenty of those sorts of monographs out there. We’re all familiar with the glossy, beautifully photographed pictures of envy inducing work, the advice on how you too can reach such levels of brilliance, and of course, the endorsements of equally acclaimed design contemporaries. Trust Paul to turn all of that on its head.

Two Dimensional Man stretches the design monograph into something all together more personal. It can perhaps be described as a warts and all examination of how he has pushed the craft of design to where he wants it to be. Everyday we look at great design work, we admire the finished product, without realising the frustration and effort that goes into getting that result. There’s plenty of Paul’s great design pieces included in the pages, but this book is just as much about the journey it takes to get there as it is about the destination.

Case in point. I had the pleasure of visiting and talking to Paul a few years ago in his studio. The biggest revelation for me was when he was discussing some work he was doing for a small theatre company (it was pro-bono or for not much money) and he was agonising over the troubles he was having producing something that the client was happy with. Two things immediately struck me. First, this is Paul Sahre, one of the world’s most recognised and celebrated graphic designers, and he’ was worried about what some small theatre company thinks about his work, work that he was doing fore none or very little money. Second, with all the big name clients he has worked for, he is still as passionate about a little job as any other project he may have worked on.

This example is at the heart of what you will get out of this book – the passion and frustrations of working as a graphic designer. Sometimes you will immediately come up with something amazing that you love and the client loves, but often times, its a struggle to get to the solution. Your mileage may vary depending on persistence.

Take for example the chapter on dealing with the band Steely Dan for an album cover project is title ‘Getting Fucked by Steely Dan’. Pretty much every designer designer will be familiar with the scenario as he relates it. Sometimes what seems the greatest opportunities can lead to the greatest disappointments. As much as we like to think of the importance of graphic design – to some – the greatest graphic designer in the world only means as much as the greatest plumber in the world.

It’s not all dealing with clueless clients though. The book goes a long way in helping to explain why graphic designers do what they do, why we continue at it even though 99% of the population has very little grasp of what in fact it is that we do. I don’t think many of us ever pictured ourselves, say at the age of six, imagining a future in the productive, financially rewarding world of graphic design. It’s something we mostly fell into because we liked to draw, and continued doing it because of the praise we received, or we were obsessive enough that we kept on doing it when our peers had given it up for other pre-adolescent pursuits. We leave school and have to become adults, so we look for some way to channel that six year old kid drawing x-wing fighters while lying on their bedroom floor, and suddenly, you’re an adult, dressed in black, drinking lattes and calling yourself a graphic designer.

Part user’s guide, part compilation, part vivid memoir, Two-Dimensional Man is a testament to being your life. If you’re starting out in design, just cruising along, or really in need of a inspirational kick up the backside, I highly recommend you grab a copy.

Adelaide hasn’t exactly been too kind to any quality independent magazines that try to survive in the current market, so props where they are due to the publishers of local pundit ‘Collect’ which is now onto its third issue.. Billing itself as ‘the magazine about taking pride in what we do and where we live,’ it’s a sentiment worth encouraging (wherever you live) but in Adelaide especially, more than often the seen as the poor cousin of the eastern state capitals (at best) and the butt of many an aspiring comics routine. The magazine places itself very much in the  ‘local community as the way of the future’ camp – it sees the future as being ‘smaller’ and more community orientated (at least it hopes so) – so it’s appeal is largely pointed to, how you might say, the ‘hipsterish’ amongst us, which is in no way meant to be derogatory. It’s a pleasant contrast to say, what you might find amongst the pages of million dollar homes and Private school socials of your latest issue of SALife for example but expect to see lots of beardy guys, riding bicycles and starting art galleries, just saying.

As far as the physical package of the mag, it’s nicely put together, beautifully printed by Express Colour at Torrensville and thoughtfully designed under the direction of Xtra Shiny kingpin Adam Johnson. Its A5 size gives it a reassuring ‘hip pocket’ journal feel to it and the pages are comfortably filled with story content, the small page size being offset by plenty of white space. Photography and illustration of a high standard are scattered throughout, this is obviously a magazine that has been put together with love and thought, it’s the type of publication you want to keep and flip through again. The overall cleanness of the design is obviously helped by the mag containing no advertising which contributes to the ‘journal’ feel I mentioned earlier, I just hope it’s a sustaibable business plan.

At $5 an issue, you get a lot of magazine for your money (the issue runs at 62 pages), only available at select Adelaide outlets (and in Victoria and NSW through MagNation outlets) it’s worthwhile searching it out if you’re looking for a different type of read.

www.collectmag.com.au

I picked up a copy of Desktop magazine’s newly revamped edition the other day, now covering ‘the culture of design’ that places me at the centre of their demographic I guess, not having come across any reviews of such, I thought I would throw my 2 cents in, for what it’s worth. I’d old enough to remember the early days of Desktop, when it really was as the masthead said, a magazine for the burgeoning field of desktop publishing, back when there were people who referred to themselves as desktop publishers. They were the ‘wilderness years’ graphic designers were just starting to consider the benefits of the new computer technology, though Desktop seemed more aimed at the early adopters, computer geeks producing newsletters and documents out of their Mac SEs rather than the Graphis and Novum Gebrauchgraphik crowd. I know when I was picking it up it was mainly to gain technical tips or tutorials or to get the Mac Warehouse catalogue that was often bundled with an issue. As the internet arose, the remit of the magazine seemed to change to service the rise in web designers and ‘the online’ experience, but still keeping its features on kerning type in Xpress and how to bevel a typeface in Photoshop, covering the technical aspects of design rather than its culture. Recent years have seen a turnaround in this attitude, with the culture of design becoming more prominent in the magazine, the technical aspects giving way to more of a focus on design studios and their work, which is were we are with the relaunch.

Australia has been poorly served over the years in regards to a genuine mass market periodical devoted to graphic design. We’ve mainly had to settle for articles bunled under the fold of Advertising in publications such as Creative, magazines covering the larger field of design in general, technical magazines such as Desktop’s earlier incarnations or the odd bone thrown to us in international mags such as Communication Arts, Print, Graphis, Eye and the like. There are of course home-grown publications such as Process Journal, Wooden Toy and Empty, but these seem to speak on design in a more world-wide overview and tend to concentrate on their own niche cultures rather than covering a mass market perspective on the business of graphic design that the new Desktop  is trying to capture.

So my first impressions on the revamp. Being a designer myself the first thing I obviously looked at was the physical presentation and design of the magazine itself. The most obvious difference is the change from an A4 glossy format to a squarer uncoated publication. I’m not sold on the uncoated cover, as part of the cover design, the masthead is presented in a white rectangle at the top, the top of the magazine was already scuffed and looking a bit shoddy when I bought it. Maybe future editions won’t have this top rectangle and it is just a feature of this issues design, otherwise, a matt coated cover might have been a better option. And speaking of the cover, I love the work of Mark Gowing and think he’s a great designer to cover for the first edition of the revamp, but the cover graphic is just really bland, especially for your lauch magazine, the uncoated stock doesn’t help either, this just doesn’t stand out at all. It’s hardly helped by the digitally printed coverband the surrounds the bottom half of the magazine – rather than demonstrating the capabilities of the medium, it just confirmed that specifying a full bleed black on uncoated stock is probably not a good idea for my next digitally printed project. Now maybe it’s just me, but the masthead seems really awkwardly kerned between the ‘e’ and the ‘s’ and the ‘k’ and the ‘t’ especially. I know it sounds petty, and I might of let it pass if the magazine was ‘Desktop – the culture of online etiquette ‘ but this magazine is aimed squarely at graphic designers, we are going to look at these things and nitpick. I don’t really get the italics except for the ‘k’ thing either, but as a purely ‘design’ choice, I guess it’s neither here nor there.

As a magazine featuring articles that you want to read rather than just pretty pictures, the choice of typefaces is important. Kris Sowerby’s Founders Grotesk has been chosen as the sans font which is an excellent choice, nice that they picked something designed within the confines of Desktop’s market. I’m a little baffled by the choice of Lavigne Text as the serif, as a text font there is certainly nothing wrong with it, I just wonder why they didn’t decide to ‘keep it in the family’ and chose a serif from among Kris Sowerby’s designs?

Apart from the shape, the other physical difference you will notice is that the magazine is thicker, this has a lot to do with its new ‘minimalist design’ template – there is a lot of white space on the pages for those who love it (and who doesn’t?) The text for the sans has been set quite large, and strangely, set quite small for the serif , the leading text blocks is set wide enough to drive a truck through. It feels slightly uncomfortable to me, but I’ve noticed that the relaunched Grafik magazine is set similarly, is this some new trend that the kids are into? So I attribute the thickness more to this than any apparent increase in content, it’s a quick read in any event, the whole thing seemed to take about twenty minutes to read. The layout as a whole is pleasant enough without delivering a lot of surprises, it’s almost too cold for the ‘warmth’ of some of the features (I promise I will get to the actual content soon!) It’s beautifully printed and the photographs and sufficiently bright and inviting on the uncoated stock.

So onto the most important aspect of the magazine, its content. For the first issue in its new format it is very encouraging. Different sections are clearly indicated and navigation through the whole mag is very simple. Aaron Moodie gets the ball rolling with his article in the ‘Talk’ section on sharing ideas, it is beautifully written and succinct in presentation, I look forward to reading more of his writing. Hannah Cutts and Jack Mussett also present interesting pieces on finding the right spaces to live and to work. The projects presented in the aptly titled ‘Projects’ section didn’t really do it for me this time around, I think the problem was that they were either projects I have read a lot about before (such as the Marian Bantjes piece) or were too short to cover in the depth that they probably deserved such as Stephen Banham’s ‘Town Projects’ article. The same problem befalls the ‘Occupation’ section covering Pompas & Parr, I’m still not sure exactly what they do or why they are featured.

Under ‘Logo’ we get an article on the updating of the Triple J logo, it gets about as much depth as is required, the story has been covered before and nothing is really added to it other than a kind of ugly new typeface. I could probably get by without reading another article on Jeremyville such as in the ‘Space’ section, I get it, they are incredibly cool. It’s nice to see that they have retained Vincent Chan’s type design section, he’s obviously passionate about a subject that we don’t hear a lot about locally, the month features another beautifully designed face by Stephen Banham called ‘Jones’. The culture of design is important to designers, as is our little (or big) design trinkets such is featured in the ‘Want’ section. This month it’s notebooks, interesting to see that I own 4 of the pieces features, I know, how many notebooks does one man need?

The main article of this months mag is on designer Mark Gowing, interesting in parts, once again it’s not really long enough, but it’s good to hear his thoughts and see some of his work. We get a glimpse inside the ‘culture’ of his studio with a page on some of his favourite objects within, I would definitely like to pocket his modular building blocks, I’ll stay clear of his copy of  The Fountainhead though. The ‘Studio Culture’ section takes up too many pages to basically say that you need a good studio culture to produce good work, I never would have guessed. The next feature is another all too short article on Suzanne Boccalatte, stunning work, a very underrated designer in my opinion. ‘Project Wall’ features new design projects from top design firms around the country (well the eastern states anyway) we all came here mostly to see the pretty pictures, so more of this would be welcome. ‘The Question’ could turn out to be a great forum for designers to discuss pertinent issues effecting the industry, unfortunately, this months pertinent issue is ‘which piece of design would you like to see inspire a fashion collection’. Christopher Doyle at least has a groovy beard.

The highlight of the magazine for me was this months ‘Retrospective’ on legendary designer Harry Williamson. It’s a great article by Dominic Hofstede (quit legendary himself in my books!) with some beautiful work from the 60s to present day discussed. Pity this is only bi-monthly, there are plenty of unsung home-grown designers to discover (Dominic’s site Recollection is a great resource for uncovering the history of graphic design in this country). I like the idea of the ‘Desktop’ photo spread, quite literally a photograph of a designers desktop, hopefully this won’t just be month after month of screensavers with bookshelves piled with Wallpaper mag, Tibor Kalman’s book and Kid Robot figurines in the background. The last page, and possibly the most exciting and the one with the most potential is ‘Emerging’. Each month will feature an emerging talent, it’s great to see new talent and ideas – unfortunately, the feature at the moments reads more like a plea for employment. I would like to hear the thoughts of the featured designer, rather than their enthusiastic University lecturer telling us what a good employee that would make, with a bit more thought, there is a lot of potential for this section.

So there you go, our own magazine on the culture of design makes an encouraging debut. I still think there is a way to go to making it feel as inclusive or inviting as a Grafik or Eye. I would like to see more experimentation taken with it, more risks, as designers with passion we are actually quite open to these sorts of things. First issues I know tend to be a little more conservative until they find their feet, but now is the time to be bold! The last thought on the magazine I will impart is for the makers of Desktop to remember that the confines of the Australian graphic design community do not stop at the borders of the Eastern states. There is great work being done all over the country (even in New Zealand!) so it wouldn’t hurt to cast your eye over in our direction as well.

The keenly anticipated book by Facing Sideways interviewee James Victore, ‘Who Died And Made You Boss’ is finally out, it’s a ‘no-holds-barred take on his work, practice, business, and teaching of graphic design. Known for making vivid, memorable, and often controversial work, Victore has sought comrades, not clients—brave, smart collaborators who have encouraged him to reinterpret old design solutions and to pressure viewers to think about issues in a new way. Leading readers through this collection of “greatest hits,” Victore tells the stories behind his inspirations, his process, and the lessons learned. The result is an inspiring, funny, and honest book, which showcases a body of work that has been plastered on the streets of New York, hung at MoMA, and featured in magazines all over the world’. James is a helluva nice guy and passionate about what he does, it’s a really beautiful book, designed by like-minded comrade Paul Sahre with a foreward by ‘the smartest guy in graphic design’, Michael Bierut. I’m a bit over the whole designer ‘monograph’ thing, but this book is the exception, a really inspirational volume for designers who want to forge their own path. A steal at half the price here, where you can read my some what ‘arse-kissy’ review! (Hey, it’s a good book!)

Adelaide design firm Voice have released a second edition of their reference guide to punctuation ‘Type it write’. This edition introduces additional topics in acronyms, emphasis and italics and places more emphasis on examples. While there are many similar reference guides around, few are as concise, easy to use and specifically geared towards the designer. As an added bonus, and typical of all the work produced by Voice, it is beautifully designed as well. From professionals to students just starting out, I advice investing in your own copy of this handy reference if you’re planning on setting type (or even consider purchasing a copy for your clients to save them and yourself time on cleaning up punctuation and type inconsistencies 🙂 Voice have also updated their site with some great projects on display since I last looked. Love the work for Back label Wines.

I love perusing through the images in a design annual or designer’s monograph (design porn as my wife calls it) as much as I’m sure most designers do. Seeing the work being produced by extraordinary talents lights the fire to instigate your own attempts for design immortality in such a tome. After a while though, it does feel as my good wife described ‘design porn’ page after page of beautiful images, one upon another, with little reference point to where the work comes from and what it sought to accomplish. I find with my work these days I’m really trying to look for that substance behind an idea to really motivate me, that unique outlook that pushes me to create beyond this years fashionable typeface and colour trends. Designing Design by Kenya Hara is that rare book that has totally redefined the way I think of and approach design

Japanese designer Kenya Hara is one of the truly unique voices in the design field, the book the has created is a paramount of elegance, simplicity and superb creative force. This is a white book, a volume of information and illustration that embraces the purity of white as the matrix upon which everything blossoms and emerges.

In an introductory essay by John Maeda the author states `Kenya Hara is a complex man. He views the world through his many lenses of seeing, tasting, smelling, erasing, evaporating, and all the forms of construction and deconstruction.’ And after those appropriate words this pristine book opens into the genius that is Kenya Hara. `Verbalizing design is another act of design….To understand something is not to be able to define it or describe it. Instead, taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.’ The book contains examples of work that goes beyond what we may define as graphic design, or design in general – paper, bowls of white cabbage leaves, signs, images of Swatch watches that come down through projected air onto any surface presented, unique signage for public spaces, soft ice cream shapes, furniture, spaces, lamps, posters – any object that requires rendering is treated and discussed in concept and philosophy by a man of great wisdom as well as endless creativity. The illustrations accompanying the text are clean and as well placed on the page as any creation by Hara. This is a seemingly endless array of fascinating subjects.

More than just a treatise on design for the initiated, the book contains powerful philosophical concepts that are applicable to anyone. `The human brain likes anything that entails a great deal of information. Its extensive capacity waits eagerly to perceive the world by completely exhausting its great receptive powers. That potential power, though, remains today in a state of extreme constriction and is a source of the information stress we’re all under.’ Hara approaches this conundrum by dividing his book into sections that approach answers to these problems: RE-DESIGN, HAPTIC (Awakening the Senses), SENSEWARE, WHITE, MUJI (Nothing, yet Everything), VIEWING THE WORLD FROM THE TIP OF ASIA, EXFORMATION (Rivers, Resorts), and finally WHAT IS DESIGN? It’s difficult to put into words, and I admit, if the previous phrases were presented to me out of context from having read the book, I would see it as just so much wank! Believe me though, if you have the slightest interest in design, this is a book worth thinking upon, to be read again and dipped into when the need for inspiration calls. Though the information may come across as complex, the writing style feels very approachable, not academic or dry.

As you can tell, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are the type of person interested in astute observation, finding the beauty in simple solutions to complex problems, looking beyond surface decoration, or just like to have really cool looking design books on your shelf, this is an indispensable addition to any design book collection.

James Jean is the kind of illustrator that I only ever dreamed of becoming when I was younger. With an exemplary draughtsman’s skill, a nod to early 20th century American illustrators and a designers eye in use of colour composition and new technology, this book is a great start to see some of his beautiful work. His lavish covers for the Vertigo comic book series, “Fables,” that he has produced monthly for the last eight years are always eye catching and it’s great to see them all gathered here in one place.

The great thing about the book is that on one side you get part of the process he uses to get to the finished product such as preliminary sketches and drawings. My only complaint would be that Jean does some commentary on his covers for the trade paperbacks of the series, but he doesn’t do any commentary on the individual covers, and an interview at the back by Fables writer Bill Willingham with Jean does little to draw out the character of the individual behind the work (Jean comes across as a very humble artist, it seem he prefers to let the work speak for itself. That said, the work is so beautiful, perhaps it is enough on it’s own.

The unfortunate thing is that this volume is not easy to come by in Australia, I ordered mine for an arm and a leg through my local comic book shop, your best bet may be ordering through Amazon, even with the exchange rate and cost of postage.

James also runs a blog called Process Recess which always features fascinating looks at how he goes about producing his illustrations, not only for The Fables covers, but other commercial and private work as well.