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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2008
What really makes good design work? It's a question we as professional designers ask daily. For some designers, it is a constant struggle. But for a handful of top award winning designers, it seems to come easy. What's their secret?

The answer? It's all around us. The answer is given to us in nature. The answer has repeatedly revealed itself to us over time.

Mathematicians and philosophers throughout time have been aware of the key. The key to what makes things 'work' - both from a spiritual perspective, and in the world of physics.

Perhaps what sets top designers apart from the rest, is that they have discovered this key. Whether through deep personal exploration, or simply by being more in tuned to the world around them - they are aware of the patterns all around us and have harnessed these 'secrets' and applied them in the world of graphic design.

Award winning designer, Maggie Macnab is one of these unique individuals. Her logo design work has taken top awards worldwide for decades. In her book 'Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication', Macnab shares her secrets of success.

Each chapter progresses numerically - from zero to ten reflecting the importance these numbers play in design. From simple shapes like circles and squares, to more complex shapes like spirals, they are all seen in nature. They are all part of the key to effective design.

In each chapter, Macnab deconstructs award winning logo designs by applying the principals she is teaching. The book contains photographs from nature, architecture, and history. She includes photos of her sketches in which she reveals her creative process when designing logos. And finally, she includes visuals of the completed logos. Through this process, readers begin to understand how everything is related.

What we learn from the explorations in this book, can be applied to all aspects of design - not just logos. From brochure and website design, to motion graphic design - the principals of effective design are all the same.

I would rank this book as the top design book of the decade. It is something that has been sorely missing. It should be required reading in all design curriculum. Never before has a designer taken the time to go through their process, and put it down in words in such an eloquent and explanatory fashion. I for one, am grateful Macnab has taken the time to do so. Decoding Design is one book that should be on all designer's bookshelves.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2008
This is a very good book, and I'd recommend it to artists & designers. Some good thought that's gone into analyzing deeper patterns and meanings that give influence to a symbol in our minds.

However, I'm continually disappointed by the author's unlikely connections. For example in the chapter on the number 2, she joins 2 circles together to create an almond shape called a "Vesica Piscis". The she almost-arbitrarily draws two connecting lines inside that vaguely look like a christian cross, and uses that to explain the deep religious significance behind the cross & piscis.

While some things are a bit of a stretch, the book on the whole is fascinating.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Originally written for [...]

Today's fast paced world tends to lose track of its surroundings and move away from understanding nature's relationship. Ironically nature has embedded itself into all we do and it's a big part of logo design, even if we tend to be unaware of that.

In Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication, Maggie Macnab does a wonderful job of pushing aside some of the everyday noise and clutter to reveal how the nature of numbers and symbols are deeply rooted in design. Using both a scientific and philosophical approach, each chapter does a wonderful job of revealing some hidden gems about logo design. As the numbered chapters 0-10 progress, these hidden gems bring about an amazing awareness, almost an enlightenment about how certain logos have come to be what they are. Focusing on the strength of the number and shape involved in the design.

While many of us are taught the philosophy of K.I.S.S., sometimes "keeping it simple, stupid" doesn't always mean the logo is truly simple at it's core. Logo design is a process, sometimes very complex, that goes on between a designer and a client. Decoding Design, helps you be better prepared for that process through case studies and "deconstructions" of logos we see regularly. These explanations are by no means shallow but rather deep with information and theory. Examples range from the author's own work to many other well known designers in the field. It was especially nice to see sketched concepts, as well as the finished logo. Giving even more insight into the process.

Decoding Design is wonderfully written and points are nicely displayed visually with many examples throughout the book. The design of the book itself is very intriguing and well thought out. In particular, the cover design is interesting with a wheel showing simplistic examples of what the book is all about. This is an excellent interactive feature.

This book is not a light read and some may find it a bit overwhelming with its large amount of well researched information. By no means does this mean anyone should shy away from this book. Just take your time and absorb this books theory. That is exactly what this book is all about; design theories. It is a MUST READ for any design professional involved with the process of logo design. It will surely open your eyes to things that may have been swirling around you all these years without notice. Nature is all around us and influences all we do. Let this book help you "reconnect" and bring your visual communications to the next level.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2008
Decoding Design is a must for any visual or graphic artist. Much of what's done in the graphics and design field isn't done by hand anymore, it's done on the computer which has speeded the pace up considerably. The fast pace of today's world means designs are thrown together with little insight or thought. The work done today is less fresh and interesting. Look at an old poster book from a century ago and you'll see what I mean. The designers didn't have computers, worked and lived in a much slower paced but put more care and originality into their work.
This book helps the reader to slow down and actually consider the symbolism of everyday design by reconstructing logos, geometric forms and numbers. This design world today has gotten mediocre and repetitive, this book will help us to rise above that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2008
I'm currently working on a more comprehensive review of this book, but this is the bottom line: If you are a practicing artist, designer or craftsman--buy this book. If you have friends that fall into these categories--buy this book for them. Many design books are pure fluff or puff pieces for their 'celebrity' subjects. This book has all the great photos, illustrations and examples of a well produced, showy design book, but more impressively, the text is highly engaging and thought-provoking. It has inspired me to try new things in my work as well as elucidated some things that were already happening--just at that slightly unconscious level. This is not only a good read, but a reference book that actually lives up to that ideal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2008
Mathematics, physics, philosophy and psychology. Ah yes, the tools of the visual communication designer. No, you say? Perhaps you thought the tools are Photoshop, Illustrator and the likes. Think again. Sure, software has been a huge help. But, it's a help in expressing our ideas, not generating them. At least it should be.

In her new book, Decoding Design: Understanding and using symbols in visual communication, author and designer, Maggie Macnab takes you on a journey of symbolism. She pulls back the veil over several logos and other designs to reveal the hidden meaning just below the surface. Meaning that may not be obvious at first, yet is often archetypical and resonates deep within our being.

When I first heard of the book, I figured it would be yet another, "Parade of logos," promoting their superstar designers. On the up side, great for inspiration. On the downside, vehicles for yet more copycat designs. Not so. This is the stuff that should be the cornerstone for every design curriculum. For veterans, it reminds of why we may have chosen communication design as a profession and the power to have to influence our audiences on behalf of our clients.

Decoding Design isn't just a lot of heady theory. There's a lot of meat, but it's not dried out. The chapters progress, one through ten, where Maggie explains the meaning and symbolism behind each number. She goes on to describe the forms and shapes the reflect its meaning and how it has been incorporated into various designs. I particularly enjoyed how she deconstructed several marks and pointed out how the underlying symbols are used. Macnab also shares her own and other designers thoughts and process about the logos and other designs within the pages.

Back in the day, designers enjoyed a seat in the Board Room. But, over the years, our profession's standing has eroded. We often find ourselves competing with a client's neighbor's cousin's kid with a copy of Creative Suite. Or it might be the Administrative Assistant with Microsoft Publisher. We've all been there. Decoding Design, and the concepts Maggie teaches, will greatly help you to explain and, when needed, defend your work. Plus, it will provide a roadmap for creating better design that is more than simple decoration. It's ammunition for the thinking designer.

Neil Tortorella
Tortorella Design
[...]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2010
A refreshing read amongst the clutter of design annuals and "showcase-of-great-designs" books that normally leave you with images of pretty pictures but at the same time pondering...more questions than answers.

Decoding Design is not a flip through book. It takes design theory back to the old school, the really old school, perhaps older than school itself. Maggie finds a way to give us her account of ancient philosophies, mathematics, science, nature, and more importantly the divinities and intangibles that make a good design a great one. The book weaves through these aspects using real world symbols, logos, and other forms of visual communication and a beautiful numbering system. The only question you are left with is "when is my next project!"

Currently heading a branding firm, and as a designer of logos myself, I still took so much from this book and that can not be summarized in a review. There is a spiritual connection made to design and the process, and furthermore, a realization that there always was a method to the madness...or as I like to call it, the magic.

To any one considering the purchase of this book, you must not think twice. You will find inspiration here. My girlfriend, a singer, some how felt connected to the writings as much as I did. It's appeal is universal.

I often say what separates a good designer from a great designer is a lot of paperwork, I would make this book a part of that paperwork.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A logo, more often than not, is the culmination of a complex process of discovery, interpretation, experimentation, and refinement. The problem, from the design student's perspective, is we often see the result but are rarely privy to the course of action that produced it.

Macnab has set out to reveal that process. She theorizes that the most successful designs are rooted in natural patterns such as spirals and branching. The book presents those patterns and seeks to define the underlying meaning behind them.

What most interested me were the many logo design case studies. In addition to the author's own studied insights are discussions by design heavyweights such as Woody Pirtle and Tim Girvin in which they explain some of the underlying meaning of their work.

In the end, the quality of a logo is dependent on how clearly it's verbal and visual elements define the purpose and style of the entity it represents. But those who want to grow flowers know that the key to learning is in understanding the mysteries of working the soil. For that, Decoding Design is well worth a look.
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on December 5, 2011
"Our culture has lost touch with the archetypal principles that underlie simple numbers and shapes," writes author Maggie Macnab "...principles that lie deep within the unconscious and have a psychological and spiritual impact on us." A longtime designer and teacher immersed in symbolism and visual literacy, she delivers the leitmotif with fervent zeal: "As designers, it is our responsibility to create conscious and lucid communications. We can't afford to contribute to information junk...."

This engaging design theory book fulfills its stated purpose, to: "connect us back into the language of nature, to revive our understanding of source, and to create communications that flow unobstructed by an intelligence that has lost its way in the world." A quote attributed to Galileo Galilei sums the author's intentions in "demystifying and decoding" visual language--"You cannot understand the universe without learning first to understand the language in which it is written..." without which "we wander in a dark labyrinth."

Having made the case for more cogent design at the outset, the book delves deep into symbolism, pattern awareness, and "the recursive nature of nature." (I love that line). Ten subsequent chapters (each introduced with a compelling illustrated plate by Joel Nakamura) illuminate the subject by "bringing shape to meaning," and vice versa by means of case studies, "deconstructions" of well-known logos, and depictions galore--all-the-while demonstrating how visual communication can "tap into the dynamic energy of the collective psyche."

The sources Maggie cites are wide and varied (Jungian psychology, Aztec shamans, Unitarian Universalism, Sufi Enneagrams, sacred sexuality...) and visuals draw from a vast treasure house of the familiar as well as the unexpected, arcane, and esoteric (DNA helices, Buddhist mudras, Arachnid webs...). Through it all, she weaves together a persuasive narrative to support her rubric that what sets humans apart from other mammals is our ability "to understand how basic patterns connect, allowing us to alter our experience..." and thereby to symbolize.

Decoding Design will appeal to anyone interested in the "why" behind effective graphic design and communicative form-giving. Well researched, well designed, well referenced, and with hundreds of visual entry-points for the reader, it successfully achieves its claim--a must-buy for design students and visual communication practitioners--even the best-read in our field are sure to learn and benefit from it.

Learn more at:[...]
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2010
I am an MFA candidate in the Graphic Design program at the Academy of Art University San Francisco, and I know this book *has* to be required reading in a class at some point in this program! It's too fantastic not to be and I feel sorry for design students who haven't discovered it yet. I picked it up at the library of my own volition and have found it to be so indispensable that I'm going to purchase it for my own collection as a reference. It's not new-agey or voodoo-y..it's based on solid geometry and symbolic truths. As a new designer, I feel like the knowledge the author shares here will really bump up my game.
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