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Elements of Design: Rowena Reed Kostellow and the Structure of Visual Relationships Paperback – July 1, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"I feel so kindred to her process and philosophy. She poignantly illustrates that design is a life discipline. I wish I'd had the opportunity to study with her." --Interior Design

"A loving tribute to an influential design instructor presented in lesson form. Part profile of a great instructor, part tutorial, this overview of Kostellow's work remains a source of inspiration and coaching for future industrial designers." -- Design Issues

"Any book about such an important figure deserves to be read again and again, especially its essays by such luminaries as Paola Antonelli and Judy Collins." -- Metropolis

"An invaluable resource to students, designers and instructors, the book reconstructs Kostellow's teaching methodology and exercises, which oncehelped shape American design and now resets the stage to do so again." --I.D. Magazine

"This book collects, for the first time, her exercises on abstract visual relationships. The work is of interest to anyone involved in any aspect of design as it explores the fundamentals of form, structure, and space." --DesignLink

About the Author

Gail Greet Hannah is a writer specializing in design and marketing. She was a friend of Rowena Reed Kostellow and worked with her to publish her teaching method. She lives in Cold Spring Harbor.
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Product Details

  • Series: Design Briefs
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568983298
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568983295
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a technical book that is an attempt to teach what RRK developed over a lifetime obsession with visual compositions. She did one thing, over and over, refining it over a long and productive career at Pratt, in Brooklyn. As such, I believe that it would best be used in the classroom, rather than as a simple read for those who want to understand modern design. Being ignorent about issues in studio design - really doing it, rather than observing it like I do - I got a lot out of it. But I will need to refer to it and read through many more times to truly absorb the exercises. For what it is, the book is a masterpiece as an exercise in visual thinking and the method left its imprint on many of the greatest American designers from before WWII to the 1980s.
Recommended, but for designers rather than design critics.
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Format: Paperback
I do believe I am somewhat qualified to review this work. After all I was one of Rowena's "boys" in the early 1960s.
The last time I saw Rowena in 1985 she told me she was working on a book. At the time, I was teaching three dimensional design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I too wanted to write a book about three-dimensional design and had given it a good start. Along the way I realized the impossibility of writing about dimensional design. It can't be done. It can be approached, as this present work does. But when you get right down to understanding the words on the page, they are as slippery in writing as they were with Rowena in person. I couldn't conceive how she could write it down. It is not surprising that she did not finish it. Her thoughts were too abstract to concretize them.
I recall one dialog with her:
"Not quite," she said turning my work. "Just look at it."
"I'm looking, Rowena, "I replied.
"Well look at it some more. You need to get the balance."
The book outlines a series of exercises that Rowena used to develop the ability to see dimensionally. As her student, I did all those exercises, and looking at them in the book and reading the comments of others (many of whom were my classmates) brings back many memories.
I recall how, four years after graduation, I was working in an ID office designing a typewriter, when suddenly it all became clear. I phoned her that evening. "Well, you were a smart kid, Winston. I figured you'd get it."
And then six more years from there, seeing the "convexity" problem that my parents had so proudly displayed in their living room, and realizing that I now *at that instant,* saw why she had been disappointed with it. My experiences are echoed by many of those quoted.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I was a student of Ms. Reed at New York's Pratt Institute. This work by Gail Hannah is an important, and accurate, description of Reed's visual design methodology that has had far reaching positive consequences for our nation. Anyone seeking to understand how the visual design of three-dimensional objects can be taught, and subsequently successfully implemented, will appreciate this book. The practice of designing three-dimenional objects for use by people is an oft misunderstood subject since it is not conventional engineering nor an art unto itself. Industrial design is a unique combination of skills that forms a bridge between the end user of objects and the manufacturer. Hannah's work on Ms. Reed, her origins, and her teaching technique, begins to fill the gap in our knowledge of American ingenuity and our ability to invent. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with one of the reviewers in that the rules presented in this text should not be applied loosely and expected to produce "a beautiful design". As far as industrial design goes it still is not even so great. HOWEVER what it does teach is basic 3-dimensional design. There are lessons in here that anyone who works in a 3-d medium (interior, industrial, fashion, sculpture, etc) should be fluent in. I did the exercises and it has allowed me to get such a tighter grasp on my work and understand all the subtle effects I can produce in it. It is also invaluable to me as a reference guide. Study this book in order to help develop your sense of 3 dimensional structure and compositions but not as a base for design education (only because design incorporates much more than "beauty").
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To truly get the most out of this book, you need one of Rowena's dwindling number of students still left at Pratt teaching to stand over your shoulder. The exercises in this book can all produce amazing results in terms of beautiful abstract relationships but to "know" what is right or wrong with an object using this visual language really takes someone showing you what is wrong with a transition or how this proportion is too similar to that one or how this spacial relationship is not quite right. In the end, you need to know what is wrong in order to really be able to see what is right and it takes someone to show these things to you over and over again. The book is an excellent companion and record of Rowena's interesting and effective exercises, but it's difficult to use as a guide for someone not dialoguing with one of her former students and even that is challenging because each one delivers her gospel of 3D a little differently.

Update: 02/12/2010

A couple more of Rowena's former students (Lenny Bacich and Dan November) have recently passed away. It's sad to see them go and I will always be reminded of them, and their visions of Rowena's legacy, when I return to this book.
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