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The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters Paperback – May 10, 2016
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About the Author
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program and co-founder of the MFA in Design Criticism program at SVA, New York. For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times. He is editor of AIGA VOICE and contributing editor to Print, Eye, Baseline and I.D. magazines. He is the author of more than 120 books on design and popular culture, including Design Literacy, Paul Rand, and Stylepedia. He is the recipient of the 1999 AIGA Medal for Lifetime Achievement.
Gail Anderson is a designer, writer, and educator. Anderson is the recipient of the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Medal from the AIGA, the 2009 Richard Gangel art direction award from the Society of Illustrators, and has lectured about design at organizations and conferences around the world.
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For example, the idea of simplicity or “less is more” is demonstrated with a visual that shows seemingly very little: 4 boxes with varying line weights cropped together on a primarily bare poster. However the explanation behind it reveals the power behind the design. Such a simple thing but with so much impact. Although we live in a chaotically busy digital realm where full color spectrum is the norm, the premise that LESS content IS MORE impactful, can really hit home, when explained in comprehensive detail. The thinking behind these examples are primarily print, but it doesn’t mean the precepts end there. Many of the ideas covered can carry over into web, app, product, package or even interior design disciplines. They also transcend overused design trends, visuals or typography in pursuit of the core visual device.
Having an easy guide of these key ideas is well-delivered in a short but sweet compact print book that encourages the reader to spend time with it thoughtfully, even if for a moment, or an hour on the couch. Intelligently written and designed by the very capable powerhouse art direction team of Steven Heller and Gail Anderson (just “Google" how many books Heller has written on the subject of graphic design alone), this is yet another pairing that makes for a book that stands apart from others in an unassuming way. Described as “Inspiration from 50 Masters” much is covered here; fundamental design themes of scale, perspective, color to more complex ones like abstraction, collage & parody. Part graphic design history primer, part mentor in a book, part light inspirational reading, this is worthy as a design resource equally when panic or boredom strikes. Also recommended is the equally enjoyable and structured “The Typography Idea Book”, written by the same authors. I wouldn’t categorize this book as a design classic per se, but it’s a useful one.
The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters is designed to showcase a combination of themes, ideas, and styles used in graphic design. It tours artwork and design starting with the mid-20th century and continuing up to recent times. As expected of a graphic design book, there are illustrations paired with every concept in the book.
Heller and Anderson took the approach that the best way to convey graphic design is to create a book where the works of graphic design leaders illustrate concepts to the reader. First, the authors created thematic groups such as “Experiment with design” and “Communicate a message” and placed the artwork and styles into each group. Each grouping contain several concepts, such as “white space,” “collage,” and “mood.” Every conceptual section contains a list of the artists featured in that section but does not contain an explanation as to why the grouping was created, or how the concepts and artists were chosen for that group. In turn, each concept is represented by a two-page spread featuring one page of commentary and one page of illustration by an artist whose work exemplifies the concept. For example, in the “Play with type and image” group, the concept of tromp l’oeil is first explained. The descriptive text explains the history of how tromp l’oeil evolved and how modern advertisements take advantage of such optical illusions to attract attention to their products. On the opposite page is the illustration of a 1962 shoe advertisement. The ad features a bus where the ad banner appears where the passenger’s legs and feet would be, giving the illusion that you are looking through the side of the bus at their shoes. The whole book follows this pattern so you can easily flip through looking for visual ideas and then read an explanation of the displayed technique.
Overall, The Graphic Design Idea Book is a fun introduction to the art of graphic design. The prose is clean and easy to read, and the illustrations are well-paired with their associated themes. It is not heavy or authoritative and is intended to both clarify ideas and to inspire artists. If you are looking for a good place to start with graphic design, this book is a good choice. While it won’t teach you to be an artist, it can help focus your existing artistic skills into established styles. Therefore, I recommend The Graphic Design Idea Book to anyone interested in learning how artwork can be used for commercial purposes and to anyone interested in a survey in the past 100 years of graphic art.