In an increasingly digital and information-saturated world, good design may be the key to being understood. The months ahead bring new titles in graphic design and typography, from long-standing names in the field and from relative newcomers, all of them demonstrating the importance of a thoughtfully composed message.
Generations of Conversation
April sees the release of several new books from active and influential designers, some of whom have been working for decades and others young enough to have studied their work at art school. Milton Glaser cofounded Push Pin Studios in 1954 and in 2004 received a lifetime achievement award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. His new book, Milton Glaser Posters: 427 Examples from 1965 to 2017 (Abrams) is a compact but thick volume that showcases one image on each 5 1/2” × 7 5/8” page, with its title and a few sentences of explanation from Glaser on the opposite page.
The graphic designer, who is known for such projects as his I Love NY logo and his publicity poster for the 1967 album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, says that his style has changed over the years. “It used to seem more decorative and now seems more purposeful,” he says. “Context always determines design. When there is a lot of noise in the atmosphere, silence is a good response.”
British publisher, editor, and designer Julian Rothenstein’s passion for typography may rival Glaser’s long dedication to artful poster design. Rothenstein’s A2Z+ (Princeton Architectural Press), now in its fourth iteration, began its life almost 30 years ago as the black-and-white Alphabets and Other Signs (1991) from Rothenstein’s Redstone Press. For the colorful pages of the new book, Rothenstein raided his and other designers’ bookshelves for typography he loved and included an introduction by his longtime friend and collaborator, art critic and curator Mel Gooding; he says the two work together so well because “we hate rules and academic designations and divisions.”
The source material is wide-ranging and includes several Russian book covers, diagnostic eye charts, and statistical proto-infographics drawn by W.E.B. DuBois. Rothenstein imagines the book as an inspiration for designers, and is “sure some people will cut it up for collage. It’s meant to be useful.”
Compared with Rothenstein and Glaser, Oliver Munday and Craig Oldham are relative newcomers. In 2010 Munday was named one of Print magazine’s 20 best graphic artists under 30, for his illustrations for publications including Time magazine and the New York Times. Don’t Sleep: The Urgent Messages of Oliver Munday (Rizzoli, Apr.), with an introduction by the New Yorker’s Hilton Als, highlights work that often sticks to a simple color palette, including the black, white, and red book covers for Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
Munday, who continues to do a great deal of editorial work, says there is less time for levity in politics these days, and this translates into his design work. “The stakes for communicating have been raised,” he says. “Any chance to speak should be direct in its appraisal and summary. When sending out signals into the cacophony, you better have something worthwhile to say.”
Craig Oldham, in Oh Sh*t, What Now?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers (Laurence King, Apr.), is writing for a readership to which he belonged relatively recently. He earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the U.K.’s Falmouth University in 2006, and has since won multiple awards for his design work, which spans fields including branding, publishing, and film. The genesis for What Now? was a lecture series and accompanying book Oldham produced called The Democratic Lecture (2012), which offered advice in a similarly cheeky, informal way.
Oldham says his philosophy of form working in tandem with content inspired the format of the new book, which has a black, white, and neon palette and page thicknesses that vary throughout. “I like that the change of pace confronts you in this book,” he says. “The experience of reading it, that fluctuation of really firm board to suddenly flimsier paper, is just trying to play with the idea that these questions in the book aren’t set, and change always happens.”
Arts and Letters
Several new titles explore the history of typography and delve into new innovations in the field. Steven Heller and Lita Talarico, co-chairs of the MFA Design/Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program at the School of Visual Arts, coauthored Free Hand: New Typography Sketchbooks (Abrams, Apr.). Free Hand reproduces pages from notebooks belonging to designers around the globe, showcasing hand-drawn sketches as well as computer-generated artwork. (For more on Heller, see “More Than a Pretty Font.”)
The authors write in their introduction, “As design becomes a more globalized discipline, and non-Latin writers take their rightful place on the world stage, linguistic diversity is growing.” Their volume is an international selection of typefaces that reveals the beauty of letters to the viewer, even when the literal meaning may not be understood. The more than 70 featured designers include Milton Glaser, Sylvia (Di) Kong, and Mohammad Sharaf.
Another title that showcases letter design from around the world, Goodtype: The Art of Lettering (Rizzoli, June), presents the concept sketches and finished designs of more than 120 artists from 30 countries and includes interviews with some of them. Author Brooke Robinson, a graphic designer, has attracted 872,000 followers to her Goodtype Instagram account since launching it in 2013. The account promotes installations, murals, and other work with interesting letter design and builds community with its weekly “Goodtype Tuesday” design challenge.
While Goodtype presents of-the-moment work, Letterforms: Typeface Design from Past to Future, by designer and educator Timothy Samara (Rockport, July), reaches back through the history of typography, opening with the origins of Western writing circa 3300 BCE. Samara, whose other books include 2004’s Typography Workbook, then moves into details such as the intricacies of curve formation, proportion, and structure in modern letter design, while emphasizing the importance of finding inspiration in the everyday.
Other titles take a more fanciful approach. Typographic Specimens: A Natural History of Letterforms (Ammonite, June) purports to draw on a manuscript by the fictional Reverend Jackson Whitehead, who served aboard the HMS Pica, an imagined sister ship of Charles Darwin’s Beagle. Author-illustrator A.W. Bainbridge has created 112 pages of mystical creatures—“Commacat” and “Fumble Bee,” to name two—designed entirely out of letters, numerals, and punctuation.
The Book of Ornamental Alphabets: Ancient & Medieval (Ilex, Apr.) brings a real book by Victorian artist Freeman Delamotte, who died in 1862, to a modern audience. Delamotte compiled alphabets from sources including manuscripts in the British Museum and inscriptions on medieval royal tombs in Westminster Abbey. Octopus Publishing Group licensing director and former Ilex publisher Roly Allen, who studied Old and Middle English at the University of Manchester, says the book will be of interest to hand letterers and art historians, and perhaps also tattoo artists, because of the “selection of gothic alphabets that seem to be popular in that world.”
Designing the Everyday into Art
New books with a single focus—statements by President Trump in one case, and the New York City subway in another—use graphic design to reframe subjects that have become, for many people, part of the fabric of daily life.
In Hate Is What We Need (Chronicle, Apr.), Ward Schumaker, whose illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Le Monde, and Esquire Japan, takes quotes such as “The conceit of global warming was created by and for the Chinese” and “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” and recasts them as artful images via stencils and paint. A portion of proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.
One-Track Mind: Drawing the New York Subway (Princeton Architectural Press, May) pays tribute to Philip Ashforth Coppola’s 40-year devotion to documenting the New York City subway system in his sketchbooks. Editors Ezra Bookstein and Jeremy Workman combed through Coppola’s 2,000 pen-and-ink drawings of subway mosaics, patterns, and typography, and recreated many of them in this book alongside information about the history of each station depicted.
The book, which is being published in conjunction with an exhibition of Coppola’s work at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex at Grand Central Terminal (through June 2018), demonstrates that, even amid the noise and bustle, beauty may be found anywhere.
Catherine LaSota is associate director of the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University and runs the LIC Reading Series in Queens, N.Y.
Below, more on the subject of art and photography books.
From Sidewalk to Catwalk: Art & Photography Books 2018
Several forthcoming titles celebrate street style—those who promote it and those who wear it.
Artistic Representation: Art & Photography Books 2018
A number of new titles give a platform to artists from traditionally marginalized groups.
Not Just a Pretty Font: PW Talks with Steve Heller
The veteran graphic designer, who has authored, coauthored, and edited some 180 books on design, discusses why good design matters to non-designers, too.