As works of graphic design these info graphics don't break new ground, but the data they present is fascinating. Makes a great gift or coffee table boAs works of graphic design these info graphics don't break new ground, but the data they present is fascinating. Makes a great gift or coffee table book....more
I imagine that anyone who lives in Australia is familiar with The Gruen Transfer, a panel discussion TV show in which advertising agency insiders spilI imagine that anyone who lives in Australia is familiar with The Gruen Transfer, a panel discussion TV show in which advertising agency insiders spill the beans on the inner workings of their industry. The show has been a huge hit locally, and the concept has been sold to production agencies in several other countries. Now the franchise continues in a companion book from the program's co-creator Jon Casimir.
The Gruen Transfer book draws on the TV program for much of its material, fleshed out with new commentary from Casimir. It promises to lift the lid on the persuasion business by examining "how advertising works, and how it works on us". The book is structured around the fact that the average person encounters about 3000 branded messages each day, and follows a consumer from the moment they wake until they hit the sack at night, detailing the myriad of advertisements encountered along the way. Each chapter of the book runs to four or five pages on length, and focuses on one brand category (breakfast cereal, beer, bottled water) or marketing tactic (celebrity endorsement, sensory branding, social media).
A book based on a panel TV show about advertising could have easily gotten away with a slim coffee table volume comprised of photo spreads with pithy captions. Yes, there are plenty of photos in the book, but The Gruen Transfer is surprisingly content heavy, its 280 pages filled mainly with text. It isn't a dry read though, and numerous sidebars make for the kind of book that can be dipped into or read in depth, depending on your mood. Casimir actually describes The Gruen Transfer as a "toilet read" in his introduction, but I think he's selling the book short!
The book's design, by de Luxe & Associates, is lovely - gold foil cover, heavy paper stock, and a tasteful slab serif (Stag?) used for display type. The not-so-subtle subliminal message 'BUY ME' hidden in the cover pattern is a little cheesy, but in other respects the layout is very respectable.
The writing style is accessible, but still smart and insightful, and after reading The Gruen Transfer you'll find it difficult to resist sharing advertising factoids with your friends and loved ones. Did you know that Salvador Dali designed the Chupa Chups logo? Or that Pizza Hut spent $150 million trying to burn its logo onto the face of the moon? Or that the phrase "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" began life as a Listerine slogan?
Naturally the web industry is not spared from The Gruen Transfer's microscope. Pay-per-post blogging, product placement in tweets, viral video campaigns, mobile advertising and user generated content are all covered. The analysis of online advertising will probably seem light to anyone who works in the web industry, and I found the discussion of traditional advertising mediums more compelling, but that's a reflection of my knowledge bias, rather than a deficiency of the book.
Many of the ad campaigns discussed are Australian, and The Gruen Transfer is definitely geared towards Australian audience. However I suspect the book will appeal to a non-Australian readership too, since a broad range of global campaigns and international advertising trends are also covered.
The Gruen Transfer isn't a life changing book. It's a coffee table book that tells us what we (hopefully) already know: that the advertising industry's cunning methods of manipulating consumer opinion know no bounds. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining and engaging book that shines a spotlight on the psychology, politics, and economics of consumerism, and the machinations of the marketing industry.
And in case you're wondering what on earth the "Gruen transfer" is, it's the moment when a consumer becomes disoriented by the intentionally confusing layout and audiovisual cues of a shopping mall. The term is named for architect Victor Gruen, a pioneer of mall design....more
Andy Rutledge’s Design Professionalism is a plea for designers to take their professional practice more seriously, both for their own benefit and thAndy Rutledge’s Design Professionalism is a plea for designers to take their professional practice more seriously, both for their own benefit and the benefit of their clients and peers.
The book is packed with indispensable business advise for aspiring and practicing graphic and web designers, but its tone is at times arrogant and divisive, which will alienate some readers.
Within the first few paragraphs Rutledge dismisses existing definitions of professionalism as “filled in every case with irrelevancies, contradictions, non sequiturs, errors, or all of these” and “lacking in logic, integrity, and morality”. AIGA’s Standards for Professional Practice is similarly criticised for being an “irrational document that is filled with indefinable terms, vacuous and unenforceable standards, contradictions, and immoral ideals.” (You can read a point-by-point critique of AIGA's standards in Design Professionalism’s appendix.)
A section on moral absolutism is similarly divisive:
“As one means of classification, everyone on earth falls into one of two categories: those who hold with moral absolutes and those who do not. […] What’s more, since professionals trade sovereign value for sovereign value, a so-called professional lacking a capitalist morality is a hypocrite. In any event, only those in the former group—those with integrity—can be professionals. The latter group cannot be trusted in a professional capacity…or any other for that matter.”
The book finds its stride in subsequent chapters, where Rutledge tackles more practical concerns. The sections on education, career path, contracts, bidding, project management and speculative work are clearly written and informative, and address many of the professional and ethical quandaries that a designer is likely to face. Rutledge still doesn't pull his punches however, such as when he dismisses most academic web design programs as “without merit”.
To some extent Rutledge’s forceful writing style is well adapted to the topic. A profession requires a code of ethics by which to abide, and this code needs to be uncompromising in order to be effective.
What troubles me is that the standards laid out in Design Professionalism, and formalised in the Code of Professional Conduct, are Rutledge’s personal opinions and not necessarily representative of the industry as a whole. In many countries designers already have professional associations representing their interests – AIGA in the USA, AGDA here in Australia, and so on. Rutledge may hold some of these associations in low regard – he calls them “social organizations” – but at least their professional standards are the result of community consensus. I wonder what sort of community consultation Rutledge undertook when he was preparing his own Code of Professional Conduct? Did he solicit input from other designers, design agencies and industry bodies?
Without the broad consultation required to draft an industry wide set of professional standards, Design Professionalism and the Code are ultimately one person’s opinion about how designers should conduct themselves.
Design Professionalism is a provocative manifesto intended to shake the web design industry out of its complacency. In this regard, I think the book succeeds. It’s just a shame that Rutledge chose to deliver his message in a confrontational “us against them” style that makes his ideas less accessible than they should be....more
Donald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things frequently pops up on lists of “must read” design books, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading itDonald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things frequently pops up on lists of “must read” design books, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading it until now. I finally included the book in my last Amazon order, and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get my hands on a copy, because it really is a classic that deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it.
The Design of Everyday Things was first published in 1988 under the title The Psychology of Everyday Things, and is aimed at anyone involved in the design process, regardless of which field they work in. Norman’s background is in cognitive science, and in the book he explores the psychology of everyday objects, making a persuasive argument for the importance of a user-centered approach to design. After reading The Design of Everyday Things you will never look at a tap, light switch, stove top, or telephone the same way again (and I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two about the layout of your computer keyboard!)
A big part of what makes The Design of Everyday Things so enjoyable are the descriptions of flawed designs that Norman peppers throughout the book. These case studies serve to illustrate both how difficult it is to design something well, and how essential good design is to our lives. Norman draws on his own (often humorous) experiences with poorly designed objects, as well as anecdotes from colleagues and friends, and paints an all-too-familiar picture of design gone awry. If you’ve ever struggled to program a VCR, pulled a door handle when you were supposed to push, or been mystified by the taps in a public restroom, then you’ll be sure to relate to these encounters with bad design. Norman uses the book’s examples of substandard design as a springboard for examining the factors that frequently derail the design process, and he proposes that matters can be improved when designers adopt a user-centered design philosophy and focus on the needs of the user.
While The Design of Everyday Things deals mostly with the design of physical objects, its principles are equally applicable to the design of websites and other interactive systems. Consider this description of the relationship between the number of visible controls a device has and how difficult it is to use, which has obvious implications for the design of web applications and navigation systems:
"We found that to make something easy to use, match the number of controls to the number of functions and organize the panels according to function. To make something look like it is easy, minimize the number of controls. How can these conflicting requirements be met simultaneously? Hide the controls not being used at the moment. By using a panel on which only the relevant controls are visible, you minimize the appearance of complexity. By having a separate control for each function, you minimize complexity of use. It is possible to eat your cake and have it, too."
Norman devotes a portion of a chapter called The Design Challenge to the discussion of computers, and while the technology he describes sounds antiquated to a modern audience – he has to explain to the reader what a computer mouse is – the interface design concepts he discusses still hold true today. Interestingly he singles out the Apple Macintosh, which had only been in the market a few of years at the time of the book’s publication, as an example of outstanding computer design and usability. His only complaint: the single button mouse. Over twenty years later Apple still set the benchmark for good design in the computer industry, and still draw criticism for the design of their mice!
Given that the book was written in the 1980s, and devotes a lot of space to discussing technologies that seem antiquated today, I was surprised just how easily its principles can be applied in a contemporary context. It is a testament to the timelessness of Norman’s ideas that many of the predictions he made about technology have proven to be very accurate. In a chapter on the function of reminders and human memory he speculates about the future of computer devices:
"Would you like a pocket sized device that reminded you of each appointment and daily event? I am waiting for the day when portable computers become small enough that I can keep one with me at all times [...] It has to have a full, standard typewriter keyboard and a reasonably large display [...] And it should be easy to hook up to the telephone."
Writing in 1988 Norman wasn’t able to guess that the computer and the phone would one day merge, but in other respects he was describing the modern smartphone. It’s that kind of insight that makes this book so valuable.
Whether you design consumer goods, electronics, software, websites, technical documentation – anything, really – you’re bound to look at your craft in a new light after reading The Design of Everyday Things. This is surely a book that deserves a place on every designer’s bookshelf.
Kenneth Fitzgerald is an Associate Professor of Art at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and has previously written for Emigre, The AIGA JKenneth Fitzgerald is an Associate Professor of Art at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and has previously written for Emigre, The AIGA Journal of Design, and Eye. Many of the essays collected in Volume first saw print in the pages of one of those publications, but they remain as relevant today as when they were written.
In his writing Fitzgerald explores the connections between graphic design and other cultural forms, particularly music and art, and many of Volume's essays make the case for a more inclusive understanding of graphic design's place in the world. I worked in art galleries for several years before becoming a graphic designer, and I found Fitzgerald's no-nonsense critiques of the art world to be right on the money.
Fitzgerald has a similarly unsentimental view of the design profession, and is unswayed by the star power that is frequently attached to its high achievers. In Volume he exposes the class system that operates largely unchallenged in the design sector, and the role that money, privilege and celebrity play in shaping the field. In the process several of graphic design's sacred cows are roasted - Stefan Sagmeister and Paul Rand are both singled out - which makes for entertaining reading.
Another theme he returns to frequently is the profession's preoccupation with formalism and suspicion of critical theory. This sometimes comes across as self-referential - design theory about design theory - but that doesn't detract from the relevance Fitzgerald's ideas hold for designers working "in the trenches", and he clearly sees the need to break down the barriers that separate design critics and practitioners.
It's not all good though. Sometimes Fitzgerald repeats himself, treading the same ground in different essays, and he seems more adept at pointing out problems with the state of design than he is at proposing solutions. But those are minor quibbles about an otherwise very enjoyable collection.
If you're tired of reading puff pieces about celebrity graphic designers and want to sink your teeth into something that will challenge your mind rather than your eyeballs, Volume may be just what the doctor ordered....more
Like his earlier book, Obey the Giant, Pornotopia collects Rick Poynor's essays for publications such as Eye magazine (which he founded and edited). TLike his earlier book, Obey the Giant, Pornotopia collects Rick Poynor's essays for publications such as Eye magazine (which he founded and edited). The essays are loosely thematically linked, and deal with the intersection of design and pornography, though in many essays the link is tenuous or nonexistent. That didn't bother me, since I bought the book simply to enjoy more of Poynor's writing, whatever the topic.
Comparing Pornotopia to Poynor's earlier work, there is less of an emphasis in this collection on the transformative powers of graphic design. Poynor still champions designers who give voice to dissenting political viewpoints (Inkahoots) and create work that challenges its audience (Stefan Sagmeister), but I get the sense that he is no longer so optimistic that design can be an effective tool for political and cultural change. Nevertheless, his writing is far from cynical, and I finished the book with a renewed enthusiasm for my own design practice.
Good design criticism is rare, and I consider Poynor's writing to be the gold standard. Poynor writes about graphic design and visual culture in a smart and accessible way, and I would recommend Pornotopia to anyone working in the field of graphic design....more
Ought to be required reading for every graphic designer. Whether you're just starting out, or are a seasoned professional looking to improve the qualiOught to be required reading for every graphic designer. Whether you're just starting out, or are a seasoned professional looking to improve the quality of your work life, this book will give you a nudge in the right direction....more