MTIV (Making the Invisible Visible) is an indispensable guide for the new age of media design. This book is about HOW to achieve the results that bring in profits and make you a better designer. This beautifully written and designed book unveils the methods behind Hillman Curtis' phenomenal success as a new media designer. In well-crafted narrative and instructional form, Hillman outlines his systematic approach for working with clients to develop clear, cogent, and creative communication - three "musts" for successful design. Through trial and error, Hillman and his company honed a seven-step process for creating concepts, and developing and designing new media. Often overlooked or unknown by designers, the methods in this book are distilled from years of experience and enhanced by Hillman's years as a leader in the design field. Divided into three parts - "Process," "Inspiration," and "Practice" - the book offers a practical methodology for successful artistic and professional work and also offers technical advice for translating this to the web (color, XML, streaming media, and other topics are discussed). Written with a subtle sense of humor and narration that really flows, this book is a joy to read, with great advice that helps designers with their own design work.
Hillman Curtis is a New York-based web/flash/video designer of some international reknown in the design community. His company has worked with some major clients, including redesigning the Adobe website and creating 60-second Flash documentaries for Rollingstone.com. The book he published on Flash web design sold 100,000 copies and among other awards he was picked as one of the "world´s best flash designers" by Create Online.
So, with credentials like that Hillman Curtis set out to write "an homage to the craft, an exploration of ideas, and an autobiography," and he succeeds on all fronts. The book is divided into three parts, Process, Inspiration, and Practice. There is a chatty autobiographical Intro which sets the tone for the book. It doesn´t dispell the illusion that this book will be utterly novel, which is a shame, because it´s a fine book, but more of a collection of ideas and practices that have been written about before. In fact, if you have a bookshelf full of new media technology, design and marketing books bought in the past decade a lot of this book will seem familiar. That´s not a bad thing, especially if you´ve missed a book here and there.
We start with Process, in which Curtis makes a few very important points. In the first of many autobiographical vignettes he replays a meeting where he confesses he learned a valuable lesson: listen to the client. Perhaps in 2002 when this book was published that was a bold new idea, but I doubt it. Client-centred design is a pretty old theme. Listen to the client, give them what they want, work with them to promote the product. Especially if you don´t really understand the company that hired you. It makes sense to chat with them about their product. Iterative design, user-centred design, and the rational unified process have been around for ages.
The second theme that runs through the first chapter is: simplify. Revise, edit, and remove all the extraneous. Several times he quotes a line attributed to Ernest Hemingway: "take out all the good lines, see if it still works." I guess in the wake of the over-designed cluttered-chaos look of the Bikini and Emigre style of the 90s, there was a backlash to a minimalist style, and now in 2005 minimalism is rather dominant. Especially in a world of web standards.
Revealing the "process" of design is more vivid when it is wrapped in personal stories, rather than some graphs and bulleted lists, so Curtis´ self-referencing personal tales are great. Unfortunately, I could do without the self-referencing photos that take up vast inch-age. A grainy photo of a car on a highway might help illuminate the story about ditching his band and touring America with a friend (after reading Jack Keroac´s "On the Road"), but big grainy photos aren´t especially inspiring. At least not these ones.
The chapter on Inspiration has plenty of pages of examples of work that Hillman Curtis personally used as reference. There is an example on the left page of some 60s posters from Zurich and on the right page is a web design mildly influenced. There are some more Hemingway quotes and and some more stories about how this thing led to that thing. It all boils down to: watch movies, read magazines, go to art galleries, and let all that visual and thematic melange be reflected in your work. Again, the autobiographical touches are affirming. Hillman Curtis is you, me, and the ghost of Ernest Hemingway, and creativity is all around.
The last chapter is actually written by a series of guests who are specialists in their field. We start with graphic designer Ellen Shapiro talking about grids, Leatric Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute pulling out the colour wheel, and Katharine Green (formerly of Macromedia) discussing typefaces. They only have a few pages each, so there is an "overview" feel to their writing. Joseph Lowery gets a few more pages for web layout, and he´s back again for a very abbreviated look at web languages like Cold Fusion, and PHP. Jeff Southard touches on XML, all too briefly, and Steve Krug clips a few examples from his excellent book "Don´t Make Me Think". Scott Smith (former publisher of Res magazine) manages to to put a lot of useful stuff in his few pages about broadcast television (which you´d need to know if you end up putting your Flash or video work on TV). The Rooster Design Group get a few pages to discuss print production. On the first page they claim responsibility for the book and all its graphic choices, so I can´t blame Hillman Curtis for the giant grainy photos. They also claim that ideas "need to be communicated with clarity...", but four pages of a bizarre out-of-context video installation artwork of an upside-down naked woman... and some of the other dubious graphic choices (even the so-derivative-it´s-kind-of-cool cover photo)... it isn´t always a good example.
Previous to this book I´d never heard of Hillman Curtis, and I confess I picked it up because of the title and the picture on the cover of a scruffy guy in a brown t-shirt holding a hand-lettered sign. I flipped through it and saw some storyboards in pencil, some well-designed website screenshots, and I was hooked. There´s even a couple pages of movie credits from the Talking Heads movie "Stop Making Sense." Yes, one page would have been plenty, and the entire book could have been tightened up, even if only to give the guests some more room at the end. I´m also surprised there´s no guest chapter on Flash and there isn´t a lick of Actionscript (the language Flash uses) anywhere. Despite my niggling, it´s a fine book, but maybe at half the price.
Curtis has some wonderful insight into the creative process. He covers practical steps in producing great creative, talks about realities working with clients, and gives some personal real-world examples. I especially enjoyed his first-person journey of discovery on what a "concept" is, based on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Applied Visual Arts really does tie into other forms of art and inspiration (like music), which is cool.
He also invited other experts to speak into specific areas of web, design and more. This seemed like a great way to bring best practices to the surface. I'm not sure if there's an updated version, but the one I have addresses some technology that is now quite outdated. This is no surprise, as technology changes so rapidly. The core idea of the book though are (thankfully) not technology dependent, and remain timeless.
When new media design was a burgeoning profession, this book began to help define the way in which designers could speak about their work and understand/imagine forms of process. It was a wonderful book in college and should be a must-read for design students to begin understanding the client-oriented aspects of the profession (and how to create stuff you love despite them). For the most part, I'd say this book is still applicable in describing new media design today.
The copy that Hillman Curtis created was really good. The "Practice" section at the back I could have done with out and would have given the book a much higher rating. But, MTIV is well worth having for the first 2/3rds of the book and it has held up well over time.
This is a really good book for anyone that is looking for guidance in completing professional design projects. Curtis speaks of different approaches and ideas in which he and his team have accomplished a variety of projects. This book is also helpful in motivating creative minds, such as myself.
This book is decent for a quick inspirational process tip, but I can't say it's a great read or even a jumping off point for motion/media design newbies. I'll be honest and say after the first 60 pages I skimmed the rest because I lost interest and didn't find myself gaining much out of it.