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Meggs' History of Graphic Design

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,673 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Now in its Fourth Edition, this unrivaled, seminal work continues its long tradition of providing balanced insight and thorough historical background. Under the new authorial leadership of Alston Purvis, this authoritative book offers more than 450 new images, along with expansive coverage of such topics as Italian, Russian, and Dutch design. It reveals a saga of creative ...more
Hardcover, 575 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by John Wiley & Sons (first published 1983)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  2,673 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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I took a summer class on the History of Graphic Design and had to read this book...not cover-cover, but pretty close. It's the only class I've actually had the time to complete all of the assigned readings for, and I'm really glad I did. This book is the only one of its kind that I've found. I learned so much from it. It's always been very confusing to try to find where our history is (as graphic designers)...Meggs was the first to really pool all the information in one place.

The only qualms I
Kass Johns
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I used to teach a course based on this book. The book, while the information contained within is good... is a great example of how to NOT design a book. The layout of the book makes this difficult to read and understand. The entire book is typeset in a swiss sans serif for the body copy. This made it extremely difficult for not only my students to read and comprehend, but also for myself. EVERY halfway decent Graphic Designer knows that body copy is always to be set (for any lengthy publication ...more
Jessica Cicoria
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in how graphic design came to be today
Recommended to Jessica Cicoria by: my professor
I absolutely love art history, but am working on my degree in graphic design. This book was a recommended text to supplement a class and it is absolutely the most engaging textbook I've ever read. I do not think there are many other history books specific to design, and there certainly are none that could compare with the depth, detail and quality of information presented in Megg's History of Graphic Design. ...more
Oct 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Okay, so I didn't read the entire book, but I read enough that I can write a good review of it. This book was my first introduction to Graphic Design. This book should be mandatory for anyone who designs documents, marketing materials, or other medias for the public. It establishes a progressive history of where design ideas came from and what influenced the designers, along with the consequences (good and bad) of their actions. The writing style is easy to follow. My only criticism is that the ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting and informative read, as well as inspiring. However, the last couple of chapters start ok but rapidly descend into what seems like a who's who, which becomes a little tedious.

In terms of layout too I found myself flipping backwards and forwards, marrying up images with the text references, which became slightly annoying. Bad design, in a design book?
There is a special place in my heart for big, hard-back, fully colour-illustrated design histories. It brings me its own kind of joy, maybe because it is easier to forget how subjective any historical account must be when the narrative is organised around images. Megg's History provide just that, and on top of this it is also part of that very select club of textbooks which have achieved near hegemonic status. This means you can scoop it for a few quids online, and were you not to finish it will ...more
Michael Scott
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
TODO full review:
! Read the fifth edition (2012), which includes updates in Part V until 2010.
+++ Overall, an outstanding overview of graphic design, from prehistory to the digital age. I learned much. Mandatory reading for all interested in design.
+++ Part I, Prologue. Subjects cover: the invention of writing and a concise but deep incursion into the known history of alphabets, up to the highly designed Korean Hangul; the contribution to graphic design Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian sources
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's not much to say about this book because it is exactly what the title says. There aren't many graphic design history books out there, and this one is the most comprehensive of all of them. It explains how and why design evolved, of course with lots of illustrations and pictures inside. It will teach you how different styles originated and what were their key characteristics. From earliest writing systems, to medieval manuscripts, to Art Nouveau, to Bauhaus, to current year digital design, ...more
Comprehensive and an excellent source for images, but the text is so repetitive and hyperbolic that it's enough to drive you mad. I understand that a book on the history of graphic design is going to feature every innovation and innovator, but you can't just say line after line that this is the most stunning innovation ever!--not through over 600 pages. You'd think a book on graphic design would be better designed. Frustratingly, the references to the illustrations are frequently on a preceding ...more
Colleen Rice
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
It was a textbook, but I honestly really enjoyed it. I'd always viewed art history as disconnected from real life, and superfluous. changes and shapes life all around it, and graphic design especially. Learning about the role of design in war-time propaganda, civil rights movements, and other various cultural movements was truly fascinating. Looking forward to diving into the history of Animation this quarter! ...more
Adam B
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly thorough on Western history, but as a teacher of primarily Black and brown students I feel it's light on indigenous and modern BIPOC designers and influences. Consider expanding this in the next edition. ...more
Neale Sourna
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Abandoned reading this textbook, may come back later.
Ania Gaska
May 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Not bad.
Nathan H.
Read Chapters 7-24 for GMD 120 at College of the Canyons, very dry
Jennifer Kent
It was very interesting. But it was a school text so hard to read at some points. I kept it though
Jan 2020 - enjoyed chapter on Arts & Crafts movement. Made a small vector library ripping off William Pickering's Elements of Euclid shapes and colors. ...more
Jun 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A very rich and enlightening read for those who care about the history and movements of the art
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Ugh. I really wanted to like this book. I wanted it to grab my attention and shake the creative out of me. I wanted to read it until my eyes were bleeding genius font. I wanted it to ask me on a date and take me away to a distant time and place, never turning back. I suppose had high expectations for a textbook, my fault.
As some have already mentioned, the layout of the book is awful.
With so much history involved, I think it's important to arrange pages in a way that will force/keep the reader
Kass Johns
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I used to teach a course based on this book. The book, while the information contained within is good... is a great example of how to NOT design a book. The layout of the book makes this difficult to read and understand. The entire book is typeset in a swiss sans serif for the body copy. This made it extremely difficult for not only my students to read and comprehend, but also for myself. EVERY halfway decent Graphic Designer knows that body copy is always to be set (for any lengthy publication ...more
Graham Herrli
Oct 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: design-related
The first couple chapters of this book are full of interesting information about the evolution of written language. After that the book bogs down in personal details of the designers' lives. For example, I now know that in the 1700s Bodoni in Italy and Didot in France were rivals in the development of more modern fonts, each borrowing from the other, and both drawing upon the earlier type designs of Baskerville. A lot of words are wasted on telling how so-and-so designer went to so-and-so place ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Can’t say I’m a huge sucker for art history, though this book somehow managed to make it pretty interesting. Some parts could be a touch dry, but it covers a lot. It was bought for college and kept for its relevance. For some reason I enjoy having it on my shelf and I don’t even know if I can pin point why? It did not always feel like work reading it ...and I have a hunch I may want to brush up on it again someday. Plus it’s very pretty (referring to the sample images – the book's typesetting co ...more
Jan 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first text in this book, a quote from the Austrian Bauhaus artist Herber Bayer, "the creative process is not performed by the skilled hand alone, but must be a unified process in which "head, heart, and hand play a simultaneous role," guides this exhaustive examination of the graphical development of language through speech, writing, and eventually print and video. Covering most of the major developments in the graphic arts throughout historical times. Extremely comprehensive in scope. ...more
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Art History and Graphic Design Students
Shelves: own
I have an earlier version of this book, but this was the book that established who was who in the history of graphic design for me. We had this book in lieu of a graphic design history course at my undergraduate school.

A must read for all graphic design and art history students. I wish it had more images, but I think that about every book. :)
Dec 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It amazes me that graphic design and designers don't get more respect. (It takes one to know). This book serves well to open eyes to the fact that concerted, skillful design exists all around us... and without the exceptional efforts of those exceptional individuals, we'd be in a world of hurt. ...Sort of makes you think of God, doesn't it? ...more
An excellent overview of design from the origins of the word/symbol to nearly the present day. My only quibble is that Meggs drops descriptions of production techniques near the beginning of the 20th century--details that are informative in their own right and help you better understand the underlying art.
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-books, textbooks
Very interesting book, had to buy it for a Graphic Design History class, and as a previous poster said I might not sell it back after the class is done. It provided me with a more detailed background on the history of printing and design, type etc. which I knew nothing about, loved the pictures in the book as well. As a Photography major it definitely got me more interested in Graphic Design!
Jihad Lahham
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
a great read for every graphic designer. it's shame that they teach this book in college very briefly that students most likely hate it enough to never read it cover to cover. this is the kind of book that needs to be read more than one time and kept in proximity as a reference and constant inspiration. ...more
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those who are taking a history of graphic design class only
Recommended to Lionel by: A so-so teacher
Shelves: for-school
This textbook was boring and dry in my experience and I am no textbook hater. I liked some of the information I learned in the book about Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing machine and also the illustrators of the dark ages.
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book for a History of Graphic Design class. The first part of the book was definitely interesting, but I have to admit that as the semester progressed I skimmed the rest of the chapters. I will have to reread this book in the future to fully appreciate it.
Dec 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Although this book was very informative, I got lost in all of the names, dates, and places. I'm so glad that there were plenty of pictures to offset the text. For a textbook, it would have been nice to have used bold print for important items, like definitions and important people. ...more
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Philip B. Meggs charted new territory in the field of graphic design history. His authoritative survey A History of Graphic Design was the first attempt at creating a definitive and linear history of the graphic design profession, charting its progress from the marks found in the caves of Lascaux to experimentation with digital media in the late 1990s. The book quickly became standard reading for ...more

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