100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design
with Steven Heller, published by Laurence King (2012)
From a review by Rob Hardy for The Dispatch, Columbus Mississippi
I wish that the book 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design had been bigger. That's a compliment, of course. The book is large format, with colored reproductions on almost every page, but still the text mentions a lot more examples than it includes.
A reader realizes that the authors probably agonized over what to mention, what to illustrate, and what to leave out. They probably didn't want to stop at 100 ideas, and many of the ideas could have their own books, not just two pages. I bet the authors, too, wanted their book to be bigger.
We are in good hands; Steven Heller was an art director at the New York Times for over three decades and Véronique Vienne has been the art director of various magazines. "Our aim," they say, is to determine, define, discuss, and illustrate the big ideas that created the critical mass that produced the art and craft of contemporary graphic design."
The ideas are in more-or-less chronological order, with "The Book" coming first followed by "Body Type" (writing on or tattooing the body), and with "Pixelation" and "Ambigrams" coming toward the end. It is a wonderful tour, and often it is historic and sociological, rather than just graphic.
I was surprised at how many products here I have used (I am far from a graphic designer) but cannot use anymore because they are no longer around. Idea No. 3 is "Rub-On Designs," and features Letraset, which younger people will not recognize. "For a graphic designer in the 1970's, holding a brand-new polyester sheet of 24 point Helvetica Medium Condensed, its neat rows of caps and lower cases ready to be applied on a clean surface, was pure ecstasy."
It isn't surprising that human anatomy is all over the place here. The pages on "Pointing Fingers" show one instance of the old time woodcut of a finger pointing for emphasis (but used in a modern poster). As well here are fingers pointing out of a poster, as in the famous "I Want You" style, which James Montgomery Flag copied from a British recruitment poster.
"Clinched Fist" shows that this hand sign has been a symbol of military (and anti-military) power. Saul Bass's famous poster for Anatomy of a Murder is here (on the pages for Primitive Figuration) showing a body dismembered.
"Funny Faces" shows a delightful typography of bold, bulbous capital letters, each adorned with an eye spot or two, and a simple row of squares to represent teeth. It is amazing how much personality the letters have.
There are pages here for "The Fine Print." "What is written in small type is sometimes the most arresting part of the label," as in the surprising lists of ingredients and the legal jargon. It isn't all so alarming. Phone books had used a tiny Bell Gothic font, but this would not work on the high-speed offset lithography presses, so a new sans serif typeface, designed in the 1970s, was employed. The letters were clearer, and they had creases or traps where lines joined, to trap the ink that had previously spread into little blots.
The phone company also has a supporting role in the pages on "Scan Lines," with the AT&T logo as a circle or sphere defined by horizontal lines of differing thickness. It is a logo by the ubiquitous Saul Bass, designed in 1983. IBM already had scan lines in its logo, and scores of other scan-line logos followed, making them "the corporate identity trope of the 1980s."
I have only mentioned a few themes in this wide-ranging book. There are pages for "Dust Jackets," "Rays" (as in the ones behind the head of Mickey Mouse, and also behind that of Chairman Mao), "Ransom Notes," "Parody," "Nostalgia," "White Space," "Tags," and much more. It is a handsome book with lots to look at, well laid out and with informative text. It could serve as a sourcebook for designers, but we all see this sort of art every day; thinking about these hundred ideas can help us make artistic, technological, and social sense of what we are seeing.
1/9 - The book is available in six languages, including English and French.
2/9 - Often body language conveys messages better than words.
3/9 - Rays is an old idea that still finds its place in a contemporary context.
4/9 - Invisibles grids can turn ordinary rectangles into elegant compositions.
5/9 - Black with red really comes to life when a little white is added.
6/9 - Transparent layers of colors are always pleasing to the eye.
7/9 - To subvert the system, visual irony works best.
8/9 - Words can be used as graphic artifacts.
9/9 - White silouhettes add punch to flat colors blocks.