Five books that shaped me
People often get asked who their heroes are, or which famous designers they look up to the most, or which family member has had the most impact on them. Books are often overlooked, especially in the current climate of digital information from websites, blogs and social media.
For me, books have had a significant effect on where I am and what I do today. Without playing the ‘age card’, I started reading books, long before the internet was even invented (remember that?!) Obviously some of these books are design related, but others are ones that either I read, or was read by my parents as a child. Early books opened my eyes to the world, sparked my imagination and led to me asking questions – why, where and how?
The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
Long before Disney got hold of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore, this book, written in 1928, was read to me at bedtime by my parents. As well as fantastic, imaginative stories for children, there's a great underlying current of friendships between the characters, helping each other out and simple loyalty between a child (Christopher Robin) and his favourite toy bear (Winnie the Pooh). As I grew older, I saw the talent and beauty in Milne’s writing, little songs and poems as well as the storyline. Beauty also in the accompanying illustrations by E. H. Shepard. There’s also sadness at the end of the book as the animal characters have to say goodbye to Christopher Robin (as he starts school presumably). Pooh and Christopher Robin say a long, private farewell, in which Pooh promises never to forget him. Blimey – I’m welling up just writing this!
Book of Science Facts
When writing the introduction I mentioned books opening my eyes to the world. This book made them positively explode. I can't even remember where the book came from … a Christmas present I think. I’m upset to say, I can’t even find the book any more – swore I’d passed it on to one of the children. When I was a kid, the inquisitive part of my brain revelled in finding out how 'stuff' worked. From aeroplanes, to space rockets, to what was inside the Earth, the human body – a wealth of information which laid the foundation to me still being childishly inquisitive about almost everything. It’s good to always ask questions and healthy to still not know all of the answers.
Letraset Catalogue 1991
At this point I’d been accepted onto a HND Design Communications course at Cleveland College of Art and Design in Middlesbrough. On the long list of ‘art materials required’ supplied by the course tutors was listed a Letraset Catalogue. (The younger members of the audience will have to Google this!) In creating my design work for each project set during this two year course, nothing taught me more about letterforms and typography at the time, than photocopying, cutting out, tracing and selecting typefaces from this catalogue. We had a couple of black and white Macintosh Classics in the building, but with both access and fonts limited, it was more creative to keep it ‘old school’.
Envisioning Information by Edward R Tufte
Long before our new favourite term ‘infographic’ was probably even coined, this book provided practical advice (and beautiful examples) of how to, “explain complex material by visual means”. Maps, charts, diagrams, statistical information, timetables and even colour theory oozed from the pages of this book. I originally found the book in the library of the University of the West of England Art Faculty. Once I’d used it as reference for my dissertation, I never wanted to give it back.
‘Designed’ by Rick Poynor / Peter Saville
This book was brought out to accompany an exhibition of Peter Saville’s body of work at The Design Museum in London in 2003. I didn’t make the exhibition, so bought the book instead. I’ve always loved Peter Saville’s work. Having grown up just outside Manchester, I was aware of loving the beautiful, simple and clever design on many of the album covers of bands I listened to … Joy Division, New Order, Suede, Pulp and Gay Dad. Other designers I admired at the time, such as Neville Brody and David Carson, were equally talented, but, in my opinion, trying to do too much and were very ‘of the time’. Look back at some of Brody and Carson’s work now and it looks dated. I believe that Saville, however, always had a great concept first, beautifully but simply designed, never overloading for designs sake or trying to be cool. Look back at his work now (in this book) and most of it still holds its own, doesn’t date and still inspires me today.