Thu 28 Jun
I’m at a point in my life know where I actually know real authors of real books. It’s strange, because these are regular, ‘one pant leg at a time’ human folk like you and me, and yet somehow they’ve managed to articulate a real, honest to goodness view of the world… and they’ve convinced other folks to print it for them. Now you can buy these books via the Interweb and even hold them in your hand. It’s amazing to me.
So, having said that, now I’m going to plug two of them.
“Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design” by Michael Bierut is just out and it’s exactly what the title says: a compendium of several dozen of Bierut’s insightful, entertaining and ambitious writings over the past few decades.
It’s no secret that Bierut is at the top of this profession for many reasons, not the least of which is that he possesses a rare, once-in-a-generation brand of visual intelligence. I think my favorite reason, though, is that he complements that with a passion for and dedication to the written word; he has consistently and persistently sought to bring clarity to the fuzzy complexities of graphic design by doing the difficult work of writing about it. I’ve said it many times, but I truly believe that design writing is a crucial part of the future growth of our craft, and in that way, at least, this book is a kind of treasure. I find it really inspirational.
I’m even more wowed by the debut book from my colleague at The New York Times, information architect extraordinaire Alex Wright. The book is called “Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages” and it’s stunningly ambitious in scope.
I’m four chapters into it, and already Alex’s prose has taken me on a whirlwind tour of the evolution of information — tracing the epigenetic origins of how we organize data as far back as primordial bacteria, and as far afield as Greek mythological genealogy, Aztec libraries and the very first accountants.
In part it’s an exhaustive academic thesis, but it’s also genuinely entertaining and surprisingly relevant. We often think of the ‘new world’ we’re building online as a fresh slate and without precedent, but Alex shows how incorrect that truly is, and how much we have to learn from what’s come before.
I highly, highly recommend both of these, but of course, one is an easier sell than the other. Michael’s book comes with the imprimatur of the upper echelons of graphic design practice, and it’s packaged in a beautiful hardback cover wittily designed by his Pentagram colleague Abbott Miller. On the other hand, Alex’s book comes in a rather underwhelmingly designed package that looks like it was lifted from an undergraduate textbook from the mid-Nineties. It’s a shame really, because it’s an amazing piece of work… don’t judge it by its cover.
Speaking of books, people ask me from time to time if I’ve thought about writing a book. Well, as a matter of fact, I have… but thinking about it hasn’t magically produced a manuscript, as it turns out.
Seriously, I have intentions to write a book, but they’re just intentions and I haven’t figured out yet how I can actually get it done. I think part of the reason is that most of the serious interest publishers have expressed in having me write a book has been along the lines of a technical how-to, something that might be called “Awesome CSS Grids” or something. There’s value in that kind of book, for sure. But it’s not the kind of book I want to write.
I have no reservations about writing about grids, but I prefer something higher-level, more theoretical, and less tactical. I guess the problem is that I don’t exactly know what kind of book I want to write, which as you can imagine, makes it difficult to write a book. I know I want it to be higher level, and I know I want it to be the kind of book that has a certain amount of timelessness, but beyond that, it’s all rather unformed.
Really, you know what I should do? I should just stop complaining about this on my blog and sit down and just write the damn thing.