is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Even though it’s only November, I’ve been sitting around thinking about next year, specifically about what I’m going to do with it. As I indicated recently, my plan is to scale back on the number of speaking engagements I’ll do in 2008. Partly, I want more time at home and less time at the mercy of the airlines. And partly my plan is to spend at least some of that time writing a book. (I’m nervous even saying that here because who knows if I really have it in me to actually finish writing a book, to say nothing of getting it published.)
What kind of book, you might ask? Well, I’ve decided that it’s not going to be a book about typographic grids, in spite of what modest sums of notoriety I’ve achieved with regard to that subject. Beyond what I’ve committed to blog posts and extemporized at conferences so far, I just don’t think I have much more to say about grids. They’re a valuable and fascinating tool for design, but I feel that, for now anyway, I’ve reached an upper limit on my ability to add to the discourse.
What other subject, then, for this so-called book I’m allegedly planning to write? It’s something that’s still germinating, so it would be premature to go into detail on it now. If and when I get further down the road with it — and if I get a sufficient, confidence-building head of steam — I fully expect to be drafting at least parts of the manuscript in public view on this blog. So not to worry; if it ever becomes a real thing and not just me talking aimlessly, then you’ll get more posts about the book than you care to read about right here.
However, without going into too much detail, I can offer one high-level idea of what kind of product I’m going for: it should be the kind of book that simplifies the shopping experience at your local Barnes & Noble bookseller.
This is what I mean. Next time you visit one of these stores — or any similar, large-scale book retailer — walk over, first, to the section where all the books on Web design are stored, the shelves where you can find copies of “Designing with Web Standards,” “About Face” and “Designing for Interaction,” among others.
Then walk over to the section where all the graphic design books are stored, the shelves where you can find copies of “Design, Form & Chaos,” “The Elements of Typographic Style” and “Grid Systems in Graphic Design.”
In all likelihood, you had to visit entirely different parts of the store in order to find both of those batches of books, right? The former were probably sitting side-by-side with technical tomes of all kinds, while the latter were stashed in a tonier section, near the books about art and architecture.
A Sense of Shelf Worth
That just shouldn’t be the case, not at all. To be sure, it’s symptomatic of the huge divide between ‘traditional’ graphic design and interaction design that these subsets of books, which theoretically cater to similar audiences, are so dramatically segregated. But just as importantly, it says something about how these two kinds of design books are conceived, pitched and sold in the market right now. Authors, publishers and consumers think of books that deal with the world of ‘traditional’ graphic design as being vessels for ideas about an art form. And, with few exceptions, they think of books that deal with the world of interaction design and ‘new media’ as being technical documents.
You might defend this divide by arguing that traditional graphic design books tend to deal with concepts and abstractions, while the latter deal primarily with technique. But I say hogwash. It doesn’t take much browsing of the graphic design bookshelves to find, perched nearby to “Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist,” a copy of “Layout Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Building Pages in Graphic Design.” In this region of the bookstore, big ideas and august retrospectives have long co-existed with much more pragmatic, tactical how-to’s. There’s no particularly profound reason why they’re not displayed together — other than no one has realized that they belong together.
All of which is a very long-winded manner of expressing my goal for whatever book I’m telling myself I’m going to write next year. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off, but if upon its publishing you walk into your local Barnes & Noble bookstore and you find my book on a shelf anywhere near “Design Writing Research” and near “Bullet Proof Web Design” — in both places or, heck, if both places are in fact the same place — then I will consider it a big, big success. Then again, if it ever shows up on any shelves anywhere, I’ll be pretty damn happy, too.+