Last week, music website Pitchfork was bought by publishing powerhouse Condé Nast, in a bold move that suggests music journalism isn’t quite dead yet. A testament to the quality of the website’s output of top quality content, Pitchfork also creates a quarterly publication, The Pitchfork Review. Behind it all is a crack design team brimming with talent so we were eager to find out which books stand tall on their collective bookshelf. With individual selections from Pitchfork’s vice president Mike Renaud, its digital art director Joy Burke and senior graphic designer Jessica Visčius, it’s a fantastically varied compilation of alternative design books, snippets of visual inspiration and the mind boggling world of programming.
Bob Gill: Bob Gill, so far.
“CULTURE ISN’T REAL, THE CULTURE IS IN YOUR HEAD!” barked Bob Gill, as he ruthlessly tore apart student work at Typography Summer School New York. It was the final critique of the day after an exhaustive series of lectures from our visiting practitioner – the inimitable, outspoken designer and illustrator, Bob Gill. Gill spoke much like how he writes – terse, unforgiving and glimmering with insight. I first picked up Bob Gill, so far. after seeing it on my parents’ friend’s coffee table sometime in college. I remember thinking the cover – an illustration of a big blank book – was hilariously tongue in cheek. I sat there while my parents and their friends conversed in the other room, immersed in Gill’s expansive work of clever, pithy illustrations and finished the thing in one sitting. Gill implores us to remember that good design isn’t about form, or even function, but an original idea. A design can be beautiful, but if it doesn’t surprise, if it doesn’t have an opinion, it fails. Gill’s illustrations are simple, yet effective, reminding me in my own work, that the best solutions to a design problem are often the ones right under your nose.
– Jessica Visčius, senior graphic designer
Judith Schalansky: The Atlas of Remote Islands
The Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalanksy starts off with a note about its translation “from the German” and stays weird. I like a lot of things about this book:
1. Although it’s well designed, it isn’t specifically about design. Reading about design makes me feel like I should be taking notes and there’s never enough of a plot to keep me interested
2. It’s a complete, personal creation, written, designed, and illustrated by Schalanksy
3. It comes in regular size and pocket size with embossing and a cloth spine
4. It’s perfect for those with a fear of flying; the stories of danger and death on distant beaches validates the many reasons there are to never leave one’s house
5. It has a glossary, index, and perfect German organisation.
– Molly Butterfoss, senior art director
David Robbins: Concrete Comedy
I’ve always been interested in the connection between comedy and design: simplifying communication, failure as an asset, visual puns, evoking familiarity through nuance and gesture, the punch line – there’s so much the two have in common. Concrete Comedy is not a design book, but it is a historical analysis of 20th Century comedy that favours actions and objects, the avant garde, abstraction, self-parody and aesthetics. This book is unintentionally a mandatory resource for making thoughtful and original work that favours ideas over fashion.
—Mike Renaud, vice president
Barbara Ann Kipfer: 14,000 Things to be Happy About
Sometimes I find that the most fruitful inspiration comes from mentally getting as far away as possible from the world around me. That’s when I like to flip to a random page of 14,000 Things to be Happy About and lose myself in a list of miscellaneous delights. For example, page one reads: “A stream-of-consciousness list; pyjamas at breakfast; reed-fringed lagoons; seeing the moon rise; the feel of a rug under bare feet; sweet fresh corn and tender baby green lima beans, drenched with cream; the ‘snuggle right in’ feeling; a lake catching the last flecks of sunlight coming in over the pines; the position of your head as you bite into a taco; shadows cast by shutters against shiny white walls.”
– Joy Burke, digital art director
Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden: Masterminds of Programming (iBook version)
“Programming languages are how people talk to computers," Paul Graham said, and that’s true. Also true is the variety of languages in the world have evolved from our desire to speak with computers on our own terms. In the absence of a desire to communicate on the computer’s terms, we’ve shaped the boundless and infinite abstract possibilities into sets of easily understood, easily communicated primitives, creating a common tongue in which we can work. Arguably a noble, if very human goal. Masterminds of Programming was the first book to impress upon me not only the utter size of the task of designing a language, the cruel and selfish act of creating or reshaping the world in your own vision, but all the beautiful possibilities that come from it. Most of all, this book confirmed in me the idea that programming language design is true art.
– Matt Dennewitz, product vice president
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- Design director, Gail Bichler, on The New York Times Magazine typography exhibition
- Mark Shaw captures the glamour of haute couture runways from the 1950s