What a treat we have for you today! The one and only Teal Triggs, professor at London’s Royal College of Art and all-knowing figure in everything concerned with print, graphic design history, self-publishing and feminism, has spent some time digging five of the most influential and inspiring books she owns out of her bottomless collection to share with us.
There really is no end to Teal’s expertise – she co-founded the Women’s Design + Research Unit, she has written extensively on fanzines, Riot Grrrl culture, experimental typography and design history, and she’s still in the process of developing her practice to reach even more distant corners of graphic design and publishing, so seeing and reading about her favourite books all in one place is truly a pleasure. Here she is in her own words!
Gyorgy Kepes (ed): Education of Vision
This much used and loved book, Education of Vision, edited by Gyorgy Kepes in 1965, has been with me all my life. It first sat on the bookshelf of my father who was a designer and educator at the University of Texas at Austin. And now, it sits on my shelf. My father was a keen advocate for the integration of visual thinking into design practice and the essays in this book, including those by Rudolf Arnheim, Will Burtin, Johannes Itten, Tomás Maldonado and Paul Rand, informed his pedagogic practice. Maldonado in particular, talks about the need to “train people capable of revolting against stereotyped ideas.” He writes in his essay Design Education that “education for design is education for responsible creativity.” I find I return to this book frequently; its originality and my father’s responses inserted on yellow Post-It notes continue to provide inspiration for my own teaching.
Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour: Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form
Learning From Las Vegas came to my bookshelf when I was an undergraduate studying graphic design in the late 1970s. My copy is the student-friendly version. I covet owning a copy of the first edition – a cloth hardback designed by Muriel Cooper; then as now, it is eye-wateringly expensive.
Learning From Las Vegas sparked off a few debates at the time of publication. The book represented a significant break from conventional Modernist thinking in architecture. The vernacular of Las Vegas and its postmodernist context (the “duck” and the “shed”) presented a new way for reading the urban landscape.
The book certainly made an impact on me; underlined passages and margin notes made with my no. 2 pencil appear throughout. What I learned from this book certainly has informed my approach to research, especially the idea that visual documentation should inform critical thinking.
Avital Ronell: The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech
I distinctly remember when in 1989, the University of Nebraska Press announced the publication of The Telephone Book. I was working as a book designer at the time and recall the buzz it generated. This book certainly questioned conventional approaches to typography and the book format. Written by philosopher Avital Ronell and designed by Richard Eckersley with Michael Jensen as its compositor, the book’s experimental success was down to collaborative working relationships.
Deconstructive theory and Heidegger’s voice were made visible through what Eckersley saw as the potential of new digital technologies; what this brought to typographic experimentation was seamlessly introduced into the book’s design. Viewed as “radical,” this book represented the extraordinary potential for new ways of reading where typography was used to express different voices and different modes of writing. As a fledgling book designer to find such a rich approach, where you could “hear” as well as “see” the words, sentences and paragraphs, was a revelation.
Graham Rawle: Woman’s World: A Novel
I’ve always had an interest in visual writing, and how it offers new, innovative ways through which stories can be told. So when Women’s World was published, the way in which Rawle brought together the ingredients of collage and cut-ups, 1960s women’s magazines, storytelling and typography, sent me to literary and design heaven.
However, the book isn’t just about the typographic acumen and the stamina we see of its author in the laborious exercise of “cut and paste.” (One reviewer cites that 40,000 fragments of text cut out of women’s magazines were made to form the novel’s narrative.) Rawle is an adept writer, too. The novel tells the story of Norma Fontaine – a transvestite, “her” alter-ego, brother Roy and their obsession for the latest fashion and advice found in women’s magazines. Summed up best by Norma: ‘To me, there is nothing more pleasant than to retire to my dressing-room for a feminine wallow among row upon delightful row of the most elegant evening clothes."
Jan van Toorn: Design’s Delight
The role of design in politics and critical practice came sharply into focus as I got to know the Dutch designer and educator, Jan van Toorn and his work. Like all of van Toorn’s books, there is a balance to be had between a theoretical positioning and the way in which the books are designed. Each page spread considers the relationship between symbolic form and content through an approach that he refers to as “visual journalism.” For the reader, the resulting dialectic is in the form of an argument, specifically with reference to the social, political and cultural contexts within which van Toorn is commenting. It’s a precursor to our never-ending world of “mashups,” and is still an exciting read today.
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