In October 2015, brothers Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell became the twentieth and twenty-first partners of design studio, Pentagram. Three years later, they continue to work with an ever-impressive list of clients from the British Fashion Council to London’s Garden Museum. Prior to joining Pentagram, the pair operated under Hudson-Powell: a practice which merged their interests in graphic design and technology resulting in a varied output across print and digital platforms.
As a duo who have forged their careers side-by-side and with such an eclectic body of work behind them, we got in touch with Luke and Jody to find out a bit more about the books that have shaped their work and role as designers. From graphic novels to gifts from uncles, the result is a personal list of books, recounting stories from their childhood, teenage and university years.
Jan V. White: Graphic Idea Notebook
Jody and Luke: Sometime in our early teens, a book called Graphic Idea Notebook by Jan V. White appeared in our house, sent over from the States by our uncle Nicholas. We didn’t really have much interest in it at the time, it was written in 1980 and just didn’t seem relevant to any of the work we were doing. In fact, we almost threw it away several times over the years.
But somehow it remained on the bookshelf. And over the course of our career, it has become one of our most regularly referred-to books.
The book’s magic lies in its ability to encourage you to keep visually pushing an idea. The inexhaustible number of ways the book suggests you could explore is quite phenomenal: arrows, graphs, boxes, bracketing, breaking-up text, line quality, image treatment, numbering… It reminds you that when you are “idea’d” out, there is always another way to approach solving a problem.
Thanks, uncle Nick.
Lars Müller Publishers: Sleeves of Desire
Luke: Our parents had a cabinet in the corner of the living room, which housed their record player and record collection. As a kid, the whole set up had a shrine-like quality. Each cover was a window, that when twinned with the music (I was allowed to put records on if I was very careful) was a world to get lost in.
As far as music went I was clearly in the Michael Jackson and Thompson Twins camp. I also loved the bright designs of the Eurythmics and The The album covers. But among the brash 80s designs, the record covers on the ECM label stood out. Pat Methany’s New Chautauqua, Jan Garbarek’s I Took Up the Runes and Visible World weren’t the same as the others. They were otherworldly, like an imagined scene in a book. I can’t say that I liked them at the time, but they stayed with me.
Fourteen years later, as a recently graduated graphic designer, I was introduced to this book while on an internship in Portugal. It catalogues 25 years of ECM record covers designed by Barbara and Burkhart Wojirsch. More like pieces of fine art than graphic design – these images of damaged photos, experiments in mark making, captured moments and all manner of typographic treatments still inspire me and still rank among my favourite pieces of graphic design, image making and art.
Stuart K. Card, Jock D. Mackinlay and Ben Shneiderman: Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think
Jody: I got this book back in 2002, right before starting my MSc in Virtual Environments at the Bartlett School of Architecture.
It’s a collection of 47 research papers from the late 80s to mid-90s. Back then, the majority of research papers were behind university paywalls, and you had to hunt really hard to find what you were after.
There is a really dysfunctional relationship between academia, industry and consumers when it comes to technology. A kind of collective amnesia where great ideas go back into hiding unless all three align. Breakthroughs often feel like they’re happening on repeat. VR could still be one of those that slips back behind closed doors, only to reappear in another 20 years.
And this book is a goldmine of that phenomenon. Apple’s HotSauce 3D browser is in there… Can’t be long till we see that in a keynote.
Cue whoops and applause.
Existencil Press: A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums
Luke: I was introduced to Crass in my second year at college by some friends. The song I first heard was called Big A, little A. I loved the music, but more importantly Crass had lyrics that were empowering: “Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do. I am he and she is she but you’re the only you. No one else has got your eyes, can see the things you see. It’s up to you to change your life and my life’s up to me”
Several years later I chanced upon a copy of this book, in a second-hand bookshop in Elephant and Castle. The book, released by their own Exitstencil Press, is mockingly designed to look like a classic Penguin edition. It contains three short essays around the subjects of peace and our basic right to freedom. Crass were idealistic in every aspect of their music, art and lives – they were angry and they weren’t afraid to speak out.
All qualities I have the greatest respect for.
Katsuhiro Ottomo: Akira
Jody: I found this in a comic shop in the late 80s. I think it was 1988. I remember conspiring with a friend of mine; we told our parents that we were at each other’s houses, but walked into town to raid the comic shop instead.
I was generally buying the standard Marvel stuff at the time, and was big into the X-Men. Like most other people picking Akira up for the first time, it blew my mind. I only had the first issue as the shop never stocked the rest, so I had no real idea what it was about. But the art and design made a huge impact on me. Like the film, it opens with the biker gang tearing apart Neo Tokyo – the Marvel comics died a little (a lot) for me after seeing that.
Later, a VHS of the animation did the rounds and I realised what it was all about, as a body of work it still feels really important to me. I am also continually amused by the fact that Otomo Katsuhiro predicted the (Neo) Tokyo 2020 Olympics more than 30 years ago.
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