Mother Design's team pick out the books that keep them inspired

12 June 2019

Mother Design is an agency that needs little introduction. But, in case you need a little catching up, Mother Design is a branding and design studio founded in 2006 and has since grown to include an office in New York. Its team is known for completing some of the most recognisable work in the world of design for clients including BBC, New York Fashion Week and Nike.

For this week’s Bookshelf, we’re offering a glimpse behind the doors of the company’s London office at the titles that keep its team inspired. Below, Kirsty Minns, creative director, Thomas Humeau, design director, Nelson Koe, designer, George Wu, design director and Scarlet Mae, project manager, pick out one book that has influenced their practice.

Kirsty Minns, creative director: The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith

I am obsessed with human psychology particularly in relationship to the world of design. At the start of any brief one of my favourite parts is to live my life temporarily through the lens of the end consumer. Ultimately, if you want your work to connect with people you need to understand how you want to make them feel. This quest for understanding the complex inner workings of the human brain is a never-ending mission but this book delves into it brilliantly. Tiffany Watt Smith opens up your mind to an inspiring collection of 156 feelings both rare and familiar, each emotion has its own fascinating story told from a historic, scientific or cultural point of view – it just says so much about what it means to be human.

Thomas Humeau, design director: Building Stories by Chris Ware

We bought this book at the Monte-en-l’air in Menilmontant in Paris.

We love all Chris Ware’s graphic novels but this one is one of a kind. In the box, instead of one book, it’s 14 printed works (books, leaflets, newspapers etc). You can read them in any order which is breaking with the usual linearity of books. We follow the story of a former art student who lives on the third floor of an old building in Chicago. As always with Chris Ware, it’s beautifully melancholic and full of well-observed daily life details.

It took ten years for Chris Ware to complete this intricate story. In the digital age, he reminds us that print is still alive and very important even for entertainment. No tablet can reproduce the feeling of going through these books

As graphic designers, we love Chris Ware’s unique style, the amazing concept and storytelling, the attention to details in the print, and all the hand-drawn typography in the books.

Nelson Koe, designer: Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook

This guidebook came to my attention during my final year at university and it has been a source of inspiration ever since. What I love about the book is that it manages to take a simple, unobtrusive aspect of our everyday lives (pedestrian networks), deconstruct and magnify it into something that feels suddenly dissimilar yet altogether exciting. A team of architects laid out these complex layered maps of the extensive walkway systems in Hong Kong and documents them through a series of inspiring drawings and 3D models. Each set of drawing utilises the same graphic visuals but each with a different narrative borne out of their specific location. It’s one of those books that caters to anyone; whether you’re an urban-planning enthusiast or someone who simply enjoys great information design.

George Wu, design director: L’altalena (See Saw) by Enzo Mari

By far one of my favourites, Enzo Mari’s See Saw is a children’s picture book that has no words but speaks poetically of weight, shape and balance. It begins with a lonely chicken perched on a giant see-saw who is quickly outweighed by a kangaroo. Over the course of the pages, more animals leap onto the seesaw and it constantly tilts back and forth until they reach a chaotic perfect balance.

Originally based on Mari’s “16 Animali” puzzle which is a jigsaw using one continuous cut from a single piece of wood to create beautifully designed animals that are instantly recognizable. With their blank expressions, the animals click seamlessly together to form a perfect block, which will give any fellow designers a satisfying buzz!

I never get tired of revisiting this book with its striking red and green vibrating cover and textured woodblock printing. It also unfolds into one long strip. One day I hope to have a living room big enough that can house a fully framed version!

Scarlet Mae, project manager: The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin

Beginning with a look at the 19th Century Parisian arcades and all that unfolds from them, Benjamin’s book attempts to define the dialectical image in broad strokes.

Benjamin weaves together a collection of writings on architecture, photography, art, philosophy, literature, and everything that comes together to form an image of 19th Century Parisian life. The city provides a backdrop to the flaneur, or street wanderer, and much of the book is framed by this meandering perspective.

It’s an unfinished work (Benjamin died fleeing Germany during the war) and it was thought lost for many years until it was discovered in the safe of a library that had survived the conflict.

At 1100 pages, I still haven’t read the whole thing, but I always discover a new perspective each time I visit it.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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