Work / Publication

Brilliantly designed book goes behind the scenes of the V&A

From the sad scenes of countless busts languishing in storage to famed campaigns from the crazy ad years of the 1980s to topless Mossy and stunning modernist furniture, a new beautifully designed book delineates just how breathtaking the V&A’s collection really is.

Designed by Planning Unit, the small red tome was released as a pure souvenir of the museum’s work rather than a catalogue or guide. “The V&A had mooted the idea of doing a new souvenir/guide book for about two years, they had done lots of research and collated information, but the problem was they got overwhelmed with the amount of material, and what to do with it,” explains Jeff Knowles, Planning Unit co-founder. “The main ambition of the book was to have something that was more precious than the traditional guidebook.”

Planning Unit’s concept was to divide the book into three main sections: The Building, The Collection and The Unseen, which provides a photographic exploration of the “hidden gems of the museum.” Jeff says: “We went to a very small format with lots of pages, rather than a large format with less pages. The idea of this was that so often people visiting museums see a book they like, and it is large and heavy, the thought of carrying it around for the rest of the day puts them off buying it. It’s small enough to put in your pocket.”

For The Collection section, the agency decided to showcase the V&A’s collection through the use of pairs of images, mixing famous pieces with lesser-known works. “The pairs could either be something that looked similar, something that was the same theme, or something that was a play on words… for example – a picture of Francis Bacon with a 60’s marketing poster for eggs – ‘Bacon n Eggs’,” Jeff explains.

“The idea of pairs allowed us to choose items that ordinarily wouldn’t have been showcased. It also allowed us to strip out the hierarchy, for example we paired a 18th Century silver tray, with a plastic Ford hub cap from 1991. So it wasn’t a case of making the book too academic, or too information heavy, just a simple image with the minimum amount of info about the piece. It was more to get people to look at the items of the V&A in a way they wouldn’t normally, in fact a lot of the featured items are in their archive.”


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir


Planning Unit: V&A, A Souvenir