The Guardian design team reveals its favourite books

21 January 2016

It was back in October that The Guardian released its brand guidelines to demonstrate the importance of its design language within its DNA. In our article about the guidelines, creative director Alex Breuer and deputy creative director Chris Clarke talked through the challenges the team faced, from how far the newspaper’s identity reached to what different colours would mean to its audience.

Building guidelines for something so recognisable requires real consideration for design and its ability to communicate ideas, so we were curious to find out what’s assisted the team’s design education through the years. In this bumper edition of the Bookshelf The Guardian design team takes us on a journey of design theory, a history of children’s illustration, all the way to making the 2D into 3D. Enjoy!

John Dewey: Art as Experience

I, like many designers when learning the craft, spent a lot of time pouring over pages of the many compendia out there of the outstanding work of others seeking inspiration. In exploring the work of Paul Rand I discovered Art As Experience by John Dewey. Rand himself said: “You are just not an educated designer unless you have read this book.” This book is a tough read. A real academic exploration of the nature of aesthetics and human experience, from the point of view of the creator and the viewer and the emotional link between the two.

It is an invigorating and inspiring tonic for anyone feeling the burden of data and efficiency led thinking that can be deployed by the conventional over the creative. A rich and elaborate reminder that to communicate with people through empathy, emotion and experience is far more effective than giving them more of what they already like and know. As Dewey says: “The enemies of the aesthetic are neither the practical nor the intellectual. They are the humdrum; slackness of loose ends; submission to convention in practice and intellectual procedure.”

– Alex Breuer, creative director, The Guardian News and Media

Phillip Thompson and Peter Davenport: The Dictionary of Visual Language

This seemingly naive book by the visual polymaths Phillip Thompson and Peter Davenport catalogues decades of design discourse up until it’s publication date by Bergstrom and Boyle in 1980, and two years later by Penguin. Remarkably evading being reprinted, the Dictionary of Visual Language is significant for being one of the first books to recognise art and design, like any other language, has a considered rhetoric. With the strict criteria of an “imaginative use of cliché” the book analytically presents through alphabetical sequence familiar subjects with notably unexpected creative approaches. Although the term “cliché” is often shunned like a drunk uncle at a wedding, it’s important to recognise their redeeming qualities within the foundation of graphic communication. It’s a wonder Penguin haven’t re-issued this book but I will happily continue to tape the pages back into the perished glue bind until the day they decide to fall apart.

– Chris Clarke, deputy creative director, The Guardian News and Media

Jim Stoten: Inside the Purple Palm Tree

This edition of Jim Stoten’s Inside the Purple Palm Tree is a well thumbed limited edition trippy jazz ensemble. It’s illustrated, screen printed and hand-bound by colour magician Jim Stoten and is flicked through daily in my house with my two year old supplying the sound effects. It’s so tactile. You can almost feel the 24 screens that were used to produce it. 

– Jo Cochrane, art director, The Guardian’s G2

Edited by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer: The Children’s Treasury of Literature in Colour

A beautiful illustration on almost every page, each one is given a proper amount of space. A different artist has been commissioned for each story creating all these wonderful moods and they work brilliantly as a collection, held together in a framework of clear, consistent typography. The balance of copy to images is really perfect so the book never feels copy heavy. Some of the images sit within the copy but never with fussy text wraps. I love the idea of the different styles to suit different stories and how those images can stay within the memory forever. 

– Sarah Habershon, art director, The Guardian saturday sections

John Berger: Ways of Seeing

I chose this because when we see a piece of art or design we have an emotional response. I read this book at college, it revealed theories and examples of how to break down visuals into elements of understanding – “signifiers” as the book refers to them. As an art student some of this was intuitive, however this book was a breakthrough for me in understanding why we use the visual icons we do to tell a story. Nothing should be style alone, every elements has a job to do. The typography you choose, the picture selection, the crop of an image, the style of illustration all the elements should play a role in the narrative.

– Sara Ramsbottom, art director, The Guardian’s The Guide

Edited by M. Huebner, S. Ehmann, R. Klanten: Tactile

Bringing a design to life is no mean feat, especially when we’re so used to creating with a mouse and a keyboard. Tactile takes the 2D into 3D while getting our hands nice and dirty! I love how illustrative models show the reader that real sense of space that a flat illustration can miss out on. Seeing textures played with for a specific concept adds a lovely personality to the message, plus the thought that someone physically achieved something so beautiful without software gives the designs charm and sense of worth. Tactile has been the starting point of many a cover design, and helps me bring a playful edge to any idea.

– Ellen Wishart, art director, The Guardian and Observer

Bruno Munari: Design As Art

Although this may not be the best forum to say it, I find most writing about design boring. Often it is a pretentious case study or the writer claims to have solved design. Bruno Munari’s Design As Art avoids the pretentious case study, but does in fact, solve design. Or it at least forces the reader to question any presumptions they might have of design and its role within the world. Comprised of essays Bruno wrote in the 1960s for Il Giorno, his advice and thoughts on design are still relevant today. They’re also so broadly applicable that any type of designer can find something insightful. Design As Art is one of those books that I wish I had read earlier.

– Sam Morris, digital designer, The Guardian

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.

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