Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graphic design: visual comparisons

I went to some book sales today. At one, I'm sure a graphic designer donated a lot of books, most of which I bought. You know, I frequently buy whole collections that belonged to people I never knew.

I will romanticize said probable-designer for a long time, just like I have mental ideas about the owners of all of my stamped mid-century lit crit books (the most beautiful books I own), or the set of 25 or so Time Reading Program editions I bought all at once, or even all of the Ian Fleming pulps that we bought (they were all the same edition, 17th printing) and then sold because we got sick of Ian Fleming pulps.

For the moment, a few of my discoveries:

Lucas's 1960s Ukrainian Military Polar Exploration watch shown for scale

Two books from John Lewis's Reinhold series of Studio Paperbacks about art, one on Typography by Lewis himself and the other called Graphic Design: visual comparisons, both printed in 1964.

I plan to read the first, because I'm more and more revealing myself an amateur in type, more and more lusting for type, and more and more liking the idea of sounding like I know what I'm talking about when I talk about typography.

The latter I read, it's mostly pictures. They're paired based on similar "problems," and show that different, equally valuable solutions can be found from each advertising problem (blah blah blah). The picture above shows pages around the theme of emotion, the left being a Swiss Müller-Brockmann poster ("less noise," perhaps?), the right is Saul Bass's 1958 logo for Bonjour Tristesse.

Graphic Design is a little heavy on the Fletcher/Forbes/Gill designs, owing mostly to the fact that those three wrote the book.

But I found this part of the introduction poignant and cute, o fellow lovers of the beautiful and vain and graphic mundane:
The vast majority of advertisements, posters, television commercials, booklets and other printed matter clutter our environment and insult our intelligence.
And besides, they are so monumentally boring.
We've all said this! Admit it. We're snobs, we're well-meaning, beauty-loving snobs in every generation.

There are, however, some designers and even clients who insist that the public deserve and will respond to much higher standards in graphics. They are convinced, as Charlie Chaplin was convinced, that the best way to entertain the public is first to entertain oneself.
Let's look at some of these designers, from the back covers of these books:

Left: Lewis. Right: Fletcher, Forbes, and Gill, though I don't know which is which.

Midcentury designers: they're just like us! They have cats and houseplants, they answer phones and smoke cigarettes. And they look like Don Draper, and prob'ly get just as many ladies and have fabulous bachelor pads with really nice stereo consoles and Eames-y furniture and Albers prints. I was going to joke that the probably studied under Albers, but it turns out they did! Well, at least Alan Fletcher.

This is all to say that I'm in love with these men. I will pretend that whoever donated this lot of midcentury design books for my purchase was just like them. I will swoon about it.

Anyway, I picked up a few Graphis Annuals ('64-'65 and '65-'66) as well, and a similar Italian annual, Pubblicita in Italia 1966-67. They are nice to have and nice to look at and generally very nice, except that I'm getting very, very tired of Milton Glaser/Seymour Chwast/Pushpin-y 1960s rugged figuralism and cartoonish portraits and all that. But then again, these days I go to a museum and can hardly pay attention to anything that's actually even a picture of something. I'm a nonrepresentational kind of girl. Also, there's so much of it. Don't worry, though, I have a ton of Milton and Seymour and Pushpin, and I plan on scanning it all eventually.

But also, in the back of my mind I just wish that all of Graphis Annual was books, skip the ads and posters and everything else. However, both Graphis editions feature Paul Rand's work for IBM (the packaging here being The One, but he did a lot more work with them that's out there). Ughhgsdfhsldkjf, is all I have to say, because Paul Rand Typewriter Ribbon Packaging Design would be like the design equivalent of what prisoners ask for for their last supper. Like, dear Warden, if I could have anything before I die it would be lobster on a truffle steak burger with my grandma's mashed potatoes and a side of snozzberry pie, except dear God if I could have anything before I die it would be a Paul Rand-designed early 1960s set of typewriter ribbons. You know? And then you find out such a thing really exists, and then Graphis Annual won't stop taunting you with it, and you don't have it, so you just drool and cry all over Graphis Annual 1964 for the rest of your life.

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