Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A History of Graphic Design

Husband bought me a book today.

Philip B. Meggs' A History of Graphic Design (also known as The History of Graphic Design) is a big, fat, heavy, richly-illustrated (in b&w) book. It begins with the words "It is not known precisely when or where the biological species of conscious, thinking people, Homo sapiens, emerged." So it pretty much covers graphic design from there to, well, 1992, when this second edition was published.

A page from "MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan Book of [typeface] Specimens", dated 1881 and featuring terrifyingly ornate Victorian type, suggests that "the bewildering range of possibilities available to the nineteenth-century designer of printing" were almost as bad, bewildering and ripe for abuse as the dizzying array of computer fonts available now.

I've barely had time to stick my nose into it, but most interesting so far are the chapters on how - and with what goals and motivations - familiar logos (ranging from the "CBS eye", to the "Solidarity" logo) were developed. Equally interesting is a large section on how "international symbols" - such as the symbols for "toilet" or "first aid station" in airports around the world are developed - how do you create a symbol instantly recognizable to everyone of every culture speaking every language everywhere around the world? Well, it turns out you start by using examples of the symbol for "toilet" or "first aid station" from all over the world; then you have an international committee review the top 19 or so to choose the one that says "toilet" or "first aid station" to the most people from the most places around the world.

Not only have the latter chapters on modern design inspired me a lot with some projects I've got percolating, but his unexpected gift of the book - picked up at a used book sale - has reminded me of one of the unexpected pleasures of a long, happy partnership... having someone in the world who knows you so well and loves you so much that not only do they know you would love "A History of Graphic Design", they buy it when they see it, for no reason at all, except to make you happy.



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