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A Case For Art and Architecture Books

When most people think of a book, rarely do they think of it as a work of art. Most of us think of books as a tool for the communication of ideas and information. If the layout, typesetting, and design are well executed the book becomes a seamless experience. You might be attracted by the cover, subject, and writing style, but it’s still just a book. The publisher Taschen has found a way to transcend this concept by producing limited edition books that elevate the content to a true art form. 

I often turn to the Taschen website for design inspiration simply because their book designs are so good. Page layout, use of typography, color pallets, etc. When it comes to visual design, Taschen nails it. Lately, I have been returning to the Limited Edition section of the site, not for inspiration but out of pure lust for what can truly be called works of art. Case in point “Piano Virtuoso” a $1250.00 limited edition, 200+ page tome on the life work of architect Renzo Piano. 

This book is limited to a run of 200 and comes delivered in a hand-built wooden crate that is identical to the ones his studio uses to deliver architectural models to his clients. It has a hand-pulled lithograph of an original drawing by Piano that is signed and numbered of the Menil Collection Foundation in Houston, Texas that also elevates this to a status beyond what we typically consider a “book”.

With this being limited to an edition of just 200, and a price point of $1250.00 I’m going to have to be content either browsing online and dreaming or opt for the less expensive version of the book with no hand-built case or lithograph. One of the local Barnes and Nobel stores actually has a copy of the non-limited edition books so I had a chance to actually see to see it in person last week. 

Like everything Taschen produces, the quality is top-notch. Beautiful page spreads that built a visual rhythm as you scan from page to page. There is an elegant use of photography, illustration, and type that helps to anchor the body copy and showcase Piano’s genius. Gatefold spreads are used to show the architecture in the context of its surroundings allowing for panoramic views. The copy is crisp and concise giving just enough information without becoming overwhelming or granular. The book does a great job of building the story of Piano’s career to date and the many existences of his singular aesthetic.

As for the Limited Edition version f the book being a work of art, I would contend that it’s close. It’s definitely a piece of fine craft when you think about the hand-built case and the limited edition print that come with it. Maybe not a work of fine art but a highly collectible hand-crafted object showcasing the art of a genius. If I could justify it, I’d add it to my small collection of Taschen XXL books. From the photo’s I think it looks absolutely amazing. That wooden case is exquisite. 

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Graphic Means.

After a succesful Kickstarter campaign last year, production on Graphic Means started and it looks like it is getting close to a release date. When it hopefully comes to a theater near me I’ll be going to see it. I want to see it for the history not the nostalgia, well maybe a bit of the nostalgia. The thing is, I did all the things shown in the trailer from paste up, to color stripping and I do not want to go back to it. Sorry folks, the computer changed everything and the way we design today is better. Yes graphic design is still a refined craft that takes a lot of skill and dedication. No design wasn’t better back then simply because it was analog. I hated making Chromalins, doing paste up, and cutting color separations by hand. Did it teach me a lot? Hell yes, there are things I learned 30 years ago that still apply to what I do today, but that doesn’t mean I want to go back to the olden pre-digital days.

The trailer looks good, and the history of how the graphic design business has evolved should be pretty interesting though. So yes, I’ll be sitting in the theater, reminiscing and hopefully learning about the history of my trade as well.

P.S. they have a cool Instagram feed as well.

Friday Inspiration. The Carnegie Mellon Swiss Poster Collection.

I’m always on the look out for good sources of inspiration, and this morning I found a great one. The Carnegie Mellon Swiss Poster Collection with over 300 images from 1970 through 2009. The extensive collection was established by Swiss graphic designer Ruedi Ruegg and Professor Daniel Boyarski, and contains works from designers Max Bill, Paul Bruhwiler, Ruedi Kulling, Herbert Leupin, Josef Muller-Brockmann, Roger Pfund, Ruedi Ruegg, Niklaus Troxler, Wolfgang Weingart, Kurt Wirth, R. Schraivogel, Cornel Windlin, and many more.

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Design Friday. Cold War Era Nuclear Fallout Calculators.

When you think about graphic design, the last thing you probably think about is total nuclear destruction, or chemical weapons, but back during the analog days of the cold war the two were oddly connected. The images below are analog calculators from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. They come from a period of time when the world was locked in a cold war, with the possibility of it turning nuclear hot. These calculators were used by the military to quickly determine in the field things like blast potential, damage potential, fall out rates, chemical weapons effects. They are chilling, oddly fascinating, and in some ways striking examples of visual design.

Each of these calculators follows a basic design formula. They had to be easy to read, and use in extreme conditions. For the most part they follow that rule. Type faces are sans serif, color pallets are bright or minimal, legibility is good even though they had to cram so much data into each one, the layout while predetermined by the math, is visually appealing, and if you look at these objects removed from their original context, they are visually interesting. From a production standpoint we have to bear in mind that the original design for these objects was completely done by hand using ink pens, french curves, ruby-lith, and possibly type pasted up by hand. Pretty impressive when you think about the intricate curves, and type that is set on an arc.

If you want to know more about these devices, why and how they were used, click through to Calculating for some fairly interesting reading.

Cold-War-Calculators-1 Cold-War-Calculators-26 Cold-War-Calculators-9 Cold-War-Calculators-11 Cold-War-Calculators-15 Cold-War-Calculators-16 Cold-War-Calculators-17 Cold-War-Calculators-19 Cold-War-Calculators-21 Cold-War-Calculators-23 Cold-War-Calculators-24 damage-probability-computer-noexif-3 nestler-commanders-weapons-effect-estimator-front nuclear-effects-estimator-air-burst nuclear-effects-estimator-surface-burst radiac-calculator-abc-m1a1-front

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Friday Inspiration. Zoran Lucic Does Football.

Bosnian graphic designer Zoran Lucic has created a series of posters featuring some of the greatest football player of all time. (soccer players for all the American readers). The posters have great layouts, typography, high contrast photos, and color pallets with individual styles that cover a wide range and are reflective of the period for each player. Really nice work from Lucic. If you click the link above you can see the entire series. I have included about 25 of them in the slide show below, but his Behance page has at least 50.

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A Good Day To Die Hard. The Infographics.

The latest segment in the “Die Hard” series has hit theaters and to celebrate the explosive event, RSA has put together a few infographics. The images below chronicle what was blown up, punched, broken destroyed, hurt, vanquished, saved, rescued, and said, along with the cost to insure John McClane. I like these because they are not only packed with fun facts, but because they are really well designed with solid layouts and a nice graphical style.

Die Hard infographicdie_hard_2_infoDie Hard insurance infographic