Jan 13

Pentagram – Five

Pentagram continues! It’s 1999, exciting times – early days of the New Labour government, the end of the Clinton era, the dot com boom! And here is another telephone directory sized volume of work. 50 solid case studies in fact fill out the 500 hundred pages covering the period between 1993 and 1998.



So we have some extremely tasteful packaging, modern with just the right amount of classicism to fit timelessly on the shelves. That international slick and corporate yet homely country kitchen style? Pentagram nailed that. The wide tracked type filling each line. Nailed. The curvaceous pastel plastic household electricals? Nailed. The tactile, eye burning electro-pop record cover? Er… nailed.

Number of websites? Zero. Number of user interfaces? Zero. Ah.

The introduction is an interesting piece, exposing the slight fib in early Pentagram days about their organisation and inherent collaborative nature. Turns out, they didn’t really do it: the partners pretty much ran distinctly separate practices under a red umbrella. Described are the steps the firm took to expand into the US, and embrace their second generation. With extremely tight graphic design, mostly for print, packaging and signage fully represented hindsight suggests a small digital blindspot.

pentagram-5-2Still, a cracking telephone directory. Remember telephones? Anyway, prices vary widely from cheap to not so cheap on Amazon used.


Jan 13

Pentagram – Compendium

If the previous book felt a little lightweight, Compendium weighs in for the defence. Big, wide, fat and bright red this volume covers the period up to 1993. Quite the interesting cut off date, as this is a distinctly pre-digital. Sure, there’s lots of desktop typesetting of the highest quality, but the world this work lives in is still unchanged, unconnected.


It’s difficult to condense the contents of this book into a couple of montages – there is loads of it, and some decent sized essays by the partners and others to accompany the really good quality images. The number of partners (including, briefly, Peter Saville) has clearly increased, as has the amount of US based work.


This big book reflects a busy, big, global design agency. First editions are quite expensive used, while second editions seem much cheaper.

Jan 13

Pentagram – Ideas on Design

Hardcover this time – fancy. So here we are in 1986, and Pentagram must have been really busy because they appear to have phoned this one in. No analysis of design agency life, but a tepid introduction from ad man Peter “Year in Provence” Mayle – how very 80s.


As a picture book of the work, it feels a bit thin, relying on graphic design much more heavily than in earlier collections. The pages are sparse, not so much packed with insight and drawings, works in progress or unfinished concepts. The influence of new technology in their most primitive forms are beginning to be felt, but not yet deeply understood. Even the logotypes turn out less timeless and more style over substance. The 80s.


But even here, on a bad day, Pentagram still throw down a few legendary shapes. Their worst is better than many others best. This first proper coffee-table design book sold loads, so used copies are available literally for pennies..

Jan 13

Pentagram – Living By Design

It’s 1978 and the world is getting redesigned, mostly by Pentagram it seems. This book is fantastic, and I wish I’d had it as a young designer. Packed with the usual mix of architecture, interior, graphic and product design (with maybe a tiny bias to the product here) as well as some detailed project dissections this book also contains the first dive into the tradecraft of design. With a chunk of the rationale presented to clients to persuade and direct, we discover more of the ‘why’ of design.


The written work is a real joy too: there is an essay about product design “The first fifty years” by Kenneth Grange, a piece by Theo Crosby on architectural conservation and a revealing (and fun) description of “How Pentagram works” – along with team-at-work photos.


This book sold by the bucketload, so copies should be easily available from Amazon used books.

Jan 13

Pentagram – The Work of Five Designers

Except mine isn’t a first edition (1972) but a US reprint by the Whitney Library of Design (1974) and they had already expanded to six partners so stopped counting.

The work here does the talking, with broad sections for interiors, graphics and industrial design with some clients spanning more than one area, showing off the multi-disciplinary strength of Pentagram. For Reuters, not only producing the ingenious ticker-tape brand but expanding to build a beautiful woodland radio listening chalet and Clockwork Orange style boardroom.

pentagram-1-1The graphic design especially is crisp and fresh, much of it would feel perfectly contemporary now, as would most of the interiors and architectural projects.


This book suffers a bit from a lack of colour plates, and the image quality of the other images isn’t the finest ever, but this was meant to be an accessible book, presenting design in the shape of one particular agency to the world.

It’s not that rare, but not as cheap as you might expect. See Amazon UK used books.


Jan 13

Jan Tschichold – Master Typographer

Tschichold in the 1920s was a pioneer of incredible, beautiful asymmetrical typographic based layouts, an literally wrote the book on this new style, called The Neue Typography (here’s a PDF). And then, he rewrote the book on classical symmetrical typography too. Master. I don’t have that (The Form of the Book) for obvious reasons. Nor a PDF …yet.

Back in a dusty design studio at art college there was one slim, battered book we conspired to keep out on loan from the library at all times, on rotation between us. It was the Ruari Mclean biography of Tschichold and perfectly covered the modernist work from the 1920s and the return to classicism of 1940s into Penguin and beyond. But, I didn’t buy that book.

This is a massive Thames & Hudson volume, with a deeper and wider spread of work, stuff I hadn’t seen elsewhere or in good quality large reproduction. It is a monster design book, even the ink density seems be higher than many others I’ve seen. Bravo.


It’s not even that expensive on Amazon new or used.

Jan 13

Paul Rand

One of my favourite graphic designers, Paul Rand needs no introduction. A legend who practically invented the role of designer in public life. Thankfully, his work is thoroughly  documented.

On one side we have the big yellow Phaidon Paul Rand book. It’s got a series of pretty great essays by Steven Heller about the man, his life and work and a good selection of big colour plates, not just of the famous logos but broad coverage of his playful illustrations for advertising and children’s books. This book is widely available and cheaply for a used copy.


And If that’s all I had, I’d be happy. But much more interesting are the books he authored – particularly A Designer’s Art. As Heller says “here was the pioneer American Modernist, a legend in his time, explaining the essence of what makes good design.”

Well out of print, copies are a bit expensive even for my tastes, upwards of £70 used on Amazon. But it’s a great read so here’s a PDF. You’re welcome.


Jan 13

Elements of Typographic Style – Robert Bringhurst

Small, brick-like, dense. At first glance, a comprehensive technically impeccable run through typography history and modern best-practice. At first glance, a touch dry you might think. Wrong.

On starting reading though the text comes alive, enthusiasm and joy in the very best of typographic history streams through in smart, friendly writing – Bringhurst is a poet as his day job and it shows. If you are stuck in a world where Helvetica is considered the height of cool clean readability, prepare to have your world turned upside down.

If you only own one book on typography, this would be it.


Available in a new hardback edition, as well as plenty of second hand earlier editions.

Also see the fantastic Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web showing how best to use modern CSS to implement each detail.

Jan 13

The End of Print – David Carson

So precisely in time does this book position itself, it feels like it shouldn’t exist now. But in 1995 this was the cutting edge of graphic design, occurring at the frontline of pasteup and digital technique and rooted in cool California. Surfing! Rock and Roll! Skateboards!

Of the deconstructed type and bulldozed technology so broadly showcased in Typography Now, this collection of Carson’s work is finely tuned and on the whole much more successful. Two of the spreads here are burned into my mind, favourites for all time.

Less well known are Carson’s advertising layouts, Pepsi below and Nike in the book but I think these are at least as original and well resolved as the editorial work.

endofprintAvailable in a second edition for fair prices used from Amazon.


Jan 13

2000AD – Prog 508

While I’m reeling through the art and design books that have made an impression, I must back up a little more and include this one last nostalgia kick before we roll back into first gear.

Why include this seemingly randomly numbered copy of the galaxy’s greatest comic? Well, it’s the one that began a long unbroken subscription, lasting at least until art college I think. It was funny, it was cartoon violent, the art was fantastic, it was 26 pence (earth money). I’d probably had the odd earlier issue, but this was a full on newsagent commitment, to be picked up by bike on a Sunday morning rain or shine. Shortly after this issue the paper and size changed, and a bit later still the logo got spruced up, but this pulpy squarish mostly black and white comic still seems pretty good to me.

2000AD Prog 508


The galaxy’s greatest comic is now available on the iTunes store for iPad/iPhone.