Chock-full of design inspiration (part 1)

Our shipment arrived home from Australia last week, and I had the chance to choose which of my design books and magazines to keep in my studio. After I posted a photograph of my updated shelves on Twitter, several people asked about the books I’ve collected, so over the next few weeks, I’m going to write about them.

My studio bookcase is chock-full of design inspiration

Magazines

I daren’t count how much money I’ve spent in magazine shops like Magma in London and Manchester, and online over the past few years. Magazines have undergone a renaissance recently and when you’re short on inspiration or you want to learn about grid design and layout techniques, print magazines are a fabulous place to start looking and learning.

I buy as varied a selection as I can and rarely collect more than one or two issues, unless a magazine finds a new art direction or has a major redesign. I choose magazines with plenty of interesting design elements, but if a magazine includes only a few pieces of inspiration, I’ll admit I’m not above snapping photographs of them with my phone before putting it back on the shelf.

The Gentlewoman, Racquet, Record Culture, and Uppercase were recent purchases, and if you asked me to recommend three magazines to start your own collection, I’d tell you about:

Eye magazine

Eye magazine

Eye magazine is “The world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal” and you should start with #96, “Anatomy of a Magazine” which is part one of a two-part special on designing a magazine experience. One of the best reasons to put your hand in your pocket for this issue is a feature on Tom Wolsey’s art direction of Town magazine.

Eye magazine website

BranD magazine

BranD magazine

As you might have already guessed, BranD magazine focusses on brand design. You’ll find plenty of inspiration in every issue, but issue #32 from 2017 is a favourite of mine as it focusses on editing and making creative magazines, something which is just as appropriate online as in print.

BranD magazine website

Lagom magazine

Lagom magazine

I have to admit to being skeptical that Elliot and Samantha Jay Stocks would be able to maintain the quality of Lagom after the first few issues, but they’ve improved the magazine with every issue. Now with an updated design, Lagom shows off Elliot’s skills as an editorial designer, is full of design inspiration, and contains some fabulous articles.

Lagom magazine website


Books

It seems to me that with one or two notable exceptions like those published by Smashing Magazine, books on website design and development have got shorter and shorter, to the extent that there are very few big books published on those subjects anymore. Fortunately, people are still publishing books on design and after I gave away most of my web books, I replaced them with books on art direction and design fundamentals and inspiration.

The Art of Mondo

The Art of Mondo

I’m an avid collector of Mondo and have some incredible King Kong and Planet of the Apes posters in my collection. Mondo posters sell out incredibly quickly, but fortunately there’s now a thick book which catalogues their work.

Buy on Amazon

1974 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Graphic Standards Manual Revival

1974 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Graphic Standards Manual Revival

Conversations about design systems and pattern libraries has increased interest in the design manuals produced by big companies and organisations in the past. This revival of the 1974 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Graphic Standards Manual started as a Kickstarter project and raised CA$51,921. This reproduction was a limited edition so you won’t pick up a copy easily.

Original Kickstarter

British Rail Corporate Identity Manual

British Rail Corporate Identity Manual

In much the same vein, this reproduction of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual is much more widely available. I ordered mine online. It didn’t arrive on time.

Buy

1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual

1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual

This 1975 reproduction of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual covers the design of everything from a business card to the branding on a booster rocket.

Buy

Designing Obama

Scott Thomas

Designing Obama

I wanted to buy a printed copy of Scott Thomas’ Designing Obama when he launched it on Kickstarter in 2009. Sadly, the cost of shipping internationally was prohibitive at the time and I made do with the iPad app. A couple of years ago, I emailed Scott and he kindly sent me one of his few remaining copies. It was worth the wait.

Original Kickstarter

1973 Official Symbol of The American Revolution

1973 Official Symbol of The American Revolution

This little book is a reproduction of the usage guidelines for the 1973 Official Symbol of The American Revolution. It’s short and sharp and can teach you a lot about how brand elements need to adapt to different applications.

Buy

1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual

1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual

This compact reproduction of the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual is also readily available and contains perhaps the most complete explanation of how to use Helvetica that I have ever seen.

Buy

Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

Aaron Draplin

Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

Aaron Draplin is a personal idol of mine. I spoke with him on my podcast while he was preparing this book about petty much everything he’s ever done, and I know the love he put into it. If there’s one modern day graphic design book you should own, this is it.

Buy on Amazon

The Process is the Inspiration

House Industries

The Process is the Inspiration

I’m also a big fan of House Industries and their work. This anthology is not only beautifully designed, it’s an incredible object in itself and just holding proves to me that a digital edition can never come close to the experience of a printed book.

Buy on Amazon

This is the section of my bookcase I devoted to art direction and the work of some of the most influential art directors of the past 90 years.

Alexey Brodovitch

Kerry William Purcell

Alexey Brodovitch

Alexey Brodovitch art directed Harper’s Bazaar magazine from 1934–1958. Brodovitch was more than an art director; he was an artist and a skilful photographer who taught, among others, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon. It’s evident that it was Brodovitch’s knowledge of photography that gave his work its classic feel. He instinctively knew how to combine photographs with written content, often turning text into shapes that contrasted with or mirrored the forms in his photography.

Brodovitch’s art direction for the Harper’s Bazaar fashion magazine has influenced designers ever since and I find his layout sketches most informative because I often learn more about how someone thinks by looking at their work-in-progress rather than I do a finished result.

Buy on Amazon

The Graphic Language of Neville Brody

Jon Wozencroft

The Graphic Language of Neville Brody

In the mid-1980s, I was obsessed with music, so it was hard not to know about The Face magazine. I knew there was something special about it, although at the time I didn’t know who Neville Brody was or what an art director did. It was only in the past few years that I became obsessed by Brody’s work and over the coming months I’m going to speak and write about how his work inspires me by sharing some of my favourite designs and explaining how the might apply to the web.

Buy on Amazon

The Story of The Face: The Magazine that Changed Culture

Paul Gorman

The Story of The Face: The Magazine that Changed Culture

The Face was a culture, fashion, and music magazine published in Britain until 2004 and Brody worked as its art director until 1986. Like punk, The Face had a rebellious attitude to the establishment, and much of Brody’s work was experimental.

He once described The Face as “a living laboratory where [he] could experiment and have it published.” His golden rule was to question everything.

Buy on Amazon

Various Face magazines from the 1980s

Various Face magazines from the 1980s

While books on influential art directors who worked decades ago are sometimes the only way to see their work, there’s nothing better than finding original examples. I bought various copies of the Face magazine from the 1980s a couple of years ago and I look at them almost every week to remember how design can change people’s perceptions and reflect our culture.


That’s the end of the first section of my bookcase, chock-full of design inspiration from books and magazines. This bookcase is bulging, so over the next few weeks, I’ll write about what’s in the other three sections and how these books and magazines inspire me.

Could you or your team benefit from knowing how to use art direction to improve your product or website? My in-house training and workshops can help.

Improve your product or website


Availability

I’m available for hire to consult on and design products and websites. Based in North Wales, I travel regularly to work with clients world-wide.

Available from January 2019

Talk soon

For work enquiries email

Or call us on +44 (0)1745 851848

Studio

Stuff & Nonsense Ltd.
Eversleigh, Lon Capel
Gwaenysgor
Flintshire, North Wales
LL18 6EJ, UK