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by no means a verbatim account of their respective processes. These essays
combine analysis and critique, aided by the makers’ descriptions but not
solely based on their revelations. Moreover, this book includes commentary
that sometimes echoes the canon, and at other times challenges it. The goal
is to provide a viable foundation for understanding a process that will aid in
developing literacy for design language(s).
I admit that reading this book will not provide a cure-all for
design illiteracy. True design literacy requires a practical and theoretical
understanding of how design is made and how it functions as a marketplace
tool as well as a cultural signpost, which takes years of learning and
experience to acquire. The title Design Literacy refers to sharing common
knowledge—certain facts, impressions, and opinions—about graphic design
and its broader cultural affiliations, but this is not a textbook about how or
what to make. By way of confession, the title more precisely reflects a
personal journey. Although I hope that the book will be used to increase
knowledge, the essays collected here began as stepping stones in my own
education—how I became design literate, not only regarding the language(s)
of design but regarding the legacy, the individuals, and objects too.
This revision includes a majority of essays from Design Literacy, a
lesser number from Design Literacy (continued), and a fair number of new
pieces. The decision concerning what to write about is based entirely on my
interest in (and passion for) objects that I have continuously researched over
many years as part of larger histories or profiles I’ve written for magazines
and books. The selection of what to include was based either on what I
believe to be an important work by a significant practitioner (an archetype or
paradigm of a particular genre) or simply on what sparks my curiosity.
Milton Glaser said of the first Design Literacy, “It is all meat and
no potatoes,” suggesting that my sidebar approach lacked the intellectual
substance necessary to glue the essays together. According to Glaser, the
first book was flawed because it did not make cohesive links between one
object (or essay) and another. Rather than accept these stories as self-contained
units, as they were intended, my esteemed critic wanted a more
definitive overview that used the selected objects and themes as support
for grand conclusions. My rationale for not doing that was simple: Conventional
graphic design history has already been written as a linear narrative
flowing from one movement, period, or style to another, and this is just one
approach of many. The problem for me is that not all design fits snugly into
well-organized categorical berths. Moreover, this book is a compliment to
the late Philip B. Meggs’s A History of Graphic Design and Richard Hollis’s
Graphic Design: A Concise History, rather than being a linear narrative.
I realize, however, that some themes covered in both Design
Literacy and Design Literacy (continued) are not recognized as part of the
graphic design canon, and that it is a stretch on my part to inject them
into serious design discourse. Another designer whom I greatly admire
said of the last volume that he strongly objected to seeing untutored or
naïve design—such as anonymous shooting targets and raunchy 1960s
underground newspapers—covered in the same venue, and with the same
reverence, as highly professional work by (for example) Paul Rand, Will
Burtin, or Saul Bass. Yet what better way to examine comparative merits of
visual communication than to look seriously, and respectfully, at all forms
on the design spectrum—high or low—if they reveal something important
about the nature of what we do