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Architecture & design

Big ideas in graphic design

— October 2012

Article read level: Art lover

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A spread from 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design

By Stephen Heller and VĂ©ronique Vienne

Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne’s 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design is one of a series that includes 100 Ideas that Changed Fashion and 100 Ideas that Changed Architecture. Heller is a major figure in the graphic design profession, he has written numerous books on design, is an educationalist and was art director at the New York Times for three decades. His co-author is the Parisian writer Véronique Vienne, noted for her art direction.

Arranged roughly in chronological order, the book documents how various ‘ideas’ be they technical and stylistic (overprinting, psychedelic), inventions (comic strips, barcodes) or general concepts (nostalgia, parody) have influenced graphic design over the last hundred years. The criteria for inclusion, according to the authors, is that they are ‘big ideas’ with ‘legs’; that is widespread, recurrent devices and notions, both old and new, that have enhanced graphic design practice and theory over time. Each ‘idea’ gets two pages, comprising a well-written overview explaining the idea, its origins, development and usage, references to examples, and two or more illustrations, one usually being full page. Indeed, this handsome book is lavishly illustrated;  posters, dust jackets, adverts, typography, fine art and photography, and is one of its main strengths.       

100 Ideas that changed Graphic Designis very wide-ranging, informative and frequently stimulating, shedding light on connections between disparate phenomena. A good example is ‘Supergraphics’, originally coined during the 1960s to describe the use of large-scale numbers, words or motifs like rainbows to often transform buildings. It drew on contemporary ‘Op art’, abstract art that exploited optical effects and the illusion of movement. This is linked back to First World War ‘Dazzle-ships’, warships painted with abstract patterns and strips to confound enemy spotters, and in turn to contemporary re-interpretations such as a library in Germany by the hip architects Herzog & de Meuron where the façade is covered in bands of large-scale images.  Some sections are cursory and want expanding (e.g. ‘Illegibility’) or need the relation to graphic design to be made explicit as in ‘Idea No 52 Night Spectaculars’ featuring neon signage and illuminated billboards. There is a short basic glossary and a two-page bibliography. This is a very good book for students and the general reader with a liking for graphics. Design professionals may find it rather lightweight and gimmicky in places.

100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design  by Stephen Heller and Véronique Vienne is published by Laurence King Publishing 2012. 216 pp. 263 col/mono 37 illus. ISBN 978-1-85669-749-1


Peter Jones
Southampton Solent University
Faculty of Creative Industries and Society

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