"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

Book Review: Graphic Design Referenced

Toby Roworth

Jan 28, 2013

For my 21st Birthday I was kindly given a Waterstones voucher. As someone who didn't read books at the time, and still doesn't read them much now, working out what to spend it on took a while.
So, whilst Christmas shopping and inevitably buying as much for myself as anyone else, I went into Waterstones to take a look at their design shelf. The books were mostly hit and miss - I was tempted by a book about manufacturing methods, but eventually settled for "Graphic Design Referenced"
What drew me to the book was how large it's scope was, containing everything from theory to example. It's also very picture heavy (despite having 100,000 words in), which suits me very well, but has enough text to inform sufficiently.
The first quarter of the book is devoted to theory, and wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone studying GCSE graphics (a course I recommend highly to anyone choosing their GCSEs, especially at Reading School, should the tech department still survive). However, the visual content is good enough to keep the reader interested, despite having studied much of it before. This is especially true for the type section, which has content about as worthwhile as "Type Matters" (Jim Williams), but more condensed, like a cheat sheet.
There is a useful section on print production, which is broad enough to suggest picking up the book up when wanting to print something differently, to make it that extra bit special, but doesn't even begin to encroach on the breadth of a manufacturing processes book I nearly bought.
The rest of the book is divided into various forms of example, maintaining the reference book style. There are sections on design in periodicals, print, academia, famous designers and design agencies. If this sounds at all dry, then ignore it - it amounts to several hundred pages of pictures, with a spattering of text to frame them.
These examples are varied and, due to the nature of design, no-one will enjoy all of them, but there's pages and pages of nice examples for everyone. My personal favourite was the NYC 2012 branding proposal, which looked much nicer than what we ended up with (I grew to dislike ours less over the summer, but remained distinctly disappointed).
The book, although heavily graphics based, frequently steps into the wider range of design disciplines, and most pages wouldn't look out of place in a Rob Phillips design process lecture (although there was a worrying lack of Dieter Rams), with many influential products getting a look-in.
The last section of the book is one of the best summaries of type families I've seen to date. Comic Sans makes a cameo appearance, along with a tragic reminder that "it was never intended for public release". Being right at the back, it's perfectly situated for those moments when you want a nice, professional-looking, font that isn't Helvetica, as it's very easy to find. The same goes for the theory section, which is right at the front. This leaves the middle as a nice "flick to random page for inspiration" section. This may be coincidental, but I like to think that it was designed like that!
My one hangup is that the text isn't justified. This is a personal preference, and can be debated ad-infinitum, but I think it would've looked much nicer justified. There've been times where I felt the layout was a little too messy for a graphics book, but looking through again whilst writing I think they've done a pretty good job getting so many pictures onto each page and still maintaining some semblance of grid - I don't envy their task.
I can't say much more about this book - take a quick look at the preview below, other than recommending it to anyone with at least a passing interest in design. At £25 RRP its not cheap (though it can be had for cheaper online - no surprise high street chains are closing down), but it's encouraged me to keep some money aside for more books like it.