Book Review: Graphic Style: From Victorian to New Century

7th Apr 2013 | Design, Reviews

Graphic Style: From Victorian to New CenturyI feel like I’ve neglected my blog a little in recent months after a very bloggy period over the Christmas / New Year season… nevermind though, as this will be a first for my blog; a review! I thought I’d start writing reviews of cool design related (and even none design related) stuff I get my hands on, or visit, or experience in some way.

In this review, I’ll be talking about a design book I’ve recently finished reading (well, it was in fact several months ago, but I’ve been too busy to blog about it); Graphic Style: From Victorian to New Century. The book is in its 3rd edition and a collaboration between design critic Steven Heller, and illustrator Seymour Chwast.

I bought it about a year and a half ago after reading a recommendation in Computer Arts magazine but (as with every other book I buy) it took forever to get around to starting it… seeing as I buy books about 3 times faster than I actually read them.

Alas, I eventually got round to reading the book and thought it was even better than I expected.

What Graphic Style is About

De StijlThe book covers art & design styles and movements from the Victorian era to the present day. Covering movements such as Art Nouveau, Constructivism, Art Deco, Swiss Style and even more recent movements such as street art and infographics.

There are over 700 images displayed throughout the book’s 280 pages which, together with information about each movement, give a good overview of the history of graphic design. This includes details of art & design icons throughout history such as Neville Brody and Josef Müller-Brockmann as well as what influence they had on design itself.

Sure the book doesn’t give every little detail about each movement and the designers within them, but it is by no means short.

Why I Was Excited About Reading it

Swiss International StyleWhen I first started the book I was really excited about sprucing up my design knowledge, I’ve never been massively familiar with all the big names in design and decided a while back that I should do a little revision so to speak. So it felt great to be covering what has actually happened in graphic design over the last couple hundred years or so.

Admittedly, I didn’t remain excited throughout the whole thing, despite my exciting start it wasn’t all that long before I got a little tired of reading up on / looking at design from the 19th century, such as the Victorian era. It was interesting at first, but I can only handle so much. Of course, that’s not to say I think any of it should have been left out. It needed to be in the book and I’m glad I took the time to read through it.

Modern

ConstructivismWhat I found especially interesting was getting to the Modernist sections including the Futurism and Constructivism movements. Looking at the work and reading about the designers for these periods blew my mind, I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could produce design work so ‘different’ as early as the early 1900’s.

After reading so much about the Victorian and Art Nouveau movements I was starting to get a little bored, but to then have such a sudden change in subject matter seemed really refreshing, where the designers of these movements were completely rejecting the ornamental styles of the likes of Art Nouveau and embracing the machine age through, at first controversial, methods such as abstract collages of letterforms, photomontages and the interesting technique of incorporating onomatopoeia into designs. It was interesting to discover how forward-thinking and ahead of their time these designers actually were.

Digital

DigitalMy other favourite part of the book (probably my most favourite part of all in fact) was the introduction of digital. The book covers in detail what an impact the Macintosh had on the design industry from the 1980’s onwards.

This section of the book covers work from the likes of Neville Brody and David Carson, including the magazines FUSE and Ray Gun. The work around around this era of 80’s and, most notably, 90’s graphic design I find fascinating. Although some of it does look a little dated now (not in a bad way, in most cases), I find looking at these old, yet in a way quite recent techniques really captivating. The fact that designers could now experiment with different layouts and typography much more freely than before must have been very exciting for those working in the industry at the time.

DigitalPerhaps one reason I find looking at 90’s graphic design so fascinating is the fact I was born in 1986 and am therefore an official ’90s kid’. So I suppose most things from the 90’s generally blow my mind in a blast-from-the-past kind of way (I do, after all, occasionally get enthralled in watching 90’s TV adverts on YouTube… so many memories!).

Although I wasn’t particularly interested in graphic design during my earlier days as a 90’s kid, it does kind of bring back some rather vague memories of the kind of design work my older brother would show me at the time.

This section, more than any other, has inspired me to go about some further reading / research. I recently invested in FUSE 1-20 and am very excited to read it (when I’ll actually get around to it is another matter). I also plan on investing in some more books relating to graphic design in the 90’s and early days of digital.

Inspiration

DigitalOf course, I’ve been sure to pin a lot of the work I’ve seen throughout this book to my beloved Pinterest boards. This will serve as some great inspiration for some upcoming plans I have with regards to my career / life in design, despite some of the work on my boards being nigh on 100 years old.

All in all, Graphic Style is a very interesting read! If you’re passionate about graphic design, interested in reading more about its history or in need of sprucing up your design background knowledge, then this book is for you!

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