Of all the design related books on my shelf How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul is definitely the most thumbed. Its tatty corners and mucky cover hint at its usefulness since I bought it about five years ago. And you I know I’m not alone. So I was pretty excited to receive Graphic Design: A User’s Manual for review. And, in this book, Adrian Shaughnessy does not disappoint, delivering another great addition any designer’s bookshelf.
When the book arrived, I decided that I’d try and use it objectively. After all it is a reference book in every sense of the word. My decision was helped by its size (it’s encyclopedic), and my workload (spiralling), so I didn’t read it cover to cover. Over the past month or so it’s been sat next to my mug, the first point of reference for the times when a question arises that we might usually ask an experienced colleague, friend or a search engine. If it came close to answering the questions of daily design business I’d be very impressed.
It wasn’t love at first sight. I mean I liked the way it was presented, the mono-spaced type, alphabetically organised topics and the super-simple colour-plan, but I was expecting a more diversely populated reference manual—more like a design dictionary. Look up ‘invoices’, get a list of best practices. Look-up ‘bleed’, find some hard and fast rules. Look-up ‘book cover design’, get a winning formula. But this is not a how-to guide as such, nor is it conventional in the way it’s written. However those are the exact reasons why I’m really starting to like it. It’s a conversational directory of experiences, ideas and discussion themes. Instead of telling you what’s best and what isn’t, it draws on the vast and enviable experience of the author to describe those daily situations you find yourself in and offers another point of view. How do I deal with a seemingly balmy client who wants that ‘cute’ photo of his dog in his accountancy brochure? What kind of things should I look out for when I’m choosing graduates for placement? Can designer envy be used in a positive way? It’s a bit like consulting your favourite tutor, a helpful creative director, or the artworker at your preferred printer. It has easily digestible columns of opinion that are equal in their ability to inspire and direct. Every graphic design student will love this book. Aspiring designers will quote it in essays and pitches, older more experienced designers will read it and nod approvingly. Designers from many different disciplines will recommend it to their peers and even the rock-star designers that make the FFF homepage will learn something new.
One of its strengths is the informal way it’s written. The author’s wit is evident when covering a subject that invokes a pet-hate reaction. For the author it’s the pointless addition of extra marks to an ellipsis….. Similarly I hate the common misuse of the exclamation mark!!!! I like a little comic relief and it’s welcome here, poking fun at those who naively abuse the good rules.
Another nice touch is the consistency of footnotes and references. Each topic has a few notes and there’s always a reference for a more in-depth read. So it makes a good stepping-off point. For example, I’ve recently become more interested in book cover design—I’m designing a website for an author—and a reference lead me to the work of Derek Birdsall and his Notes on book Design. In that vein I can see teachers of Graphic Design, getting a little sick of students doing a ‘follow the white rabbit’ number, but that can be no bad thing. It’s a great book to follow.
It may not be exhaustive and there are missing topics, but if the author had tried to comment on everything I wanted to look-up, it’d have been a foot thick. Some of the small things are better left too Google. The rest is covered here.
In short, buy it!
Here’s the official press video by the author Adrian Shaughnessy.
Words: Liam Crean
Photography: Malcolm Menzies