A Selection of Type and Design Books

A book purchase can be inspired by an impulse, a glancing judgment of the contents page or a cover design. Here are glances at some recent design books, a subjective selection of inspiring quotes and excerpts:


Multiple Signatures: On Designers, Authors, Readers and Users
by Michael Rock/2×4
Rizzoli, 2013
400 pages

Michael Rock mixes descriptions of studio projects with blunt, thought-provoking essays old and new that remind you that graphic design can be a very interesting and difficult undertaking.

“…a design career is a series of inherently irrational accidents imperfectly molded into something seemingly coherent.” (p. 98)

“There are no ‘critics’ — usually, best friends in drag — no inti-midation.” — Rem Koolhaas, (p. 116)


Alphabets of Wood
Luigi Melchiori & the history of Italian wood type
By James Clough and Chiara Scattolin
Tipoteca Italiana, 2014
208 pages

Alphabets of Wood sheds light on Italian wood type and the treasures of the Tipoteca Italiana collection of wood type and ephemera. In her section of the book, Chiara Scattolin focuses on one type designer, Luigi Melchiori. After achieving success, Melchiori was invited to move his business from the village of Crespano to Turin, and:

“Though flattered by the offer, Melchiori considered it an enticing mirage which threatened to distract him from his little workshop, thereby distancing him from security. He saved those letters, along with other personal papers, in the attic for a long time — but he was convinced that the emigrant’s life was not for him, as he was very attached to his hometown. In Crespano he was somebody, despite his somewhat withdrawn and reserved character; his business was rooted here and had flourished, allowing him to maintain his family with dignity.” (p. 200)


Design Your Life
Applying design principles to your life
By Vince Frost
Lantern/Penguin Books, 2014
340 pages

Just as they design things for others, designers should shape their own lives. The author writes from the personal experience of building an impressive career. This book uses bold, large-scale typography and interviews to impart motivational messages about living well. Among them is:

“To avoid criticism, say NOTHING, do NOTHING, be NOTHING.”
— Elbert Hubbard (pp. 170-171)


Books, Letterforms and Design in Asia
By Sugiura Kohei, in Conversation with Leading Asian Designers
Co-published by ADARG and The Marg Foundation, 2005
352 pages

This beautiful little book offers much-needed thoughtful insight into Asian graphic design. It contains essays and conversations with Tsuno Kaitano, Lu Jing-ren, Ahn Sang-soo, Chung Byoung-kyoo, Huang Yung-sung, R.K. Joshi, and Kirti Trivedi. A recurring theme is the search for Asian identities in design. On this note, Tsuno Kaitano says of his time teaching in Ulm, Germany in 1964–67:

“I’ve likened my experience in Germany to standing in front of a mirror that the Germans had polished for me. I was able to see the reflection of my own form in the mirror of a different culture.” (p. 15)


A–Z of Letterpress: Founts from The Typography Workshop
Alan Kitching
Lawrence King Publishing, 2015
272 pages

It won’t take long to read this handsome book, but you might want to look at it for a while. It presents 29 alphabets of “wood-letter founts” from the collection of Englishman Alan Kitching. Asserting the importance of Kitching’s collection, the introduction to the book announces:

“Yet this is not the detritus of a dilettante, nor the research trail of an academic.” (p. 7)


Neue Schriften. / New Typefaces.
Isabel Naegele, Petra Eisele, Annette Ludwig
Niggli Verlag, 2014
248 pages

Published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gutenberg-Museum in Mainz, Germany, this book looks at 19 new typefaces and interviews their designers. The introduction states:

“This publication, however, shows that current type design is not subject to randomness or a fashionable ‘hype’: from the rich international cosmos of typefaces it presents experimental type designs, based either on a spontaneous idea or the concept of an individually chosen design project; there are display fonts with a small range of styles or typefaces for books with large type families, which, often over a number of years, were developed systematically with passion, endurance and an unswerving attention to characteristic detail.” (p. 13)


The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic
Jürgen Holstein, editor
Taschen, 2015
450 pages

Valuable books like this help extend the outlines of graphic design history. Its publication coincides with an apparent revival of interest in Weimar Germany. The poignant Foreword by Christoph Stötzl ends:

“Everything gathered, researched, and lovingly brought to light herein might from a distance look like just another ‘special collection.’ In reality, it is a monument to the sense of what was possible in the better Germany that existed between 1918 and 1933. Looking at this monument, who can help feeling quiet and wistful, saddened by such an auspicious beginning that was denied the chance to progress?” (p. 10)

— Doug Clouse