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Graphic Design: A User’s Manual—Book Review

Graphic Design: A User's Manual - Cover

Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5183Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5185Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5187Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5188Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5189Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5190Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5194Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5197Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5198Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5201Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5208Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5210Graphic Design: A User's Manual - IMG_5214

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

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Have your say

    malte
    16th Mar 2010
    2:14 pm
  1. i totally agree — picked it up a couple of weeks ago and almost read it through. feels like a more elaborate, indexed version of “how to be a graphic designer …”. good, solid reference.


  2. JackJack
    16th Mar 2010
    2:33 pm
  3. Shamefully I’ve never seen/heard of this book before. Great review Liam, i’ll definitely be picking up a copy.


  4. GreigGreig
    16th Mar 2010
    10:31 pm
  5. Great stuff Liam, have ordered it tonight.


  6. Emanuel
    17th Mar 2010
    1:11 am
  7. I was at the shop of the Design Museum the other day and the cover caught my eye from across the room. Liked the size, liked the style and layout and I thought of buying having read extracts from his previous book, which I need to buy as well. At first it does look a bit weird, covering all the areas you might need as a designer, but not in the traditional way – like techniques and tricks. I guess it’s what comes before all that, which makes the difference. Will definitely have it in mind.


  8. Victoria Archer
    17th Mar 2010
    10:48 am
  9. I really enjoyed reading your review of this book. It has incited enough curiosity within me to now go and buy it, so thankyou.


  10. Ronnie Saini Design
    29th Mar 2010
    5:04 pm
  11. Thanks for sharing! I really want to read it now!


  12. dovemans
    5th Apr 2010
    8:00 pm
  13. Gonna need that, I think it’s exactly what I’m looking for.
    thank you for the clear review.


  14. Silvia
    18th Apr 2010
    5:39 pm
  15. I do agree with everything you said as well! I bought in on a trip in October to Paris. Found it in the Centre Pompidou bookstore and just knew I had to buy it (I wouldn\’t find it anywhere where I live). I\’ve been reading it through on and off. The informal tone is my favorite feature as well. I think it\’s a great buy for students like me. I\’m enjoying it reading it all, but I have also found it useful for searching a specific theme.


  16. Richard Exon
    24th May 2010
    5:22 pm
  17. It is as you mention, looks to be a solid reference. I was looking for a proper review and this is one clearly mae it!


  18. LIndsay
    2nd Apr 2011
    5:47 pm
  19. My book of the moment is Printed Matter, Mainly Books
    by Jost Hochuli.


  20. Graphic Dig
    11th Jul 2014
    8:25 am
  21. Nice book. Is this available for I-pad. Please inform?


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