Books · reviews

Book review: Graphic Design: The New Basics (2nd edition) by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips

graphicdesignGraphic Design: The New Basics
by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips
Second Edition, Revised and Expanded
Published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2015.

How do designers get ideas? Many spend their time searching for clever combinations of forms, fonts, and colors inside the design annuals and monographs of other designers’ work. For those looking to challenge the cut-and-paste mentality there are few resources that are both informative and inspirational. In Graphic Design: The New Basics, Ellen Lupton, best-selling author of such books as Thinking with Type and Design It Yourself, and design educator Jennifer Cole Phillips refocus design instruction on the study of the fundamentals of form in a critical, rigorous way informed by contemporary media, theory, and software systems. Through visual demonstrations and concise commentary, The New Basics shows students and professionals how to build interest and complexity around simple relationships between formal elements of two-dimensional design such as point, line, plane, scale, hierarchy, layers, and transparency. The New Basics explains the key concepts of visual language that inform any work of design from a logo or letterhead to a complex web site. It takes a fresh approach to design instruction by emphasizing visually intensive, form-based thinking in a manner that is in tune with the latest developments in contemporary media, theory, art, and technology. Colorful, compact, and clearly written, The New Basics is the new indispensable resource for anyone seeking a smart, inspiring introduction to graphic design and destined to become the standard reference work in design education. [Source: Goodreads]

I bought this book because it was recommended to me by my Graphic Design I lecturer and while there were some interesting concepts presented here, I did not enjoy the writing style at all.

One of the authors, Ellen Lupton, has written a lot of graphic design books, including Thinking with Type, which is also sitting unfinished on my bookshelf. Since her books are so popular, I assumed this would be really accessible. As someone just getting started in graphic design, I also assumed I would be the main audience for this book, but the writing was just so boring I found myself beginning to question myself.

Each chapter presents a basic design principle, such as color, texture, framing, layers, etc. Chapters begin with a couple of introductory paragraphs and then move right into examples. Most of the examples seemed to be from students and a lot of emphasis is placed on the idea of designing with code. Sometimes examples are accompanied by explanations, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the chapters have additional paragraphs expanding on the main intro. Sometimes they do not.

The main issue with Graphic Design: The New Basics is that the book feels fragmented. None of the chapters seem to connect to any other chapters or build on earlier concepts. Once a topic is discussed, it’s rarely mentioned again except in passing. The examples feel dated, and then the book just ends. There is no conclusion to tie it all together, which I think would have made a dramatic difference. If there was one, my eyes must have been so glazed over that I couldn’t even process the words. The book goes from showing a random example to the bibliography. It was really jarring, and I actually had to double-check to make sure I wasn’t mysteriously missing a page from my book.

Has anyone else read this one and feels the same way? Or am I completely off the mark?

A version of this review was first posted to Goodreads.



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