Graphic Design: A User’s Manual – Adrian Shaughnessy

From the title you’d be forgiven for thinking this book will give you practical advice on the craft of graphic design. Thankfully, for the large part, that’s exactly what it doesn’t do. Best described as an A-Z of current practice, it covers some of the many things you’d need to know as a contemporary working graphic designer.

Graphic Design A Users Manual - Adrian Shaughnessy

It’s written from Adrian’s considerable experience and there does tend to be a bias on the detail around craft related points, which is exactly what you’d expect and hope from an author with such a rich and practical heritage in graphic design.

There are some good insights into areas that support design. Being good at graphic design isn’t the only skill you need to be a good graphic designer, and because it’s a largely unregulated industry there’s not many places to go as a young graphic designer to widen your understanding. Most of us learn it on the job, so there are some valuable short-hands here to opening up your understanding of the stuff you’ll encounter through a design career.

Maybe this is the basis of another book, but I thought some of the content around the ‘business’ side of graphic design, like banking and money was a little more overview than the rest. It’s difficult to combine a brilliant introduction to modernism, a useful statement on ellipsis together with how to negotiate your salary. Hence the A-Z being probably the only workable taxonomy to a career in understanding the stuff around graphic design.

Graphic Design A Users Manual - Adrian ShaughnessyIt was good to see some space devoted to web design in relation to the reality of it for graphic designers. It would have been nice to see those thoughts extended beyond designing for the web and more into digital space in general as so much design now requires interaction thinking. Designers have a role to play in developing interaction. Constantly adhering to compliant usability theories will homogenise the experience and there’s room for us to demonstrate that good interaction design can lead a users experience as much as users dictating that experience.

I enjoyed the section that critiqued the low importance the advertising industry places on graphic design, seeing it as a technical resource to execute the idea and not an opportunity to stop the formulaic sameness of all ads. Having worked in both industries I see the strengths in adland treating graphic design more as a creative expression and graphic design understanding that an idea behind an aesthetic makes it hundreds of times more powerful and interesting.

I’ll end on a quote from Otl Aicher from The World as Design, found on the inside cover. Sums up this book a treat.

“Graphic design is one of the last free professions that is not forced into the corset of a career structure and thus inhibited by standards and guidelines. There is no career structure upon which the state could accompany designers with examinations and checks, and of course also with certificates and prizes, with awards and titles. A graphic designer is a graphic designer.”

Title | Graphic Design: A User’s Manual.
Author | Adrian Shaughnessy
Publisher | Laurence King
Publish Date | 2009
ISBN | 978-1-85669-591-6

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

Buy from Amazon UK: Graphic Design: A User’s Manual.

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