186. The Essential Principles of Graphic Design.
Aug 5, 2008 at 10:04AM

Debbie Millman has come out with a new book, The Essential Principles of Graphic Design. The book is split into four parts; Essential Principles (type, color, layout, and style), Principles of the Creative Process (visual strategy, research, working with imagery, account management and production), Principles within Disciplines which is the meat of the book–featuring the process and thinking behind many of the best design projects in recent years, and the final section is called Sound Bites–concise thoughts from the contributing designers on all sorts of subjects related to practicing graphic design.

The Principles within Disciplines section is much like a lot of the ‘best of’ books you see on the shelves these days only the projects are better chosen and the peak behind the curtain more enlightening. The reader gets involved in the process behind the Delta Airlines redesign, Target’s ClearRx pill bottles, Martha Stewart’s Identity, and many many others including the VM World Conference 2007’s amazing event branding work by Brian Rea & Nicholas Blechman; a personal favorite. This section could be a book by itself and still be better than most case studies / design annuals.

VM World Conference 2007

Lippincott's Delta Identity Upgrade


The Sound bites are great, but only about four pages. It seems to me that these were little gems thrown out by the contributing designers that although didn’t fit into the final project write-up, were too good to throw away. They feel somewhat like a continuation of Millman’s previous book, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer.

The opening 47 pages (the first two sections of the book) are what really grab you. It’s a whirlwind of quick overviews of basic principles we all manipulate when we practice design as well as passionate pleas to pay attention to the importance of each. The articles written by some of today’s best designers are an important read for the beginner, but they are also equally relevant for the pro. The Boston Celtics still do basic layup and ball-handling drills to stay sharp – and these primers are the equivalent for the experienced designer. You may not learn something you didn’t already know, but you’ll be more focused the next time you start a project. Marian Bantjes' rant on primes versus true quotation marks, dashes versus hyphens, and paragraph spacing and indentation is way overdue. Cheryl Swanson’s visual strategy essay provides inspiration as well as a basic recipe for a brand personality. And Satoru Wakeshima’s contribution on account management and workflow is a quick overview of how a design job typically flows through a studio and should be read by every design account person. And that's the just the beginning.

Marian Bantjes on Typography


Millman's Essential Principles isn't so much a textbook as it is a text supplement. It's not nearly in-depth enough to really instruct a classroom on all things graphic design. (And that wasn't the intent either.) However, I would suggest going over the first 47 pages would be a good way to begin a design course and the other 209 pages will become more important to each designer as their career progresses. And if you are way past your student years, you'll find room on your shelf for this book because of the insight shared through three-dozen case studies of high-profile projects. You can read what the author says about the book on her blog here.

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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