Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review | Graphic Design Process

Cover of Graphic Design Process (2012)

Graphic Design Process: From Problem to Solution
by Nancy Skolos and Thomas Wedell
Laurence King Publishing, London, UK, 2012
192 pp., illus. Paper, £19.95
ISBN: 978-1-85669-826-9.

A solution to a design problem (a poster, book or web design) is a noun: it is a tangible, knowable thing. But the process it develops from is closer to a verb. It is made up of constantly flowing events (like William James’ “stream of consciousness”) and is typically so faint, non-linear, and elusive that we hardly know it’s going on, much less how to grasp and define it.

While its authors admit to the challenge, this book makes a valiant attempt to shed light on the perpetually “moving target” of problem solving in design (a subject that’s closely related, of course, to innovation in any discipline), and it does so in a clever way. It does it by purposely looking aside, not unlike how stars appear more clearly at times by looking at them indirectly. It introduces 20 case studies, by discussing the widely varying work of design teams and designers from throughout the world, by talking with those designers (about their influences, work strategies and beliefs), and by looking for evidence of the process itself, however that might be discernible from thumbnail sketches, experimental studies, preparatory models, and revision proofs.

The works in the book are highly diverse, in part because graphic design is no longer as tightly defined as it was. Today, as the authors remind us, it “spans many media, offers exposure to endless subject material, and reaches into countless other disciplines for inspiration.” Even more distinctions arise because “there is no single way to conduct a design practice” and “every project demands its own way of working.”

The structure of this book reflects the often-bewildering manner in which problems progress toward solutions, sometimes by loopy, meandering routes. The book begins by focusing on two widely shared initial concerns, “research” and “inspiration” (which can and do take many forms), and concludes with “collaboration.” Propped up by these structural bookends are four other sections that deal with more specific means for exploring potential solutions: “drawing,” “narrative,” “abstraction,” and “development.”

What struck the authors (they are teachers as well as designers) is how seemingly little agreement they found among the 23 designers, whose primary zones of concurrence were three: “[T]he busier a designer is, the more ideas mix in the mind for inventive solutions; ideas usually come when a designer least expects them; and exposure to visual art at a young age, through a relative, teacher, or friend, opened a path to design.” more…