Wednesday, January 2, 2008

El books del duo

as the bumblebee man would say.

So I bought these two books about design. Not because I got a sudden urge too design clothes or go enterior designer; these books are not about making things pretty. I relized that most of the things a do; like write stuff at work, making presentations, making web-pages and so forth, are really releated to communicate a something. A good design would help to make that message clear. And my goal of reading these books are to start to learn the basic elements of design. I figure that knowing the basic would make me able to understand what to do with a design (a memo, a presentation or whatever) and not just simple "try and fail" untill it looks OK.

Universal Principles of Design
100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design
William Lidwell, Kritina Holden & Jill Butler

Well, the title says it all. This book covers everything form the layout of book stores and parks, to software design and airplane saftey. Built as a reference, with each principle covered in a two page layout: An explanation of the principle on the left hand page, and examples on the right had side. And when we talk about "design", it's not making thing pretty, it's making things clear, safe and understandable. For example, a door that you push to open shouldn't have a door handle and a sign that says "push". Replace the the handle with a flat bracket, and it's self explaining how to open the door. No need for the extra sign. Excellent use of white space, this books is not only informative but also a feast for the eye. Ok, man of the principles are know, but here they are organized and explained in a really effective and simple way. Good to read from start to end, but also an easy reference book.

The Elements of Graphic Design
Space, Unity, Page Architecture, and Type
Alexander W. White

This on book is more focused, and is focused on layout and print. The design of the book is also good, but very different from the one above. This book has a lot of text and little white space, but it still very readable. And this is actually something I like about this book. It gives you the general principles, but the author also gives clear examples and his opinions. For example, many books says you should use high contrast between background and font. This book says that 70% different in contrast gives optimum readability. And that white fonts on a black background may "bleed" and that a white background in a dark room will seem too bright. Good and useful info!

So, I basically love both these books. The first one because it gives a really good introduction and is really easy to use as a reference book. The last one is so much more useful, since "graphic design" is what I do (e.g. presentations, reports, summaries, the odd christmas card, blogging, etc, etc). The chances that I one day will design a plane or an iPod store is really slim.

And the last book gave a really good definition of good design (paraphrased from memory): "If two designs are equal simple, the one conveying the most information is the most elegant. And in two designs that conveys the same amout of information, the simplest one is the most elegant".


Wilhelm said...

I relized that most of the things a do; like write stuff at work, making presentations, making web-pages and so forth

Which reminds me Chief, I need a web page.....

But did these books actually give you any useful hints about, say, PP presentations, or did it drown in the variety of contexts?

Anders said...

Not in the form of PP templates, no. And the first one covers too much to really be helpful as a pure PP book, but The Elements of Graphic Design does give you very useful stuff. Not on PP spesific, but on layout in general. How to make great tables, how to divide a page up in columns for effecient layout, how a header should look, choose of font and kerning etc for maximum readability, how to align shapes (and make you think of headers, figures, pictures as shape), how many points in a list/ row of numbers etc people can remember, in what order people look on a page (i.e. where do you place the most important stuff vs the second most important vs the rest), use of margins and whitespace, etc, etc. All which is very useful in a PP presentation.

I did use some of the principles from the book (principles, not copy and paste a design from the book) when I wrote up a resume of my lecture from last semester. A collegue looked over my shoulder and asked
- Have you typed that yourself?
- Yes, why?
- It looked so professional.
Granted he only saw the layout, not the content, so I looking forward to hearing what the student actually thinks of that resume.

Wilhelm said...

Awesome! How much would either of these books set a brutha' back, and which one would you recommend for starters?

Anders said...

Amazon got Universial Principles of Design for 24 bucks and The Elements of Graphic Design for 17. Acutally, if you check inside those books (click on the cover, then excerpt) if you check out those links. If you're interested in Powerpoint/ PResentation, if will suggest to start with The Elements of Graphic Design. However, remember that I did not want a book to learn presentation/ powerpoint, but to learn the basic of design. I figured that PP is just a tool, while design basics is knowledge. If you have the skills, any tool will do.

So, if you're looking for a presentation/ powerpoint book, I suggest you take a look at a new book which is on my "to read" list, Presentation Zen. I have read the author's (Gary Reynold) blog with the same name, and it's awsome. Great examples, great presentation of the material. Only thing I'm missing, is how to present more technical stuff.

Wilhelm said...

I'll check it out.

Not looking for PowerPoint specifically, but have read books where the concepts have proven difficult to implement in an actual, practical setting like PP.