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By Design

A selection of books on graphic art

House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration 

by Andy Cruz, Rich Roat and Den Barber. Watson-Guptill, $50.

In the world of contemporary type foundries, House Industries stands alone as being much more than mere creators of type. From day one House, founded in the ’90s, has been carving out some truly iconic typefaces, inspired by everything from the giants of hot rod culture to heroes of American architectural and industrial design. Where we would stand on the shoulders of giants, House Industries often works hand-in-hand with them. Be they reviving the strokes of adroit sign painters or the work of Mid-Century Modern masters of American craft, House stops at nothing in the pursuit of the process. This collection is an archival record of the origins of House type, design and craft production, encompassing everything in a quintessentially gilded midcentury glaze. Beautifully designed and masterfully printed — spot glosses, metallic inks and paper changes abound — you can’t have too much of a good thing when House is at the wheel. Sadly, House founder Rich Roat died Nov. 29.  — Trask Bedortha

Conclusion detail ©Carlos Alejandro — Courtesy of House Industries. Reprinted with permission from House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration by House Industries, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

 

 

Junk Type: Typography, Lettering, Badges, Logos 

by Bill Rose. Universe, $35.

What does sifting through a century of dander left behind by lumbering, unchecked American consumerism yield? Pure iconographic gems tempered in the restraint of the tradesman designer and the imposition of the bottom line. The limited palettes and lettering emblematic of packaging past are stacked together, page after page, in this go-to catalogue of the obsolete. Junk Type is a great foray into the art of badge hunting, and an extensive reference to economy of design. — Trask Bedortha

 

 

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design 

by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham, with a foreword by Martin Scorsese. Laurence King Publishing, $95.

Saul Bass is perhaps one of the most recognized names in design. From film to corporate identity, his prolific work defined styles and shaped visual communication for decades, and this monograph of Bass’ work catalogues the life and contributions of one of the patron saints of modern graphic design. From posters and credit designs to the storyboarding of Psycho’s most iconic scene, Bass played a huge roll in Hitchcock’s greatest films. His work in identity design all but dictated the practice and pitch of contemporary branding systems. If you don’t believe that art exists in such corporate or commercial banalities, you are mistaken. Distilled and balanced, not purely practical nor viscerally driven, Saul Bass was an artist excelling at technique and the complete consideration of the medium. This collection is an amazing examination of his process, his collaborations and his life’s work. — Trask Bedortha

Saul Bass' work for the film Vertigo. Detail reprinted with permission from Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. Published by Laurence King Publishing.

 

 

EPA Graphic Standards System 

by Christopher Bonanos, created by Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth. Standards Manual, $79.00.

For the ultimate in design obsessiveness, look to the independent publisher Standards Manual. Specializing in the reanimation of graphics manuals, this outfit has published standards from the American Revolution Bicentennial, New York Transit Authority and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The EPA Graphic Standards System is a complete reproduction of EPA standards produced during the agencies ambitious youth in the Carter administration. What to the cynical eye may seem a masturbatory indulgence for the graphically inclined bureaucrat is, at its core, a methodology for concise and effectual communication. During the 1970s, graphics standards were being created for many agencies in an attempt to unite and clarify increasingly divergent information dissemination. The book showcases how the EPA intended to visually standardize its communication before the folksy whittling away of the Regan years, providing a mere snapshot of the young regulatory monster that now resides under the clumsily wielded guillotine of Trump, whose administration seems a fitting and (hopefully) final chapter in the Me Generation’s saga of political aspirations — that generation whose counterfeit culture war, with abiding battles peppering passing decades, will outlive every aging skipper and pro-business peckerwood born on its front lines. In fact, it is the culture wars that, with defining fitful shifts of populism, gave rise to the EPA, charging that agency with the appraisal and ensuing mop-up of a toxic multitude of communal shit piles; it’s very meaning these days is corrupted. The EPA manual is punctuated by a collection of photographs from the Documerica project, where from 1971 to 1977 photographers were tasked with documenting subjects of environmental concern. It’s a beautifully haunting record that, if not for the 70s veneer, could be from a present-day float on the coal-filled Dan River in North Carolina, or a portrait of a desperate mother holding a glass of tainted water from taps in Flint, Michigan. To look through this rigorous manifestation of intention is to get lost in a designed world of unified vision and common goals, however untenable, making it a worthwhile archive of design that could have been. — Trask Bedortha

Environmental Protection Agency Graphic Standards System detail Photographs by Brian Kelley Courtesy of Standards Manual. Documerica photographs © The U.S. National Archive.

 

 

New York City Transit Authority: Objects

photographs by Brian Kelley. Standards Manual $49.00.

Stepping away from the minutiae of logo criterion is New York City Transit Authority: Objects. This collection of photographs by Brian Kelly inventories more than 400 transit artifacts dating as far back as the 1850s — 356 pages of NYCTA ephemera from transit police badges, subway tokens and organized labor aphorisms to Massimo Vignelli’s famous maps, all of it relating to the New York transit system. It is an absorbing cross-section of a longstanding organization’s sub-culture that adapted in design through the presentation of everyday objects. A true collector sees value in the narrative, not the doodad. — Trask Bedortha

New York City Transit Authority: Objects Photographs by Brian Kelley. Courtesy of Standards Manual.

 

 

Never Use Futura 

by Douglas Thomas and Ellen Lupton. Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95.

If you’ve ever picked up a crayon, seen a Wes Anderson film, walked the hollow bowels of a dying mall or were one of the prodigious few to have landed on the surface of the moon, then you know this unassuming sturdy typeface well. Futura’s omnipresence rivals even the Swiss giant Helvetica, and that asshole earned a movie roll for the blanketing of our shared visual space. Futura had its birth in 1920s German modernism, where the creation of modern and coherent letterforms served a radical ideal. You can imagine how a rising nationalism, bolstering racial identity propaganda through requisite Blackletter type, responded to egalitarian design. Thankfully Futura and its many lookalikes had already spread throughout the Western world as a face of modern design. Through its export with modernism and subsequent ubiquity in type drawers nationwide, Futura became a staple for the work-a-day American designer long before cachet came with the trade. It plastered governmental operations manuals and adorned every button, gauge and knob of Space Race mechanization. It’s since been adopted by the unflinchingly hip as an esthetic foundation in reference to this varied nostalgia. Never Use Futura licks the bowl clean of what is, has and will be the legacy of a great utilitarian typeface. And by all means, use Futura — but use it well.  — Trask Bedortha

 

 

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Winter Reading 2017 - Fiction, Poetry & Young Adult Reviews

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Doing It Yourself - The year in local self-published literature

A Thousand Words - A roundup of the best photography books of the year