Moved to appeal

Paul Murphy is a sucker for nice looking graphic design books and puppies. Here, he finds two more books that have wormed their way into his affections.

Judging by the number of invites to launch parties around at the moment, graphic design book publishing seems to be on something of a roll.

Perhaps to accommodate the output, art bookshop specialists Zwemmers has just opened up a branch on London’s Charing Cross Road dealing specifically with the graphic arts. Stepping into the space immediately places you in the apex of bright bookcovers screaming “Choose me! Choose me! Take me home with you!” in the same way puppies look all tearful and imploring at Battersea Dog’s Home. This, I suppose, is the point of any well thought out book cover or soppy-eyed pup.

Judging by the heaving bookshelves in my office, design titles have successfully learned how to recreate and exploit some of this “choose me” gene.

This is no mean feat, because designing a book on graphics aimed at hyper critical fellow design professionals and design students must be a bit of a thankless task. In the “Best of…” tome, the most successful approach seems to be one of less is more, where the design of the book itself sits back discreetly and allows the featured works to be the stars.

Conversely, in books that feature one designer or design group the trend seems to be to take the book itself as a place to exercise that group’s design skills so the book becomes a conscious statement. So you could say that Tomato’s book Process was Tomato-fied which would make The End of Print Carson-ogenic (not my joke, by the way).

As an editor, Roger Walton has been happily ploughing this first furrow for a while now, with well thought out collections that include the Typographics series and more recently Hot Sites: Paper Surf the Superhighway which is now joined by Cool Sites: Freeze-Framed and Down Cold and Sight for Sound: Design and Music Mixes Plus.

Not surprisingly, Cool Sites picks up where Hot Sites left off and comprises screen shots with brief captions of websites. In the past, I’ve argued that books on websites and CD-ROMs lose the essential qualities (interactivity and usability for example) that define the respective media.

With that proviso in mind, Cool Sites is a very comprehensive collection that goes beyond the round-up of the usual suspects and also includes an interesting selection of non-UK or US sites. On the Web, sites evolve and, unlike most media, the new overwrites the old which as time passes makes a book like this more poignant.

Sight for Sound is (as its own introduction says) “a collection of printed design work specifically produced for the music business” and in its range goes from contemporary CD covers and vinyl labels through to flyers and music mags. Graphically, it’s a hip collection and veers towards the clubby rather than sedate.

Not so long ago, people were deriding the CD as being the death of a whole tradition of great LP cover art. If anything, this book shows the inventive and versatile nature of design, as what was once simply sleeve art on the cover of an LP has extended itself from the outside of the CD box, into the booklets and finally on to the surface of the CD itself. Again, there’s a great range of work here remarkable for its diversity and intelligence.

In the world of design books as eye candy, inspiration and signs of the times, both books are a useful addition to any collection, and pass the puppy test with flying colours.

Sight for Sound Design and Music Mixes Plus, editor Roger Walton published by Hearst Books International, priced 2

Cool Sites Freeze Framed And Down Cold, editor Roger Walton published by Hearst Books International 25

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