Editor’s blog

If proof were needed that design can make life better it is there in spades in a host of initiatives from the likes of the Design Council and social enterprises bent on fostering co-creation. But it is good to see pure design also getting recognition, often in unlikely places.

You can image the pleasant surprise I felt on completing Anne Tyler’s novel Noah’s Compass to find a note at the end giving the history of the Berling typeface in which the paperback from Vintage Books was set.

A history of the Berling typeface in Anne Tyler’s novel Noah’s Compass.
The cover of Noah’s Comapass by Anne Tyler. Cover image by Terry Vine.

Did you know that the serif font, described as ‘a roman font with the characteristics of an old face’, made its debut in 1954 in the Rembrandt Bible, deemed to be ‘the most beautiful book of the year’? Nor did I, but I could now share that knowledge with thousands of folk who, like me, picked up the light novel to while away time on a train. Interestingly, the only other design-related credit in the book is for the cover shot by Terry Vine for Getty Images.

The cover of Noah's Comapass by Anne Tyler. Image by Terry Vine
A history of the Berling typeface in Anne Tyler’s novel Noah’s Compass.

Book publishers are better than most business sectors at fostering design – note Penguin Books hugely deserved entry into Design Week’s Hall of Fame at last week’s DW Awards – and over the years an impressive array of ‘named’ designers, illustrators and photographers have contributed to the delight of the reader (and, hopefully, the book’s commercial success). But rarely does a typeface get a significant look in, so this exception is to be prized, particularly at a time when legibility is under increasing scrutiny as more titles prepare to publish online.

Design – or rather creativity – had another welcome, if unlikely outing this weekend when Sir Ken Robinson made a repeat appearance on Radio 4’s Saturday Live. Chatting with the show’s presenter Fi Glover, the celebrated creativity champion, renowned for his illuminating Ted Talks, made a powerful, commonsense case for design in its broadest sense to play a continued role in education. Creativity, he maintained, is the lifeblood of innovation and innovation is not only an obsession of the current, axe-wielding Government, but underpins the science subjects it is so keen to foster as much as it fuels the arts.

Penguin Books was inducted into the Design Week Hall of Fame at last week's Design Week awards
Penguin Books was inducted into the Design Week Hall of Fame at last week’s Design Week awards

This isn’t rocket science – a rather apt analogy. Design educators have been putting this argument for years, with Sir Christopher Frayling leading the charge while he was rector of London’s Royal College of Art for design to be added to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics line up that constitutes the Stem subjects preferred by Government. But that it had such a popular airing can only be good and we hope that Robinson’s direct approach prompts positive feedback from Radio 4 listeners.

It’s great when design gets the recognition it deserves – as an aid to reading or as a bigger generator for social and economic change. Let’s hope others of influence will be encouraged by the examples set by Random House imprint Vintage Books and Robinson to tell it like it is.

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