I am looking to pick up a few reads. I am mostly interested in the fundamentals of design such as space, hierarchy, balance, etc. but beyond the scope of the basics. I have been through the fine arts program at my university and done plenty of reading and studying online, and work full time designing and doing web development but I would like some true in-depth information from someone who really knows what they are doing.

I am a big sucker for the International Typographic style of the 40s, 50s, 60s and possibly stuff from the 70s and 80s. I am really NOT looking for something with definitions and maybe a few picture examples, I am looking for texts that go in depth on how to use and abuse these methods in real applications, and explanations for what makes sense when.

Grid systems, typography, color, whatever is all great. I find the Bauhaus school really interesting and I know there is a lot of great material that exists from this time but I am really not sure where to look.

If anyone has some insight or possibly a reading list it would be very appreciated. No beginner stuff, school text-books, or material written by hacks (think Type Idea Index, seriously awful stuff throughout the whole book).

  • I am not sure what you ask does really exist. At least it sounds like you are seeking for a level of detail that is simply considered the application of design principles. Design is living and breathing and you can't "nail it down" like that.
    – KMSTR
    May 23, 2014 at 6:17
  • What do you mean by "Quantifiable" in this context?
    – Ryan
    May 23, 2014 at 19:52

1 Answer 1


Since you are not really getting answers here, I am going to go out on a limb. This is not likely to be what you are technically asking for, as it does not contain any direct objects about the time period you are interested it. Instead, I am drilling down.

It seems to me you are really asking two different questions.

What books would you suggest for a deeper more fundamental basis for design?


What books would you suggest for insight into 40ties, 50ties, 60ties and 70ties?


Read a little history.

The thing about graphic design styles in various periods is this: nothing exist in a vacuum. Graphics is informed by technology, architecture, history, wars, conflict, reactions against for or against something, and visuals affect art, craft and the design of objects.

Some of the strong visuals from 30ties and 40ties you could argue that conflict calls for strong, hard, impactful images. Images without doubt. Classically the propaganda posters of that period, from both/all three sides are bombastic, with nationalistic visuals. Never underestimate the importance of the limitations of the current printing technology. Read a little political history.

You might argue that Bauhaus architecture came "first", so that art, graphics and craft mirrored this. Then I would say: study a little architectural history. Be inspired by buildings, you might then see where the visual language comes from.

As for the 60-70ties, I have attempted to address some of that here:

What design and art concepts were art students/professionals discussing in the 70s?


Disclaimer: this is a pretty eclectic collections, and though it may not seem directly applicable, I believe these are useful, interesting and insightful on multiple levels.

They may be a bit heavy on the academic approach, but personally, I am sick and tired of literature that over-simplify and aim at quick commercial solutions. I think an insight into a less commercial approach is very useful.Not only for the thing you may produce, but not the least: from the joy you take from the process, with this knowledge behind it. It will inform and maybe alter your work. To me that is the thing: seeing with new eyes and stand on the shoulders of giants.

Bertin, Semiology of Graphics First published in 1967, this it the basis for a lot of current understanding of visuals. Do not expect lots of pretty pictures. This is a tour de force of the analysis and use of "signs" in its widest sense. Interestingly, it is really becoming more and more relevant.

Male, Illustration: a theoretical and contextual perspective A delightful, beautiful discovery of illustration in its widest sense.

Foucault, The Order of Things Definitely a philosophical work; Foucault touches on a myriad of subjects such as literature, biology, arts and economics. It is sort of a "history of thought", but even the first chapter are interesting to a designer: anyone dealing with information.

Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood A history of information, information transfer. Use your head, and you will see the various time periods and visual languages in context.

Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways Hugely inspiring, a rambling of graphics, art, quotes, insights, style, history.

Lupton,Thinking with Type You might have had this in school; a very accessible take on typography.

Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style Pretty much the standing work on elegant and well-informed typography.

Norman, The Design of Everyday Things He mainly concerns himself with physical objects, but it is not that much different from digital usage.


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