Autumn 2007

Common sense under a daft cover

The Little Know-It-All

Edited by Robert Klanten, Mika Mischler and Silja Büz
Translated by Michael Robinson
Die Gestalten Verlag, £23.99

The meaningless, whimsical title and the ghastly illustration on the cover will probably put you off this book, not to speak of the price. There is a rather more helpful subtitle – ‘Common Sense for Designers’ – in very small type on the front cover, though not repeated on the spine, where it might at least have encouraged the bookshop browser to pluck it from the shelf.

Had he or she done so, it would have revealed itself as a much more serious work than at first appeared, dealing at some depth with many of the working problems of the graphic designer, extending from colour theory to copyright law, taking in typography, digital media, production, printing and advertising on the way. Within 352 pages of small type are contained more facts about our craft, trade or profession than you would have thought possible in one volume.

True, some of the ‘facts’ are mere suppositions: under colour theory, for example, we are told that ‘magenta stands for idealism, gratitude, commitment, order and sympathy – but also for snobbishness, arrogance and dominance’, and large pinches of salt should be taken with such pronouncements. On the other hand there has rarely, if ever, been brought together such an array of useful information for the graphic designer; the devoted user will not be put off by the occasional dollop of cod psychology.

The chapter on law, however, is altogether another kettle of fish. For some 38 pages, the editors and their legal specialists subject the puzzled reader to a barrage of facts about German legal matters with occasional nods toward other European countries and the United States (the adjective ‘German’ and

the noun ‘Germany’ are used 50 times in this section, in contrast to the half-dozen references to ‘England’ or ‘Great Britain’). It won’t do, it really won’t.

There are three other niggles that could so easily have been avoided by more assiduous sub-editing. First, the footnotes, which are set in minute type in a special printing of light grey, for no apparent reason, rendering them virtually illegible. Second, the marginal illustrations, potentially very helpful but painfully, pointlessly constrained within square frames that interfere with their information value, and identified by very small numbers placed on top of the illustration, so that one is continually confusing them with the one above. Finally, the running of the book title from bottom to top on the spine, German fashion, rather than from top-to-bottom, Anglo-American fashion; this is either perversity or carelessness.

That said, there are many good things about this book, not least its handy format (165mm x 114mm) and a user-friendly soft cover with a slight overhang and rounded corners, reminiscent of the Yapp Bibles designed for the convenience of itinerant preachers in the late nineteenth century. It’s handy, it’s good to hold and easy to thumb through; and I think I’m going to like having it around, in spite of that cover illustration . . .