Autumn 2012

365 nuggets from glue-stained vets

Graphic Design Rules: 365 Essential Design Dos and Don’ts

By Sean Adams, Peter Dawson, John Foster & Tony Seddon. Designed by Tony Seddon. Francis Lincoln, £14.99

More rules? Really? Surely we have enough design rules / principles / maxims now? Do we need yet another list of rules to follow, another framework of truisms to homogenise graphic design? Probably not. Graphic Design Rules: 365 Essential Design Dos and Don’ts does not get off to a promising start. The first rule is: ‘Thou shall not use Comic Sans’. So far, so truistic. But a turn of the page reveals that rule number two is: ‘Thou shall use Comic Sans’. The writers acknowledge that most of what they’re writing is a challenge as much as it is a doctrine. There is a lot of wisdom and painfully earned experience behind these rules, but they are there to be broken.

It is important to note these aren’t posited as the rules, just some rules. In fact, they’re not really rules at all, just nuggets of advice – some broadly philosophical (‘Thou shall remain humble in your work’), some more technical, often specific to particular applications (‘Thou shall worship Smart Filters’). All are written in a breezy conversational tone, so at no point do you feel like you’re being lectured. (And yes, in case you were wondering, the ‘thou shall’ thing does get rather tiresome.)

While it is certainly no textbook, Graphic Design Rules would make a good addition to any design student’s bookshelf, and might be useful as a teaching guide. Having this book at hand is like having a glue-stained, been-there-done-that veteran looking over your shoulder, passing on handy little lessons they learned the hard way.

Although an experienced designer will view a lot of this as lessons in egg-sucking (and not as revisit-worthy as, say, Adrian Shaughnessy’s weightier Graphic Design: A User’s Manual), it is worth dipping into just to find some bad habit or other that you’d forgotten you needed nudging out of (I am contemplating getting ‘Thou shall devise a system for the consistent naming of digital image files’ tattooed on my hand).

As with any collection of short-form content, one wonders if it would not have been better served by an easily filterable and ongoing website rather than a printed book. But for an aspiring designer looking to amass a studio library, a combination of this and the more historically focused 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design (by Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne) would not be a bad starting point.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, designer, York

First published in Eye no. 84 vol. 21, 2012


Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 84 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.