Article by Martin Gibson – Twitter: @martingibson @embody3d – 31.10.2011
Design Matters – An Essential Primer by Maura Keller, Michelle Taute and Capsule, published by Rockport is an educational, illustrative and portfolio driven book on brochures, logos, packaging and portfolios; the key mediums of any branding pack.
Design Matters is split up into planning, creating, implementing and case studies with sub sections for each chapter on the 4 mediums which are as described above: brochures, logos, packaging, portfolios.
The book initiates with the planning stage which covers all bases from setting up design briefs, competitor analysis, research. It even questions what medium you should pick int he first place to communicate your graphic design message, and not to mention how to work with style guides.
The real educational meat of Design Matters comes in the Creating section which doesn’t leave a stone unturned. Some of the topics include: branding, busyness, attention, simplicity, uniqueness, metaphors, inspiration, layout, colour, emotion, memory, typography, hierarchy, personality, navigation, functionality and the list goes on. It never gets into any intricate detail on these topics which is unfortunate, but it is sufficient enough to keep up momentum and maintain interest. Most of the concepts/principles don’t require exhaustive technical analysis anyway. My favourite sections include the technical considerations like separating tag lines from logos and the avoidance of gradients and photographs inside logos and also the lesson of having a logo that can be inverted for different background colours. There is a nice little section on legal protection which goes over some thoughts you should discuss with your client regarding trademarks and copyright.
A large chunk, around 108 pages is dedicated to case studies which I tend to always have mixed feelings about. Realistically Design Matters doesn’t need any case studies whatsoever as the book is already littered with great examples of real world projects. However the case studies are engaging and it potentially humanizes all the lessons taught making the overload of information prior plausible to implement.
The clientele of the portfolio examples in Design Matters is top-notch quality-wise, it is a real inspiration and jaw-dropper. A real positive of Design Matters, is its ability to question assumptions. It has headings like “Is a Brochure the Right Solution”. This is such an important question as often clients will approach a designer with set outputs, but these notions perhaps should be questioned occasionally and a good designer should go to the goals of the client not the clients expectations.
The biggest issue with Design Matters is its overlapping structure. There are so many great aspects of the book, but its structure, such a fundamentally important part of any book lets it down. It’s so logical to come to the conclusion that the process of planning, creating and implementing is common, and in some cases identical whether you are doing a brochure, logo or packaging. There’s a standard and well-known design process and because these chapters are split up into the 4 design products: brochures, logos, packaging and portfolios it runs a dangerous line of being too repetitive (because after all these design processes are identical) and too sparse (because not everything is repeated which can appear as if somethings shouldn’t be done for some products when they probably should). The book fights a continual loosing battle to the very end and the simple solution of removing these sub product categories and just citing different examples of these products in a common section would make life for both the authors and reader more desirable. That or they could have just created 4 different books as part of a mini series as the book is fairly weighty. Accentuating this deficiency is the lack of prominent headings in Design Matters, for example, for logos, brochures etc. You have to pay close attention to the breadcrumbs on the side of the page to keep track where you are and where you are going. This just shouldn’t be the case.
I have harked on considerably on this issue, but if one removed this misdemeanour the book content wise (arguably the most important aspect of the book) is pure gold. The use of examples and real world ideas brings so much context and understanding to each topic area. Diagrams and illustrations are beautiful. So who is this book for? Well I see there being 3 key customers: students, professionals and prospective clients. Students will love the introductory nature of the book showing all considerations in a brief and fun format. Professionals will love the amazing quality of the featured projects and might even prompt them to revisit some issues in their own practice. For prospective clients Design Matters will give you an idea of what is important and will provide invaluable considerations and ideas which you could then present to a designer. For example later on in the implementation section it provides a swatch-like listing of materials that could be used for packaging just like you would see in a car brochure. I am giving this 3.5 stars but with a revised structure it is easily worth 4.5.