{Book Review} Interpretation by Design

Long, long ago, when I was but a sparkly-eyed college student, I wanted a career in graphic design. No one told me to make sure the college you select HAS the career you want – I just assumed all colleges carried the same majors. (Yes, it’s quite a miracle I achieved a degree at all, isn’t it?) Well, none of that mattered anyway, because I took an Anthropology class elective in my first semester and immediately changed my major (and then later took an Ecology elective and realized I had, yet again, chosen incorrectly, but it was too late by then).

I’m not sure how I keep ending up with embarrassing personal stories for you guys when I try to make a point, but what I’m getting at is a very cool book and a very cool blog that you might enjoy if you have an inclination towards graphic design but don’t want to get a degree.

Put this book in your library.

Most of us don’t think anything about graphic design in our daily lives, but it has a real influence on the way we make decisions. We use it when we make “For Sale” signs, or write a letter, or create a Powerpoint presentation. The way printed media looks affects our choices about its content: a poorly made sign with the words all scrunched up is more likely to be avoided, whereas a sign with well-spaced letters and a good layout entices us. Our eyes don’t like yellow letters, but green is easy to read.

This book is based on graphic design for natural and cultural history interpreters but I’ve found all of its topics really useful in other applications. There are great discussions on font choice, utilizing and manipulating photos, layout, and more. It’s written in an easy-to-read, completely accessible format, which is the best part about the book in my opinion. I hate jargon and snoot, and these folks just want to spread the joy of good design.

In fact, if you check out the blog, you’re likely to read as much about baseball as you are about graphic design. The blog is a great, on-going look at design goodies, like the evolution of Mr. Peanut, why Gap immediately removed its attempt at a new logo, and other food-for-thought posts. I also love the “Get to Know a Color” series, where the authors introduce you to the uses and psychological effects of colors.

The authors are self-deprecating and honest and I’ve learned so much from the book and the blog. In fact, I feel smarter than ever about things I never knew I could feel smart about. For example:

1. Comic Sans is an evil, evil font and should never be used for ANYTHING, not even comics.

2. Don’t use the underline feature. For anything. It makes your readers’ eyes wobble. That’s what the italics button is for.

3. Have someone else look at it before you go to print. This seems like common sense, but, well, there’s an image below that should drive the point home.

I’m sure I’ve learned some other useful stuff and I’ll probably be more of a snob if I ever get a program other than Word in which to create printed media, but for now I at least have a few things under my belt that I can use.

That image does not make me feel safe. Via IBD website.

(I super love the posts about funny signs from around the world.)

At any rate, the book and the blog are both excellent, and I guarantee you will find a use for the lessons you’ll learn about design, even if you’re not an interpreter. Read, learn, and make the world a prettier place. Without Comic Sans. Ever. Ever.



BBCX365 is a blog by a great graphic artist where one BBC news headline is turned into poster each day. I love looking at this blog.

Posted on January 29, 2011, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nice post – esp. the comment ‘ave someone else look at it before you go to print’ – obvious but some people forget or don’t bother! best, Simon at Pixmac

  2. Great stuff! I love well designed things! As a cartographer trained in the days of no computers, I really took a liking to placing my text, letter-by-letter, and playing with colours using various screens in the darkroom. It is still fun, but using a mouse is not as rewarding as using my hand-eye coordination as it was meant to be used. Scribing, masking, and exposing!

    …that eye for graphics, you eith er have it or you don’t.

  3. Thank you for this blog link. I am sure I will spend much time there.

  4. Great post and glad to see non-designers still appreciate it, and anyone that creates content for another human being to look at should at least read a book like this once. I’m a graphic designer actually.

    Here’s one that’s controversial for some reason: DO NOT double space after a period, ever. It’s an outdated practice from the days of typewriters.

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