This review begins with a disclaimer. Though I have a lot of design books, I haven’t actually read very many of them. Patrick Cramsie’s Story of Graphic Design, published by Abrams, is different. It’s a compelling narrative that treats design with all the seriousness of art history and, like great art history, manages to weave a historical narrative through the lens of Graphic Design.
The Story of Graphic Design is rich in historical detail, thoughtfully organized, with beautifully chosen visual examples — and is hard to put down. As to why there hasn’t been another book like it: “[Printed] communication is so deeply woven into our modern lives it is rarely considered as a single entity, let alone one that might be worthy of study,” writes Cramsie, who chooses to organize the sweep of graphic design around form, but also technology. We see the co-evolution of writing and printmaking and follow their progress as they mix with photography in the social and technological cauldron of modern times.
Anyone seeking to cover 35,000 years of history in 300 pages will be criticized for leaving things out — particularly as we get to the explosive growth of design in the 20th century. The Story of Graphic Design, however, is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog, but an exploration of the evolution of styles in the context of history. The illustrations are brilliantly chosen to advance the narrative. The book will be a welcome guide to students just entering the field and to those of us who can now use it to better understand the world of design that surrounds us. [LS]