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Minimal Graphics: The Powerful New Look of Graphic Design
Rockport Publishers | 188 pages | ISBN: 1564966283 | PDF | 49 MB

In her introduction to Minimal graphics, Catharine Fishel states what minimal design is not: "blank, empty, devoid, or even quiet ... permit the gratuitous use of white space." Instead, minimal graphics are "stripped of all incidental references and pared down to its most essential elements, presents a purely intellectual and visual experience" that is a "return to modernism... to the real business of design: to communicate".
Using an ad as an example, Fishel breaks the ad's design into the six components that constitute minimal design: color, type, grid, image, message, and packaging. Color in minimal design is a "simple palate" that does not merely "decorate" but communicates, Type is "ubiquitous" and can by its appearance provide a clear message. Grid is the underlying structure of the design; it can "promote recognition" or just support "unpredictable content." Image in minimal design is "stripped of all extraneous references"--what you see is what is there. Message, which can often be determined without text (although most of the examples in the book contain text), must be conveyed instantly, "plainly." Finally, packaging, in minimal design, refers to the combination of the above five components without calling attention to one particular component.
The remainder of the Look is composed of six sections, each representing one of these six design elements. Each section has examples that Fishel feels best exemplifies that element. The examples she collected include ads, posters, annual reports, stationery, business cards, exhibitions--and even a bus.
The designs are clever, funny, ominous, and striking. Many are as minimal as you would think a minimal design might be. You see this effect in the "Jay" stationery, which has only the name Jay at the top of the pages. Or look at the Palmer Jarvis UPC ad: lots of white space with a small, "misshapen" UPC on the bottom right corner with the name Palmer Jarvis (p. 61). Fishel includes samples that initially appear to be anything but minimal: a theater promotion poster and a software company's annual report. Yet if you look closely at these busier designs, you see they adhere to Fishel's definition of minimal design.
The design of this book itself follows Fishel's definition. Almost every example fits on a single page, along with the names of the design firm, designer, photographer, illustrator, and copywriter. There is also a single-paragraph explanation with each example.
These paragraphs make interesting reading. You learn how the designer of the logo design for Cigar aficionado magazine doodled with the C and A of the magazine's name over and over in different arrangements until he found the one he eventually used (p. 62). You find also why most readers of "Jay" stationery mistakenly think the name refers to a man.
But the book design isn't without problems for the reader. For example, the text is left- and right-justified. Instead of the occasional large gaps of space between words, the words are concatenated. For a graphic arts book that discusses "type" as a design element, this is an odd error.
As a design layman and a sometime software manual and Web designer, I find Fishel's book valuable as a resource. Here is a book full of strong visual designs that immediately communicate an idea. I hope any subsequent design work I do can benefit from the examples in the book.
GEOFF SEMONIAN is a stay-at-home dad and part-time technical writer, programmer, Web page maker, and cook. He has worked for such firms as Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC). He reads extensively and has written reviews in Technical communication and other publications.

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