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As Santa was generous with our book gifts this year, we are happy to share the first one: a monograph on Stockholm Design Lab, a studio from, you guessed it, Stockholm, who we’ve been admiring for a while. Their truly impressive portfolio of work includes nothing less than the identity for the Nobel Prize.

The book is also impressive in its own right: solid, hefty, generous with white space, leaving you a lot of air to admire the designs. It is not afraid to spend an entire spread on a single blown-out image and it even uses hotstamping inside the book. Yes, inside. SDL’s designs are characterized by a certain austerity, minimalism and focus on ideas that is sometimes hard to pull off in client work and that makes it all the more impressive that these designs came into existence.

A case of the beautiful golden hotstamping inside. There are more.

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We did flake a little at the beginning of the year (sorry!) but December exhausted us completely. We’re back! We’re back with another lovely book, this time by Isabella Bunnel. The book is called Disappearing Acts and it shows endagered animals of different habitats in lovely, painted search-and-find spreads.

Each spread has a unique color scheme, a richness of details and patterns and a sad message: among the variety of well-painted animals from a different terrain, the reader is asked to find some which are literally disappearing.

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Further pages describe the animals and explain the reasons for their endangered status (spoiler alert: it’s mostly environmental damage and loss of habitats).

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The activity part is easy – our four-year-old found all the animals fast – but the lovely, detailed illustrations still invite careful study. The book is educational, too, with an important message. It manages to match the kind of activity to the theme well (the animals are difficult to find because they are fewer and fewer – makes sense). And, most of all, the painting style is so charming and confident.

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Another trip to the library brought us (and J) another lovely book by Britta Teckentrup. (The previous one is here.) This time we returned with Tree, which tells the story of seasons through a tree in a forest and the animals that live within or near it. The book has a poem commenting on the seasonal changes but it’s really the illustrated part that grabs your attention. It has lovely depictions of animals in their yearly cycle (foxes are, unsurprisingly, our favorites) and a generous use of die-cuts, which make the book more playful. But we are, perhaps, most impressed with the color palettes used for every season (and particularly autumn).

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The owl in its hollow is always in the centre of the tree – and of the book – while the forest around it changes. (Below the minimalist, and lovely, endpaper.)

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Winter snowy mystery (wonder if we’re going to get it this year).

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Spring lushness (our personal favorite real-life season).

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Summer night with its richness of life.

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The beautiful autumn.

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And here we go again.

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As we enter the season of the year that we tend to unreasonably grumble about (it’s cold and it’s gray, guys), this reminder of the beauty of every season comes as very welcome.

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And now for something a little different. While we usually show you modern books for their beautiful illustrations and design, sometimes we want to spend time on gorgeous classics (the more so now that we’ve embarked on the humongous job of cleaning up the basement with all the books stored there).

We’re starting with a book not from our collection but borrowed from our friends, Z&A, specifically so that we can document the illustrations. The book is called Everyday Politeness and is a 1970s collection of advice on good manners and polite behavior. Each chapter is illustrated by Jerzy Flisak, a master of Polish design and illustration. While history of Polish design abounds in great talent, Flisak has always held a special place in our heart. He is the one illustrator we remember by name from beloved childhood books and, in a way, he’s one of the people who made us more interested in drawing.

Flisak used clear, light line in his mostly black and white illustrations and his works prove a great sense of humor.

Title page (messy typography is typical for the period).

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Chapter on dancing.

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The beginning of the chapter “On Holidays.”

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Chapter on smoking (the sentiment here is close to our hearts).

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Chapter on romance.

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“In the Theater”

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“Celebrations”

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That basement we mentioned is full of other Flisak-illustrated books so if you like what you see, be sure to stay tuned for other old-school gems.

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Today we would like to share one of our favorite design books, a monograph on Marian Bantjes: one of our absolute design idols. The Canadian designer specializes in typography, ornamentation and has a recognizable-but-not-repetitive style that really speaks to our sensitivities. This large-scale books showcases her work and is just such a beauty to look at, a true sensual pleasure. As if that wasn’t enough, the works are annotated with witty, honest stories about how they came – or didn’t come – to be.

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Bantjes has a wonderful sensitivity for non-traditionally understood calligraphy which she combines with more geometric letterforms.

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She has also a true talent (and patience) for filigree ornaments, partly Arabic, partly historic but overall modernized.

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And, of course, her work on tangible typography is one of the most impressive out there and inspired our own search many times. Here, for instance, sugar lettering.

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We’re not sure if this book is still in stock (probably?) but if you like to look at gorgeously designed letters, this is definitely the coffee table book for you.

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In addition to children’s books, we also love beautiful books about design. This one, for instance, shows the work of Jurriaan Schrofer, a somewhat lesser known Dutch designer (1926–1990). He created modernist typographic designs, experimented with letters and grid, designed typefaces, even tried tangible type. His work has a very distinctive style, which you will love if modernist typography works for you.

The book by Unit Editions showcases Schrofer’s designs, giving basic information about them. Visually, it’s an interesting edition with a vivid orange color used in the middle, black thread for binding and, most strikingly, the open spine (we’re of two minds about open-spined books because, while eye-catching, they are much less durable).

The cover with just the designer’s name arranged of the letters he used illustrates his style particularly well.

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Recently we visited a local museum and in the gift shop we found a little gem illustrated by a friend from work, Joanna Czaplewska. The book tells the story of the most famous painting you can see in our area, The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (here, if it’s not famous enough). In simple illustrations it shows how the painting was created and how it ended up in Gdańsk. The book is remarkable not only for its historical detail but also a subdued, painterly color palette.

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This week we went for a short work-related trip and caught an exhibition of posters by a Japanese designer Kazumasa Nagai. Nagai, born in 1929, has had a long career full of awards and official positions. In the 1960s and 70s he produced mostly commercial work, steeped in Japanese visual tradition and playing with geometric compositions with a strong op-art value. In the 80s he focused more on posters illustrating animals, with a strong ecological message and he’s been creating them since. His work is created by hand, usually silk-printed and much closer to fine art than to pure design in everyday understanding. We saw a collection of about 100 posters that give a good idea of the artist’s style.

The exhibition was held in an old building in the Old Town so there’s an interesting interplay between the posters and the architecture, particularly the woodwork.

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A lovely poster for the conference on the future of the oceans, combining allusions to traditional Japanese woodcut with a photograph.

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Save me please, I’m here and Design Life series.

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A close-up of one of our favorites that shows a beautiful combination of fine-arts sensitivity with design principles.

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An unexpected poster for a Rouault exhibition.

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From Save Nature series.

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Very Japanese posters with golden color (the photo doesn’t really do them justice).

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A close-up where you can see the silk print texture of paint.

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And our favorite pair of posters, with a strong use of typography combined with  delicate patterns.

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(We only had a very bad camera with us so the photos are of a rather impressionistic variety but you can see Nagai’s work online if this seems interesting to you.)