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Unit/10 book list – Adrian Shaughnessy, Unit Editions

For the third in our series of Unit/10 book lists, posted as part of our ten year anniversary celebrations, Unit Editions co-founder Adrian Shaughnessy picks ten of his favourite design and visual culture books.

These are not the only design and visual culture books I hold in high regard. There are dozens of others. But these represent a cross section of the books I turn to for research, for inspiration, and for the sheer joy of looking at images, reading good texts and handling well-made and well-designed books.

Tadao Ando: Complete Works – Francesco Dal Co (Phaidon, 1997)

My favourite architect. His use of natural light is a design triumph, likewise his use of concrete. His buildings should be enjoyed in person – but if you can’t visit one, this book is a good second best.

Piet Zwart: Documents in the Visual Arts – Ed: Fridolin Müller (Arthur Niggli, 1966)

If designers ever need a lesson in how to handle form and space, Zwart is the man to turn to. He designed press ads for drill bits and flooring materials, yet made them look like works of avant garde art.

Wallace Berman: Support the Revolution (Institute of Contemporary Art/Amsterdam, 1993)

Berman was a 1960s American artist. His works contain lots of typography, and his famous magazine – Semina – is a work of real graphic innovation. Asked to design a cover for The Doors, he said no. You can see him on the cover of The Beatles Sergeant Pepper album.

17 Graphic Designers, London – John Commander (Balding + Mansell, 1963)

Long before graphic design became a sexy profession, it was the province of pioneer individuals and groups such as the ones featured here. British graphic design of the period does not compare with the best Swiss, German or Dutch work, but as this book shows, GB wasn’t too far behind. Features work by Derek Birdsall, Bob Gill, Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert. 

Listen Whitey!: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power, 1965—1975 – Pat Thomas (Fantagraphics Books, 2012)

It’s very fashionable to eulogise the Black Power movement and easy to take a dilettante, voyeuristic view of that revolutionary movement. But the graphics that came out of that tumultuous time have an incendiary power that is given extra weight because many of the issues the Panthers and others fought against are still with us.

Vinyl Records and Covers by Artists – Guy Schraenen (Museu D'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2005)

Artists are not necessarily better at making album covers than designers, but they bring a contrarian, rule breaking spirit that few trained designers can match. To see what I mean, look at covers by Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Beuys, Marian Zazeela and Laurie Anderson.

The Aspen Papers: Twenty Years of Design Theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen – Ed: Reyner Banham (Pall Mall Press, 1974)

Essential reading for anyone interested in the origins of design criticism. The Aspen Conferences were amongst the first attempts to look at design with a critical eye and to ask the ethical and political questions that we are now familiar with today. Design by Chermayeff and Geismar.

Books on Japan 1931—1972 – Ed: Yoshiyuki Morioka (Ram Publications, 2012)

A book about books! Yet irresistible, especially if you are (as I am) infatuated with Japanese culture and Japanese design. Every time I open this book, I get an acute urge to go to Japan.

Vision in Motion – Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Paul Theobald, 1947)

The book is a dense appraisal by Moholy-Nagy on many aspects of design and culture and ranges through poetry and literature to architecture and colour theory. Visionary!

Our Forbidden Land – Fay Godwin (Jonathan Cape, 1990)

I recently moved from London to the English countryside. This has caused me to become enraptured by trees, fields and skies. Few people capture the primal attraction of landscape better than Fay Goodwin. Most of her books (including this one) have the added bonus of being designed by Ken Garland.

Unit/10 is our celebration of ten years of Unit Editions. Look out for more book lists and details of other projects in the coming months.