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What I’m Reading: Jesse Reed

In a new series for the site we’re talking to designers about their reading habits, discussing everything from their favourite art and design books, to what they’re reading now and what they’re looking forward to checking out next.

For our first instalment, Jesse Reed, designer and co-founder of studio Order and publishing imprint Standards Manual, also tells us about where and read he makes time to read, and the books that have an important place in the working life of the studio.

Standards Manual’s latest publication, The New York Subway Map Debate – a transcript of the 1978 debate between designer Massimo Vignelli and cartographer John Tauranac over the future of the NYC Subway Map – is available now.

What are you reading at the moment? And have you read anything recently you’d recommend?

Currently reading LaserWriter II: A Novel by Tamara Shopsin. For anyone who was around during the ‘Tekserve on 23rd Street’ days in NYC, this is a very fun read. I also just finished Dave Grohl’s autobiography, The Storyteller, and as a fellow drummer and inner-child, I couldn’t put it down. Also Caps Lock by Ruben Pater. This is a high recommendation for designers, and more specifically design managers or studio owners.

What titles are on your bedside table?

The Third Plate by Dan Barber, Actual Air by David Berman, and The Swastika and Symbols of Hate by Steven Heller.

Where and when do you tend to read? How do books get used in the studio environment?

I mostly read on the weekend. Since I don’t take the subway as often post-pandemic (or the thing we’re still in), my train-reading time has been cut. But yeah, my Saturday and Sunday routine is waking up and deciding which coffee shop to haunt for a few hours in the morning and/or afternoon. My new favourite nook is the corner table at Choice Market in the Clinton Hill neighbourhood of Brooklyn.

The office is filled mostly with books. We use them for research and inspiration. Again, sadly the pandemic has made this process a bit more difficult for employees, but we're constantly buying and sending our team books as needed for specific projects or general reference. Not to mention our Standards Manual Shop, which is open on Saturday’s for retail sales. The way we purchase books is entirely selfish (but as a group), and we simply carry books that everyone on the team wants themselves!

What’s the last visual art/design book you bought?

Basic Principles of Design by Manfred Maier. A classic, and one I’ve always wanted to own.

Is there a visual art/design book that has had a particular impact on you as a designer more than any other?

Graphic Design Manual by Armin Hofmann was the book that changed my University track from fine arts to graphic design, so I owe my career to being exposed to this particular title. I still reference it on a weekly basis, including this morning (unrelated and before writing these answers).

Is there a hard-to-find or rare visual art/design title that you’d love to get your hands on?

When I was at Pentagram Michael (Bierut) personally brought me into a conference room to show me his newly acquired copy of World Geo-Graphic Atlas by Herbert Bayer. Ever since then I’ve been on the hunt, and remain currently unsuccessful.

Is there a visual art/design book that you would pass on to someone not involved in design?

I promise this isn’t a promoted answer, but there have been multiple ‘non-designers’ who gravitate towards my Herb Lubalin book by Adrian Shaughnessy on my bookshelf. Once they get into it, they’re hooked, even without the background in type-nerd-hypnosis that we ‘designers’ are prone to. A book for the masses.

And what book are you looking forward to reading next?

It’s not technically a book, but its size and stature could pass for one, which is the first issue of INQUE by Dan Crowe and Matt Willey. I’ve skimmed a few short articles, but I’m itching for the long-form stuff. I love the absurdity of showing up to Brooklyn’s tiny cafés with this gigantic oversized ‘magazine’ to read. It leaves just enough room for a cup of coffee on the table, sans saucer.

The New York Subway Map Debate is published by Standards Manual. Edited by Gary Hustwit the book includes never-before-seen photographs by Stan Ries and a foreword by Pentagram’s Paula Scher. Available via