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Review: The Designer’s Graphic Stew

I get offers from various companies to review their apps, products, books, and services but I am mostly quiet about them unless I actually have used it and liked it. Most of the time, I just tweet about it. However, I feel compelled to write a brief review for The Designer’s Graphic Stew: Visual Ingredients, Techniques, and Layout Recipes for Graphic Designers.

Now, for those that know me well, they know I’m an avid foodie — I am addicted to The Food Network, find Gordon Ramsay entertaining, and have spent an embarrassing amount on my kitchen and its equipment. So, when I found out that the author of the designer’s bible on grids was also an avid foodie and essentially made this new designer tome a giant cookbook metaphor, it was as if he had written the book just for me. And believe me when I say the cookbook comparisons are unsubtle: the photo of Timothy Samara in the book jacket has him in a chef’s outfit, and the chapter titles all use food photography. Randomly opening the book without much knowledge, you might mistake it for a Martha Stewart volume instead of a design book.

In short, the book goes to compare creating the best designs as a “recipe” of design ingredients: dependant on the project, its goals, and the mood you are looking for, the book has chapters that explain each visual element with a thumbnail example. The first half of the book is a lot like Krause’s Idea Index and the rest of its series where it gives visual snippets and examples that follow a sort of “theme.” These are the “ingredients.” And being the grid guru, Samara guarantees a section on grid thumbnails, which I haven’t found in any other type of design compilation.

Then, the next half of the book are the full-blown “recipes” aka projects: posters, packaging, layouts. They are broken down by its key elements and cited back to the ingredient section of the book to give you ideas on how things are put together, and most importantly, why those ingredients are chosen. The explanation is brief, and sometimes whittled down to its “key message” to explain the goal, but the idea is clear.

The book is possibly targeted mostly to design students, as the intro section goes through design principles and theory (all the while using cooking analogies), and a lot of the breakdowns of imagery and why they should be put together should already be second-nature to most design professionals. However, I do think it is a great reference book and a possibly source of inspiration for starting any new project. And sometimes, even us pros need reminders of what’s, why’s, and how’s.


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