The Elements of Graphic Design, Alex W. White, 2002 First Edition


The functional difference between a shovel and a pitchfork is the metal that is missing. Alex W. White

In my pre-kids life, I worked as a graphic designer. Though I don’t get to do it as much as I used to, I still love the work and study of graphic design. For the subject I’m passionate about challenge (2018 Reading Challenge), I chose a book I picked up at a used book store, but never read completely. I got it for $4 and because of the heavily discounted price, I feel I got a great deal. However, if I had paid full price for the book…well, I probably wouldn’t have bought it for full price.

At about 140 pages (half of which is pictures and white space) it’s a quick read. Quick but not light. White gives a cerebral look at a branch of communication that touches everyone’s life, from the layout of user manuals to eye-catching billboards. The subject of design–specifically white space–obviously intrigues him, and he shares his knowledge in scholarly prose. White offers clear verbal explanations for what is, in essence, a visual medium. I don’t know that I would recommend this book for beginners. This book isn’t about teaching the elements of design as much as delving deeper into the concepts of good design and scrutizining why things work or don’t work.

The Good:

  • He references other artistic fields like music, painting, sculpture and architecture.
  • He gives numerous visual examples to illustrate his points
  • He often gives variations of examples to show the impact small changes can make on a piece
  • Kudos to White for not using Bernhard’s glorious but overused Priester ad.
  • Included is a helpful glossary of terms and a 90+ designer checklist questionnaire.

The Bad:

  • Not all the examples are great at making his point. The Herman Miller ad may be artistic, but it is illegible and contrary to good design.
  • The layout doesn’t flow naturally. Text is on the right page, graphics on the left and the captions don’t line up with the pictures they refer to.
  • The physical size of the book is about 6 inches by 9 inches. The smaller sized pages paired with the sheer number of graphics mean reduced picture size.

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