Review: The definitive history, a must-have for any student of graphic arts
Philip B. Meggs (1942-2002) was an important figure in the world of design education. By the time of his death, he was a widely-regarded professor in Communication Arts and Design at Virginia Commonwealth University (chair of his department for 13 years) and part of the visiting faculty at Syracuse University and the National College of Art and Design in Dublin Ireland. The journal Graphis called him “as a pragmatist who believed that a solid foundation in the history of the field was necessary but lacking.” In filling that percieved need, he created a book that is regarded almost universally as the definitive published history of graphic design.
First published in 1983, A History of Graphic Design encompasses the development of the discipline, starting with the markings on the walls of the caves of Lascaux, moving through the first alphabets, into early typography and Gutenberg, touching landmarks of 20th Century design such as the Bauhaus, introducing the reader to LumierÃ©, the first photographs, and chromolithography, and bringing us up to the present day, with trends in digital design.
The book unfolds logically and thoughtfully, and the text is a roster of important names, form the Limbourg Bothers and Johann Fust through DÃ¼rer, Jenson, Saul Bass, Slimbach and Licko. No important stone is left unturned.
Straightforwardly designed in and of itself and well-illustrated, the book is a pleasure for the eye to behold as well. Set in 8.5/12 Neue Helvetica 55, the text does not tax the eye, allowing the information to flow. But aside from such austere concerns, the book itself is thorough enough that it is considered part of the standard curriculum in design programs nationwideâ€“even my own humble Portland Community College used it (which is how I got my copy).
This is a book which I feel should be on the shelf of every person who considers themselves a student of the discipline. One comes away from it with a mindful, thoughtful appreciation of where design has beenâ€“and perhaps Meggs would have agreed if I say that, in a discipline such as ours, a knowledge of the past will inform and enhance the future.
A History of Graphic Deisgn, 3rd Ed.
By Philip B. Meggs
510pp with index, Wiley, 1998
Available from Amazon.com