Book review: How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul

by kath_red on 17/05/2007

in Books

How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

By Adrian Shaughnessy and Published by Princeton Architectural Press.

How to stop and think. Pause and take in the view. See the big picture. For designers but also for anyone who creates, has their own small business or who freelances.

First – this book is a good read, an easy conversational writing style. Love the pared back design, subtle and simple. Love that it is not glossy or ‘succulent’ design that is described in the book. This design book takes you behind the scenes – to see all the ‘grubby’ bits, like dealing with clients/customers, money and rejection. The ‘losing your soul’ bit is for those who think that design has something more to offer than ‘commercial messages’, who think that design has ‘cultural and aesthetic value’.

This book is about survival, surviving the competitive, commercial jungle, about how to gain meaning out of a career based on selling, production and commercialism. About how to incorporate your values into your career, when you need to compromise and when you shouldn’t. About how to use the business tool / problem solving aspect of design along with the cultural / aesthetic aspect of design. Its about your own personal expression and overcoming your fear of leaving the safe haven of familiarity.

The author describes this book as ‘agnostic’, it doesn’t try to preach about one particular style or trend over another, it doesn’t say which books to read, doesn’t tell you how to design stuff, nor does it make judgments about the type of products or clients you should design for. The author realises that sometimes you just need to pay the bills. That is something that I really liked about this book, the pragmatic / acerbic observations ‘ the truths’ of design and the design industry.

A book for the entrepreneur, for the free thinking designer, to make their careers enjoyable and meaningful The information is relevant to many different sorts of small businesses with creative work practices. Topics covered include; the attributes needed by a good designer (cultural observation, wit, skilled communicator and integrity for starters), job hunting, types of places to find work (independent design studios – described as a combination of slave camp and enchantment, apprenticeships – learning from more experienced designers), presenting portfolios and job interviews with insightful information about ‘what employers really want’ (hint – personality is really important), starting your own business, freelancing, dealing with clients and staff, and maintaining relationships with colleagues.

Lots of extras including good, fun and relevant interviews with designers from various sectors, information snippets and ‘dollops’ of wisdom, the footnotes in the sidebar add increased information. All adding up to an enjoyable and instructional read.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fern May 18, 2007 at 3:46 am

Heh. I went to law school because I felt like I had to sell my soul as a graphic designer. I wish I had seen this book before I spent all that money on more education!


2 mesclun May 18, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Thanks so much for this review! My son is studying graphic design in art school and though I have my own business, I’m sure he’d rather get this kind of advice from a book rather than his mom. I plan to read it myself as well – it’s always good to get a fresh take on things. I now have quite a long wish lists of books based almost entirely on your reviews.


3 Kristen May 21, 2007 at 5:31 am

I have been enjoying your well-written reviews. Thanks for putting so much effort into them; they bring the books you review into focus and make me want to read them (or want to avoid them, as the case may be). This is one book I will certainly pick up soon.


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