Books opening to innovations

Quite right, apart from the exceptionally undeserving ones, which risk being remembered for the wrong reasons.

Auden was referring to books in terms of their literary merit — what they say, and how the writer said it. When it comes to the type of books that are likely to appeal to design nuts, some score highly on that basis, and others are memorable because of how they look. Then there are the books that will be remembered because their designers turned them into something dazzlingly new or different. The launch of the Apple iPad and other digital readers has created perfect platforms for such innovations.

Here is my personal pick of the current crop of books that seem likeliest to be remembered for their design credentials — for old reasons, and new ones.  Let’s start with a good old-fashioned design book, the whopping two-volume ‘Story of Eames Furniture’ by Marilyn Neuhart, an American designer whose husband, John, worked at the Eames Office. She bills it as both “a good solid story filled with good, interesting, hard-working characters,” and a “warts-and-all-story.”

Neuhart’s bluntness (she describes working with Ray Eames on an earlier book as “one of the most agonizing experiences of my professional life”) makes for a rollicking tale that includes Charles’ womanising, the irritating indecisiveness of both Eameses and their shameless deletion of inconvenient facts from his biography.

The result is a design geek’s dream. Packed with information and insights on the development of every piece of furniture produced by the Eames Office, it is filled with product shots, technical drawings, advertisements, magazine and newspaper clippings, snapshots etc.

Most books on computer programming tend to be written by and for programmers and are unapologetically incomprehensible to the rest of us. “Form + Code” is a happy exception. The book, by the American designer-programmers Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams and the Dutch design group Lust, is not only clearly written, it explains computing phenomena to the techno-challenged.

The book begins by describing the experiments in which early-20th-century artists and writers like Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara anticipated different aspects of computing culture. It also charts digital innovations.

Alice for the iPad

Ever fancied throwing jam tarts at the queen of hearts when reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”? Or shaking the Mad Hatter’s head? Chucking pepper at the Duchess? Swinging a 19th-century pocket watch on its chain? Watching Alice get bigger, only to shrink again?

You can do all of this by touching, stroking or tilting an iPad screen while flicking through ‘Alice for the iPad,’ an application created by Atomic Antelope, an Anglo-American design duo that specialises in developing new reading concepts for the iPad.

They based their interactive ‘Alice’ on a dog-eared early edition of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel featuring the original illustrations by the 19th-century caricaturist John Tenniel. By imagining what kids would want to do with the characters if they could animate Tenniel’s drawings, Atomic Antelope has created something that is fun, beguiling, ingenious and has become a best-selling iPad children’s book.

Visual Editions Doleful predictions of the death of the book have been uttered every time a new medium has emerged, from radio onward. But the traditional book has proved to be remarkably resilient by: a) doing its job rather well as a portable, user-friendly means of allowing us to read thousands of words; and b) being versatile enough to be constantly reinvented.

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