Category: Books

The Society of the Spectacle

This past weekend my partner Heath wrapped up the Situationist Film Fest as a part of his MFA thesis show. On Friday night, to a packed (!) room at Public Space One here in Iowa City, he debuted his remake of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle from 1973 (a film Debord based on his own book from 1967).

Because he’s great (and perhaps despite my bias), you should head over and read what he has to say about this project. Here’s an excerpt:

In SoS Debord writes of détournement that it is the “flexible language of anti-ideology,” meaning that détournement is necessary and meant to be used to transform meaning with time. It is the only way in which one can resist falling into the trenches of dogmatism. It is a mode of “communication which includes a critique of itself.” Thus in re-stating SoS in 2013, it must be revised and simultaneously plagiarized, and it is in this vain in which I re-introduce this project. As Debord himself says (détourning Lautréamont) “Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a role in that improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author’s phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.”

Détournement need not only be a mode of subversion, but can also be a self-critical and open-ended way of thinking and making — one that might also be used by others. I like to think of my project as a piece of research by way of re-making or re-stating; a research project which makes use of Debord’s work not as a quotation but as an appropriation of a collective inheritance in the cultural commons. This is how Debord worked, both with his own work as well as his use of the work from others. For Debord, and I’m inclined to agree, it is the “first step toward a literary communism.”

If you’ve got the time, watch this 2013 version in just under 75 min. I promise it’s way more watchable than the original—and a lot more relevant to contemporary society. Proud, proud, proud.

Title design by yours truly.


The Evolution of a Book Cover


Grace Bonney of the blog Design*Sponge recently finished her book titled Design*Sponge at Home—designed by the amazing folks at ALSO. Below is a video to show the book’s overview, and you can read more about it here.

She also just did a post about the design process for the book cover. I absolutely love seeing the behind-the-scenes look at these… what worked, what didn’t, and of course—being reminded once again just how much work goes into finding the right fit and blend of form + function.



While my last post expressed my profound love for having a flexible work schedule, as of laaately, my schedule has been pretty packed. A couple new projects have filled my schedule with little to no time in between. The last year averaged out with work sprinkled about at a patient stride, providing enough to make it work and giving me enough time to do… really, anything. And now, while I’m super thankful to have more work (!) need to figure out a pace that allows me to not just hit it super hard for 2 or 3 weeks, then be so burned out, that I don’t get anything done for the rest of the month. Specifically where I’m seeing the lack is in my reading. I was able to drown in so many books when I moved here (hey, no-work-to-do) and now I’ve been stuck on the first ten pages of my current book for a month. Ack.

Well. I welcome all new time management challenges. Especially when it means I have things to manage. (Thanks clients!) As I have been out of the intake loop lately—just been producingproducingproducing and besides not reading “real” books, haven’t even had much time to tend to my blogs every day (or post here… have you noticed?)—I think I need to revisit what is necessary for my daily intake load. If I miss two days on my google reader, I’m up to about 400 missed posts. Ha! Totally impossible… at least, when you have work to do.

But one that won’t be getting the cleaning house axe is Design*Sponge. They recently posted great eco winter reads to digest as we finish out the next two months of winter. She took the synopses from of all titles at that post, but I’ll only snag the top three here. Head over to their site/her post to read the rest!

1. Farm Together Now by Amy Franceschini, Anne Hamersky, Daniel Tucker

With interest in home gardening at an all-time high and concerns about food production and safety making headlines, Farm Together Now explores the current state of grassroots farming in the U.S. Part oral history and part treatise on food politics, this fascinating project is an introduction to the many individuals who are producing sustainable food, challenging public policy, and developing community organizing efforts. With hundreds of photographs and a foreword from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, Farm Together Now will educate, inspire, and cultivate a new wave of modern agrarians.

2. The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

What happens when two New Yorkers (one an ex-drag queen) do the unthinkable: start over, have a herd of kids, and get a little dirty? Find out in this riotous and moving true tale of goats, mud, and a centuries-old mansion in rustic upstate New York—the new memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the New York Times bestseller I Am Not Myself These Days. A happy series of accidents and a doughnut-laden escape upstate take Josh and his partner, Brent, to the doorstep of the magnificent (and fabulously for sale) Beekman Mansion. One hour and one tour later, they have begun their transformation from uptight urbanites into the two-hundred-year-old-mansion-owning Beekman Boys. Suddenly, Josh—a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career—and Brent are weekend farmers, surrounded by nature’s bounty and an eclectic cast: roosters who double as a wedding cover band; Bubby, the bionic cat; and a herd of eighty-eight goats, courtesy of their new caretaker, Farmer John. And soon, a fledgling business, born of a gift of handmade goat-milk soap, blossoms into a brand, Beekman 1802. The Bucolic Plague is tart and sweet, touching and laugh-out-loud funny, a story about approaching middle age, being in a long-term relationship, realizing the city no longer feeds you in the same way it used to, and finding new depths of love and commitment wherever you live.

3. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of their first year on Essex Farm, from the cold North Country winter through the following harvest season—complete with their wedding in the loft of the barn. Kimball and her husband had a plan: to grow everything needed to feed a community. It was an ambitious idea, a bit romantic, and it worked. Every Friday evening, all year round, a hundred people travel to Essex Farm to pick up their weekly share of the “whole diet”—beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables—produced by the farm. The work is done by draft horses instead of tractors, and the fertility comes from compost. Kimball’s vivid descriptions of landscape, food, cooking—and marriage—are irresistible.

4. The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible by Andy & Dave Hamilton

5. The Creative Family by Amanda Soule

6. The Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman

7. The Urban Homestead by Erik Knutzen & Kelly Coyne

8. Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

9. Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes

10. Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets

Eco winter reading list from Design*Sponge.

No Layout

No Layout is a digital library for independent publishers, focusing on art books and fashion magazines. It is meant as a support for printed publications, allowing users to flip through full content on any screen without downloads or apps. A promotional and archive tool.

I just came across this project from Daniel Pianetti (with assistance from Bogdan Licar who does the coding, along with the Editor in Chief Jonas Brunschwig), in the past week. If any publisher wants a digital companion to their printed publication, they just need to submit a pdf via email to this crew. While the vast majority of the publications venture a bit too far into hipsterdom for my taste, I’m still loving the concept.

Here’s a few covers/spreads:



Tell mum everything is ok


Ola Rindal, The Beginning


Faund Magazine

NaNoWriMo + 30 Covers, 30 Days

Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo (as it’s lovingly called by its followers) is to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. Crazy? Yes. But people do it. Their site says,

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

The only reason I know about this, is because of Iowa City’s Little Village magazine where five writers have been sharing the novel-writing duty and livin’ the dream. You can take a peek at their November accomplishments on their blog.

And then there’s also the design companion to this madness: 30 Covers, 30 Days challenged these designers to each grab a day and produce one book cover in 24 hours. Ahhh, productivity at its finest. Check ’em out.

day one; John Gall

day three; Heads of State

day nine; Louise Fili

day twelve; Gabriele Wilson

day twenty-one; Joe Montgomery

day twenty-three; Leanne Shapton

day twenty-four; Helen Yentus

day thirty; Rodrigo Corral

The Designer as Producer

I was just rereading Ellen Lupton’s short article, “The Designer as Producer,” last night. It was first published in Steven Heller’s 1998 book, The Education of a Graphic Designer, and while the designer-as-author discussion was pretty hot in the 90s, I find it to still be more than relevant a decade later. (Gosh, was 1998 really that long ago?) In this piece, Lupton takes a cue from Walter Benjamin’s 1934 writing “The Author as Producer” and expands it to what that might mean for designers and design educators. Here’s a little passage:

When Benjamin called for authors to become producers, he did not mean for them to become factory workers alienated from the form and purpose of the manufactured thing. The challenge for educators today is to help designers become the masters, not the slaves, of technology. There exist opportunities to seize control–intellectually and economically–of the means of production, and to share that control with the reading public, empowering them to become producers as well as consumers of meaning. As Benjamin phrased it in 1934, the goal is to turn “readers or spectators into collaborators” (233). His words resonate in current educational models, which encourage students to view the reader as a participant in the construction of meaning.

How can schools help students along such a path at this critical juncture in our history?

*Language is a raw material.* Enhance students’ verbal literacy, giving them the confidence to work with and as editors, without forcing them to become writers.

*Theory is a practice.* Foster literacy by integrating the humanities into the studio. Infuse the act of making with the act of thinking.

*Writing is a tool.* Casual writing experiences encourage students to use writing as a device for “prototyping,” to be employed alongside sketching, diagramming, and other forms of conceptualization.

*Technology is physical.* Whether the product of our work is printed on paper or emitted from a screen, designers deal with the human, material response to information.

*The medium is on the menu.* Familiarize students with the many ways that information and ideas are disseminated in contemporary life. Give them the tools to find their rightful place in the food chain.

Kelly Blair

I just came across Kelly Blair’s portfolio after I saw Heath’s book, Experimental Geography, lying around the apartment. And while it was the first time I checked out her work, I found after a simple google search that she’s been around a few blogs in the past couple years for being, well, amazing. In case she’s not on your radar either, here’s a few of my favorite book covers from her:









More than just pretty packaging

“A cover, like it or not, sets the mood for a book,” says John Lundberg in a recent article on Huffington Post entitled, Sometimes It’s Okay To Judge A Book By Its Cover.

True story. While I’ve never not bought a book I already wanted because of the cover, I have certainly felt less pleasure from handling a book that I find to be dreadfully designed. And on the flip side, I have bought a book because of its cover. Lundberg speaks specifically about poetry books:

That’s because reading poetry is something of a ceremony for me. I want it to be quiet. I want to feel stress free. And, at the risk of seeming high-maintenance, I want to do it with a hot cup of coffee. All of this helps me to meditate on poems, and great poems should be meditated on. Here’s how Wallace Stevens put it in his poem “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm”:

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

At the end of the day, it comes down to content, sure. But sometimes things just make you happier the way they’re presented… and the way they’re presented can affect content. Most people work better (and are in better spirits) when they are free of the cold cubicle—even if they have the same materials available to them. I get more satisfaction from sitting in a big comfy chair listening to music with headphones and flipping through the cd packaging than I do downloading anything from iTunes. And I would rather not sip coffee in a shop that’s blowing serious air conditioning with hotel paintings on the wall. It’s all the same content, but the presentation can sometimes weigh the most on your experience.

I’ve had a couple conversations recently regarding the whole ebook convert thing. And we’ll see what happens… but I just simply don’t see it as an equally pleasurable experience to holding the paper in your hand, with the carefully typeset words on the paper, with the (hopefully lovely) cover that encases the words on the paper. It’s a whole package and I like it that way.

Summer reading list

Ok, so perhaps we can’t all knock these out in the next month. BUT. I am pretty excited to have come across this reading list from University of Washington. It’s brought to all of us on the internet from their Visual Communication Design MFA program. This is exciting to me for a few reasons:

1) Reading lists (from people/places you can trust) are great as all the curating is done for you.

2) The tired old saying that “designers don’t read” is, well, true for the most part. We were encouraged to read and told we should be reading in undergrad, but weren’t given a great deal of assistance on where to turn. (Which meant any reading we sought out on our own was likely limited to the usual suspects—Lupton, Heller, Meggs, etc…) I think most undergrad design programs are similar in their emphasis on concept and/or production. While it’s probably safe to say this is what most 19-year-olds are looking for and need from school in order to participate in the practical job market, it can leave you hungry after graduation (and also after entering into said practicality).

3) Hooray for sharing the wisdom! I love when I come across someone’s list like this or class syllabus online. They don’t even need to publish the actual articles like these folks. Just sharing the knowledge of where to go is super helpful.

Ok, three’s enough. The suggested reading list from UW is as follows:

The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard

The Pleasure of the Text Roland Barthes

For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign Jean Baudrillard

Flesh and Machines Rodney Brooks

A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful Edmund Burke

The Meaning of Things Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, E.

Society of the Spectacle Guy DeBord

Archive Fever Jacques Derrida

“Diacritics” Umberto Eco

Essays: First Series Ralph Waldo Emerson

Madness and Civilization Michel Foucault

The Uncanny Sigmund Freud

“A Cyborg Manifesto” Donna Haraway

Weird Tales E. T. W. Hoffman

The Philosophical Works of David Hume David Hume

“Download distractions: New, Pneu, Gnu, and Newed” Wes Jones

Flying Dutchmen Motion in Architecture Kari Jormakka

The Critique of Judgment Immanuel Kant

Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works Melanie Klein

“The Social Life of Things” Igor Kopytoff

Écrits Jacques Lacan

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Karl Marx

The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies Marcel Mauss

Genetic Epistemology Jean Piaget

The Savage Mind Claude Lévi-Strauss

Course in General Linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure

On Photography Susan Sontag

The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual Victor Turner

Playing and Reality D. W. Winnicott


Another promising source I came across the past few months is Helen Armstrong’s site. She used to teach at MICA in the Dept. of Art History, Theory and Criticism while pursuing her MFA, and is currently an assistant professor of design at Miami University in Ohio. Oh, and she wrote Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field (which was great). She shares student projects, blogs, reading lists, syllabi, the works.

So with that said and shared, I send a big giant thank you to all the generous people out there!

Bookshelf porn

Yep, Bookshelf Porn: For whatever you fancy, there’s a good mix of homes, stores and staged arrangements all devoted to the art of arranging books.







via swissmiss.