By designers for designers

Craig Grannell talks to the creative talent and publishing companies behind the best new books by and about designers and illustrators.

It's been a long time coming, but ATTIK's Noise Five is finally imminent. And since the company practically wrote the book on cutting-edge volumes about designers and illustrators, it's a good time to look at the best and brightest out there, and see what's on the horizon.

There are various reasons designers and studios create volumes about their work: books may be calling cards, documentation or even preservation - a way to collate past experiences and projects in a format more permanent than the original media. For ATTIK, Noise was initially borne of boredom, a logical progression of self-initiated, self-promotional projects that countered the organisation's frustration at clients' unwillingness to experiment. "By going beyond our day-to-day mundane work and creating something different, we released creative energy and opened doors with more progressive brands that believed in bravery in a commercial world," explains co-founder James Sommerville.

While previous Noise books were primarily about experimentation and exposure, Five has a slightly nostalgic edge, augmenting recent work with a 20-year retrospective on the company. "This is something we've never done before. We reveal the highs and lows of our agency since 1986 and this should make the book a little more special," Sommerville adds.

A combination of retrospection, preservation, experimentation and creativity is common in design books by designers. Greenwich's Cog Design created Fifteen to mark its 15th anniversary with a retrospective, but managing director Michael Smith says it also provoked discussion among the team about the company's identity, thereby helping it define itself for the future.

For Stockholm's award-winning graphic designer G¡bor Palotai, 111 Posters was more an opportunity to document his work before it was gone forever. Because of the media he uses, his work is by definition ephemeral. This is most apparent with fragile posters, but by collecting them in book form, they won't disappear. Instead, the collection illustrates that even after the events the posters were designed for are long past, the work still has life.

111 Posters also demonstrates how to play with form. The book and posters within are close to the original format: paper stock is tough and the dust cover is screen-printed. For Gabor, this resampling of content is an interesting angle, and he describes the end result as a 'third thing'. Not just posters, and not just a book, but something about him: the printed equivalent of looking in a mirror.

A personal approach is also evident in Amantes sunt Amentes from London studio Hi-ReS!, released in October last year. Initiated by renowned German art publisher Die Gestalten Verlag, the book, complete with DVD, was three years in the making. Hi-ReS! co-founder and creative director Florian Schmitt explains that producing Amantes sunt Amentes took so long because it was a while before they decided on the correct approach. "We set about essentially redesigning our work for the book and other self-indulgent stuff, such as creating things especially for it," says Schmitt. "In the end, we came to our senses and showcased the best of our work as it was created, and wrote little, but quite personal, copy to go with it."

For some, though, the personal retrospective is taken to extremes. Swimini Purpose, from London-based designer and illustrator Brendan McCarthy, is a vibrant, mind-blowing 'visual autobiography'. The collection of sketches, ideas, concept artwork and design is compiled from unseen material and excerpts from his more recognised output, stitched together with a loose narrative. Turned down by various publishers, McCarthy decided to self-publish, and sales exceeded all his expectations. "It sold out very quickly! I underestimated the level of interest in my work," says McCarthy, adding that copies now change hands for ridiculous sums on eBay.

As a middle ground between the risk of self-publishing and the limitations of working with industry giants, some creatives choose to partner with smaller publishers, who are often willing to take more chances and relinquish authority over a book's direction. Guess Who? The Many Faces of Noma Bar found a home with New York-based Mark Batty Publisher after the Israeli illustrator approached the company.

"The images weren't prepared for the sake of doing a book," explains Bar. "But after five years of creating work for newspapers and magazines, I had 200 portraits, and I arrived at the concept of stories in faces. There was something common to all of them, and it made sense to create a collection."

Bar considers Mark Batty Publisher a brave independent publisher, and the admiration is mutual. Managing editor Buzz Poole elaborates: "We showcase contemporary cultural contexts through the visual. While caricature is an age-old practice, Noma's work struck us as unique in terms of his creative processes, but also in how he approaches subjects. He never shies away from what brought figures into the public eye, regardless if that's a result of fame or infamy."

However, such agreeable relationships are hard to find, with publishers and authors both trying to wrest control of projects. So even designers with proven book-publishing records sometimes go it alone. Illustrator and designer Rian Hughes is testing the waters of print-on-demand, fresh from a successful collaboration with Knockabout Comics, publisher of his Yesterday's Tomorrows comics anthology.

"To have a selection of work under covers you've designed affords you complete control of the presentation; as a perfectionist, that matters," he explains. His first offering in this area is a photographic collection, Industrial Romantic. He is using Lulu to gauge demand and 'proof' the project.

Even ATTIK is returning to self-publishing, primarily for the reasons Hughes cites. The first three Noise volumes were experiments in design and print processes. However, production finishes were lost with the fourth volume because it was produced by a global publisher with understandable concerns about making a worthwhile profit on their investment. "For Noise Five, we're back to self-publishing and not worrying about profits," says Sommerville. "This means we'll have a circus of production finishes that adds that extra dimension: foils, laser-cuts, laminates, embosses, screen printing, scratch-off, fluorescent, heat-sensitive and spot-flock inks, UV varnishes and CMYK!"


Now and next

Guess Who? The Many Faces of Noma Bar
Mark Batty Publisher
978-0977985074
Out now

A compilation of Noma Bar's highly stylised portraits, which have featured in numerous magazines and national newspapers.

Industrial Romantic
Self-published via Lulu
978-0955137631
Out now

Rian Hughes enters the world of self-publishing, with a 264- page collection of his photographic work.

Noise Five
Self-published
ISBN TBA
Out April 2008

The long-awaited fifth book in ATTIK's series of creative tomes. Email vickyh@attik.com for purchasing information.