There might be a growing market of free ebooks for designers, but nothing beats a beautifully edited, intellectually stimulating, printed book – and that's precisely the appeal of Phaidon's new edition of A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design.
Twenty years after the seminal sourcebook by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart was first published, the tome has been extensively revised and updated for a new generation of designers.
Honouring the spirit and structure of the original title, the new edition seeks to define wit and make the case for humour in graphic design. Today – argue editors Greg Quinton (executive creative director at The Partners) and Nick Asbury (writer) – the realm of wit has become larger, not smaller, as designers enjoy access to new technologies and greater freedom to move across disciplinary boundaries.
To prove their point, A Smile in the Mind celebrates the diversity of wit by showcasing over 1,000 visual examples of humour, irony and playfulness in graphic design and branding over the past 40 years.
Inspirational new projects share the stage with older design classics, in a joyful curation of cross-discipline ideas that promise to make you smile.
Quinton and Asbury cover the subject extensively. A chapter titled Types of Wit demonstrates 21 ways of triggering the humour mechanism in the brain – including techniques such as ambiguity, substitution and double takes – while Wit in Practice, and Wit in the World explore graphic humour in different forms, from logos and letterheads to media, memes and more.
Even death doesn't escape, in a section called Life & Death. As its introduction reads: "Even, or perhaps especially, when set against the big issues of life and death, wit has an affirmative and consoling effect."
The final chapter, How I got the Idea, presents 23 interviews with an international set of luminary designers. Updated for the new edition, insightful conversations with creative icons like Milton Glaser, Alan Fletcher, Saul Bass and Ivan Chermayeff now sit alongside contributions from newer voices including Michael Johnson, Noma Bar and Alt Group's Dean Poole.
"Looking at design and branding now, there's a lot of what I call The Attack of the Friendlies," comments Poole, in his interview.
"Brands that look relaxed and friendly, but aren't really. Every bank wants to be your friend. But why? If anything, a bank should be a group of burly guys in suits standing outside steel doors. If you were being witty, you might play with that. But it's all about being friendly now."
A valuable revision, the new edition of A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design is a masterclass in how to use humour to cut through visual noise. It's a weighty collection of the world's best witty design, and an important, timeless addition to any designer's reading list.