The Elements of Graphic Design, by Alex W. White

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's more esoteric than eclectic.

The Long Version: With the full name of The Elements of Graphic Design: Space, Unity, Page Architecture, and Type, this book by Alex White doesn't hesitate to let you know what its four section titles are. (Hint: the first one is "Space".) Published in 2002 by Allworth Press of New York, it's a book that's slim enough to carry easily and substantial enough to be worth having nearby.

The endpapers have repeating hand-drawn images of pitch forks and shovels on them. On the next page, all is explained with a caption that notes: "The functional difference between a shovel and a pitchfork is the metal that is missing." The emphasis on missing is key, because the role and use of white space is the underlying theme of the book.

The Elements of Graphic Design follows a pattern of samples and examples on the right-hand page, with captions, quotes, and occasionally additional small images next to the body text on the right. The total effect is a dense layering of information, and I was amazed at just how much time I spent on each page. I would read, look at the samples, read some more, ponder, and repeat. It's the book that led me to finally redesign my business cards and website, and while I had the basic idea of the format already, Alex White's writing about the use of space and boundaries are what gave me the final push. It was a productive month.

What I do have a hard time with is deciding who this book is for. It's too dense and elaborate to be an introduction, but not elaborate enough to be a stand-alone textbook; it deals too much with fundamentals to be an advanced designer's guide, but presumes too much knowledge to be accessible to complete beginners. Perhaps it finds its niche (rhymes with quiche) as a remedial source of inspiration for the professional, as well as being appealing to the enthusiastic amateur. I'd consider myself one of the latter, and have found The Elements of Graphic Design very useful. If you're someone who reads reviews of books on graphic design for entertainment, then perhaps it'll be useful for you, too.


  1. This is one of my favorite graphic design books. Thanks for bringing some attention to this slim wonder.


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