Monthly Archives: November 2007

Tibor, Steven, Louise, and Debbie: New Additions to the Family

Book spines: Tibor, Stylepedia, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

Thanks to a particular financial institution in the world which shall remain anonymous (which is also related to why I haven’t posted in a while: relatives visiting from afar resulting in a decrease of the usual access of my room and computer), I was able to add three books to my Design Library: Tibor Kalman, Preverse Optimist edited by Peter Hall and Michael Bierut; Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design Mannerisms, Quirks, and Conceipts by Steven Heller and Louise Fili; and How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman.

Why I Got These Books

Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist

I had probably heard about this guy here and there but never really paid attention to it, until I saw this interview of Stefan Sagmeister where he mentioned that he had worked for Kalman and praised him of his work as if he was an influence. And if you haven’t figured it out, I am currently obeying to Sagmeister’s words on design and life, for he seemed like the ultimate “do-gooder” of design ever since I read the Nov 2006 CommArts article on him and his “touch people’s hearts” class. But yeah, I felt that Tibor was Sagmeister’s Sagmeister, so it’s like “doubled the good.”


I heard about this book on Sept. 5 from the Core77’s 2007 Hack-2-School Guide according to my GTD notes. It wasn’t really one of my first choices of books to get, but I couldn’t find any other first-choice books in the store (again, little respect). I figured that it would be a book to acquire once I get the philosophical/conceptual side of design down, when I have more experience in design where I could get more inspiration from this collection of styles. But I guess it’s still good to have around.

How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

My first choice in this book shopping spree was Debbie’s book, and I was fortunate enough to find it the second (more like fourth) time I looked in the Art section at Borders. (By the way, I feel that not even major bookstores respect design as much as they should.) I heard about it on design blogs about the book release party and on the BADCast when the guys in the Midwest interviewed Debbie about the book. And from how Debbie describes the interview process, it should be pretty interesting to read.

I read the introductory e-mail that was replied to Debbie about the idea for the book, and I feel a little guilty for wanting to buy a book where I am “‘fishing for a recipe for becoming a successful designer’” (Geissbuhler qtd. in Millman 1). But then again, I don’t think it hurts to learn from the masters.

I am glad to have added these three books to my collection free of charge (except for the anonymous financial institution), and I predict a great enrichment of design knowledge for my noggin over the next few months.


P.S. No, I did not steal money from the anonymous financial institution.

P.P.S. Yes, I MLA cited that quote. I am that nerdy.

Advice for Design Students

Cardboard pieces

Now that I’ve posted a couple introductory entries to the blog, I can start talking about real stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of design podcasts by experienced designers, like Be a Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman, and from time to time, the topic of design students come up and they talk about any advice that they would give to students. I’m not saying that I can’t benefit from their advice just because I’m not an institutional design student anymore, but there are some things that I myself wish I had learned about and had applied when I was still in school.

With Be a Design Cast and Design Matters being produced by people at different levels of experience, their advice differ a little in terms of what’s important to be a good designer. And I wonder if my advice now would be different as I get more experience in my career. So here are my advice to design students. And maybe I’ll do this every year to see how much more I’ve learned about the profession and wish design students had been exposed to this while they are still in school.

1. Check your GEs and all graduation requirements.

This is a special, bitter one from me. Even though I’m currently enjoying the make-up class of Astronomy this fall and becoming inspired by science and jazz (from the radio on my drive to and from campus), I wish that I was done done when I thought that I was done done. It’s just not worth all the trouble of emailing and registering and freaking out for not taking care of something the first time around. So check with your advisors, both from your major and from the university, because sometimes your major advisor doesn’t check the university requirements (wink wink, my undergrad school).

Action for advice: Talk to all your academic advisors.

2. Learn about history

You should be taught that design is not about making things look pretty. Design should have a reason, and that reason comes from history. History is boring, I know, but it’s still important. If you want, pick the part of history that fascinates you, and learn about that. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the Bauhaus after learning about it in my design history class, and it turns out that a lot of design today derives one way or another from the Bauhaus aesthetics. That’s only one case of history, but without any knowledge in design history, we would not be any more different from the typical individual who uses Gotham or Optima just because “it looks cool.”

Action for advice: Take history courses and learn about specific topics in history that interests you on your own time.

3. Learn about design and the world today

Speaking of history, current events is history. I believe it’s important to look at what’s out there today, what people are doing that are both related and not related to design. Go beyond the MP3 player TV commercials and the blockbuster movie posters and look at architecture, product design, interior design, fashion design, the arts, music, and film from all over the country and the world. Stay in touch with non-design current events, too: economy, politics, social issues, etc. Art and design partly responds to life, and without life, art and design has no direction. When I was still in school, it bothered me a little when some of my classmates were so in their own little bubble that they clearly designed something based on what they personally like or what they think is “cute” or “cool.”

Nowadays there are so many blogs on so many topics; the community of design blogs alone is so huge that I can’t possibly subscribe to and read all of them. With online tools like Twitter (which I use to share interesting sites and info with people),, Digg, and RSS readers, it is now possible to quickly access so many great designs out there and draw inspirations from them. So there should not be any reason to not know about current events and trends to use as an influence in your designs.

Action for advice: Subscribe to blogs and podcasts, read about what well-known designers today are doing, and use to collect things you like.

4. Learn about the business side of design.

This is an advice that I wish I had gotten when I was in school. It’s also an advice that was repeated from both Be a Design Cast and Design Matters. I certainly don’t have a lot of business experience, coming from design. My two-and-a-half cases of experience with the business side of design are 0.5) working with the publishing company representative for my high school yearbook as the Design Editor, 1) designing, printing, and selling Naps Shirts by myself with anyone who wanted a Naps Shirt, and 2) working for a year with on-campus clients at Creative Media as a graphic artist. Even though my last point dealt with clients, I somehow think that that experience is insufficient for real-world business. With my academic schedule in college, I definitely had time to learn about business near the end of my senior year, but I didn’t know that was so important in the real world, so I wasted that time and opportunity to learn about food.

Action for advice: If possible, minor in Business, or at least take one or two classes on anything related to business, just so you know something about business.

5. Get an internship

This is another one that I didn’t get to do. To be honest, I don’t think I had time to take on an internship with my situation because I couldn’t really travel anywhere outside of campus without bumming rides. But I really think that it’s valuable if you have the chance to do it, because once you’re out of college, you’re expected (I assume) to be ready to work with people as if you know what they know about working in a real company. I’m still glad that I had some experience working at Creative Media, but somehow I think that an internship at a “real” company is more valuable to your experience.

Also, it’s better to get an internship in college than after because half of the internships I’ve looked at only offer payment in college credit. What would I do with college credit after I’ve graduated?

Action for advice: Get an internship in the real world if you have your own mode of transportation.

6. Experiment

I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have had an instructor who openly values experimentation. He even had a class dedicated to that. There were not defined products in the curriculum, as long as we explored our creativity. I am happy to have had the chance to take a course like that; now, I wish I could have taken it earlier in my undergrad, because before, almost everything I designed had straight lines with everything aligned, very boxy and very boring. I know that the design of this blog (at the time of this post) is very boxy. But simple, accessible web design is a little different from physical design. And besides, the concept of Flush fits the design. Nonetheless, I’m still experimenting on a couple little things in this blog where I would not have done if I hadn’t developed the heart for experimentation.

Action for advice: When you have the chance with your class assignments, experiment with different approaches to your usual process, and when you have spare time, start your own projects where you explore ideas and perspective other than your own.

7. Enjoy college

This is probably just me, but I always use the excuse of having to finish design projects for not going out and socializing. Every start of the year or quarter, when I had very little schoolwork, I always promised myself to make time to hang out. Then the projects started pouring in, and by the time finals come, I’m stuck at my desk on my computer, perfecting the kerning on a project that’s due right after I get off the bus which is coming in two minutes. Maybe it’s a design major thing, where you can’t really stop. And it’s funny how your non-design friends think design is “fun” and “easy” when in fact it stresses you out because of the fact that design is judged on a color-wheel continuum instead of a black-and-white-solve-for-x answer key, which means you could practically spend all available time making your design better and better until it’s time to print, crop, spray-mount, pin-up, and BS-ly present your reasons for your design decisions. But again, that’s probably just me.

Action for advice: Party.

8. Enjoy your summer(s)

I certainly am enjoying my five-months-and-counting summer vacation. Let’s hope that it doesn’t continue indefinitely.

Action for advice: Enjoy your summers, especially the one after graduation, unless you plan on becoming a teacher.


Design Library

Getting Things DoneHow to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul

Over the past few years, while I was still at Davis, I’d acquired a number of design books both from design courses and for my own interest. Somewhere along my undergrad education, I figured that great designers probably have a library of design books that they’ve collected over the years, and that I should start one now. Because of my college budget, I had to be very selective as to which design book I should buy, since there are so many design books out there that are just pretty pictures and no substance. Even though I wasn’t really a fan of reading until recently, I would still like to get my money’s worth of useful information. While I do enjoy flipping through design annuals and anthologies from time to time, the meat of design derives from the philosophy; the concepts.

The following are books that I think are really important for designers like me (geeky, organize-crazy, and/or passionate about design and the world). These books are definitely worth my money and I enjoy having them in my “library.”

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

Now, this may not be a design book, but for someone who likes to get organized in his/her work (and life), this book definitely allows him/her to spend more time being creative and less time managing messes. I started implementing this over the summer, and while I haven’t completely adopted it, I was able to collect all the random design/art ideas that pop into my head in the shower or in the car or anywhere else and save it for creative projects later on.

How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul

How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul

When I first saw this title, I thought it was a little cocky, then kind of funny. But when I thought about how I want to do good in the world with or without design, I looked into getting this book. I don’t quite remember, but I think this was the book, or one of the few books, that made me enjoy reading again. From then on, I would periodically have a book of which I would read ten to twenty pages before I go to bed. I jumped right into the middle of the book, with chapters on “How to find a job,” and “The creative process” before reading the introduction (partly because I was desperate for answers). This book basically helps you to be comfortable with yourself doing what you do in life. It doesn’t tell you what to do with your career; it just gives you notes on topics related to design from which you would make your own decisions about what to make of your career. And plus, it includes a foreword by Stefan Sagmeister! This may be a totally unfair bias on my part, but anything with Sagmeister must be good!

I also like how the cover was so simply and appropriately designed: set in Akzidenz-Grotesk, aligned top left, no fluff, just type on dull cyan. It even has the table of contents! That’s such a great use of the cover. Form follows function. I was/am a little confused about the slashes, though. The inside of the book was beautifully designed, too. Set in Helvetica, no large type, and the only colors used were black and the cyan on modest off-white paper. The seemingly awkward, but clearly intentionally gridded, copy layout made it more beautiful and interesting to read.

Stylin’ with CSS: A Designer’s Guide

Stylin’ with CSS

I got this book for my HTML/CSS class in Fall 2006. I was only somewhat familiar with CSS at the time, and this book really helped me understand the box model and column layouts. I always refer to this book at least once in site project, including Flush. I highly recommend it to those who are new to CSS. Read this through, test the codes for yourself, and you’ll have a great grasp of CSS.

Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century


I have to be honest. I haven’t really seriously read anything from this book. I got it because I heard a lot about it and then found out it was really cheap, compared to the amount of information it contains. I do intend to read it in the future, and even though I’m not reading it now, I still think that it’s a good book to have around, so that when you’re ready to make a change in the world, it’ll be within reach.

I like how this book is categorized into levels by a gradient of colors. It’s very cohesive along with the website. I swear, once I get a job and take care of my financial situation, I will read this more and act. I recommend getting this book, and if you do, READ IT.

“Design Library” Sidebar

For your convenience, I have added a “Design Library” sidebar that features these four books, along with other design books in my collection. I’ve even included books that I rarely look at anymore, like the Adobe CS and Flash 8 books, since I’m on CS3 now. Still, they might be of use someday. And hopefully, that library will expand greatly over time.