Combining the terms "good design" and "children" often sends me into fits of mild hysteria. There is nothing in this world that I find funnier than adults creating tasteful/mindless toys, games, and books for kiddies that utilize the principles of good design. I used to work across the street from the ultimate in hoity-toity children’s goods. The kind of place where the mobiles looked like something out of a Klee painting, and rocking horses were one single sinuous unseamed piece of polished wood. In short, stuff that no self-respecting child would touch with a ten foot pole. Children’s books are often the same way. "The Graphic Alphabet" is the book I like to single out as the grossest offender (nore does the fact that it won a Caldecott Honor does not help its case any). There are exceptions, though. "Follow the Line" and "One Red Dot" for example, are truly charming titles as fun to kids as they are to PoMo minded adults. One of the best, however, was Mark Gonyea’s, A Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Good. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Gonyea’s conclusions at all times, you have to admit that he has an ear for making this most peculiar of art forms comprehensible to young kids. I was pleased as punch to see that his follow up title was coming out this year. "Another Book About Design," breaks down the elements of a complex image and gives children everywhere a book that they can understand.
Working with primary colors, bold lines, and simple terms, "Another Book About Design," picks up where its predecessor left off. The premise of this book is simple. "Just because it looks complicated doesn’t mean that it is." Breaking down complex images, Gonyea considers foreground and background, familiar images, positive and negative space, how elements are laid out in an image, and so on. Chapters are rarely longer twenty pages, and often whiz by. This is because Gonyea writes his text in big bold letters, often with just a sentence a page. Ideas are easy to follow because he doesn’t engage in complex paragraphs and excess ideas. The principle guiding factor of this book is simplicity. And though you don’t initially realize it, each chapter introduces a concept or element of design that will make a significant contribution to the final image (which is to say, the cover image) in the book.
At the moment I’m currently enjoying Scott McCloud’s book, "Understanding Comics", which tackles many of the same elements Gonyea is discussing here but in an adult context. I should clarify, though, that even though Gonyea has featured a superhero on the cover of his book, this is not a how-to-draw-comic-book-characters title. It’s undoubtedly going to end up purchased that way, and possibly even checked out by kids for that reason, but that is not what the book is about. Like McCloud, title is concerned with the elements on the page or canvas before you. Unlike McCloud, though, there is no discussion of the melding of text and image. Gonyea is all image all the time, and that’s not a bad thing. Art teachers can gleefully pull from his book all kinds of lesson plans. After all, if this book can be used in a practical manner at some point in the future, more power to it.
In terms of titles, Gonyea’s sort of dug himself into a hole. If he keeps writing books in this series (and I certainly hope that he does) he’s going to have to come up with monikers that don’t go the inevitable route of "Yet Another Another book About Design," etc. That said, this is a more than worthy sequel too his original concept. Simple enough to be almost considered a picture book, but with terms and ideas that break down complex ideas without ever condescending to its audience, "Another Book About Design" is one of the better non-fiction titles coming out this year. Seek it out.