Wednesday, April 19, 2006

a river runs through it

telephoneBook.jpgGraphic Designer Richard Eckersley is dead at 65.
In 1989 Mr. Eckersley made a radical departure from his signature restraint, shaking up the field with his design for Avital Ronell's ‘Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech,’ an unorthodox study of Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger and the philosophy of deconstruction. This was the first book Mr. Eckersley designed on the computer, using new page-making software programs to interpret the author's complex postmodern ideas typographically.

Although the stark black-and-white cover of this long vertical book was rather quiet, he radically dislodged the interior text from conventional settings, and the book’s layout sometimes upstages the text by deliberately impeding the act of reading, which is just what Ms. Ronell wanted. Throughout the book there are unexplained gaps and dislocations between sentences and paragraphs, forcing the reader to work at reading. On one page is a mirror image of the page that faces it. On another, snakelike trails of space that come from careless word spacing (called rivers) are intentionally employed. Some words are blurred to the point of being indecipherable; one line runs into another because of the exaggerated use of negative line-spacing.

Though some adventurous graphic designers were experimenting at the time with idiosyncratic computer type design, this was first attempt to apply a ‘deconstructivist style’ to a serious book.
Eleven examples of Mr. Eckersley’s book design are in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. He won the Carl Herzog Prize for book design in 1994.

If you love books, you might appreciate his obituary (from which the above is cited), published in today’s New York Times »

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