October 29, 2012

Beirut, Boom, Vignelli and Wild at the Designers & Books Fair


Panelists greeted audience members after the keynote event on Friday.

The first Designers & Books Fair was held this weekend at FIT. Organized by Stephen Kroeter, the weekend-long event hosted speaking events, book signings, and a publisher exhibit hall with 35 American and European companies selling new and rare books.

The keynote address “Designing the Future of the Design Book” on Friday night was moderated by Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA with a panel featuring Michael Beirut, Irma Boom, Massimo Vignelli, and Lorraine Wild.

Bergdoll began the discussion by examining the intersection of architecture and books, analyzing Victor Hugo’s claim that “The book will kill the building.” He asked panelists if designing a book or an experience for the reader could be compared to architectural design. Vignelli said that the complexity of structure and the organization of information was similar. Beirut wondered if opening a book in the middle rather than reading from beginning to end could be like the experience of walking into a building.

The discussion moved on to digital books, as Massimo Vignelli declared “The book is dead!” every few minutes, later adding “Long live the book!” to that refrain. Irma Boom, and Lorraine Wild, took issue with Vignelli’s pessimism. Wild emphasized books as cultural preservation, a way of capturing experience in the fixed nature of an artifact, through the sequence of pages. “I am conscious that things I make will be around after I am,” she said. “Perhaps I have this feeling because of my experience making exhibition catalogs—after a temporal event of the show, the exhibition book captures and preserves that experience for someone as evidence of collaboration in space and time. There is time attached to a book.”

Irma Boom, a Amsterdam-based graphic designer and book artist agreed, adding that physical books (particularly designed artists books) are experiencing a renaissance in the context of new digital media. “In my work, the printed book feels more outspoken than ever before… it is a frozen truth.”

Acknowledging that digital media is in its infancy, the panelists seemed to agree that the future of the book could and should be more than information streaming. “Layout is dead if the book is dead,” Beirut said. He asked: “Has anyone see a fantastic digital book that is the vanguard for this time? I have never seen one.”

But that opportunity generated excitement for Wild, who said her students are enthusiastic about print book making, as well as the possiblities of digital. She suggested the difference lies in the “impcit information in form. The document and object holds the story, and that is where one can’t exactly make a parallel in the digital world… we need to find a design language that will be as equally creative as design books.”

After questions from the audience, moderator Berdoll summed things up: “If we’ve reached one clear fundamental idea for the future book, it’s that there’s a difference between basic information delivery and the careful design of the relationship between word and image that’s collaborative with the subject.”

Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.