From the Designer’s Desk (Part 2): Rita Jules

We keep going back to Miko McGinty’s From the Designer’s Desk post, both for the lovely text and the wonderful images.  We expect to do the same with Part 2 of August’s From the Designer’s Desk installation, from Rita Jules.


Rita Jules—

9780300196146The Bard Graduate Center’s History of Design was an unusually personal project for me. I earned my masters degree at the BGC in design history in 2006 and I have very fond memories of the enthusiasm of the faculty, the supportive administration, and my fellow students, a varied and inspiring bunch.

The History of Design was intended as a reference volume, partly based on the BGC’s demanding survey course required of all first-year students. The ambitious class spanned global material culture from antiquity to the present, focusing on significant techniques, materials, makers, and designers, while introducing varied scholarly approaches. I took extensive notes during the slide lectures and relied on reading lists cobbled together from various sources since, at the time, there was no comprehensive resource for this information.

To be given the opportunity to design such a volume filled me with anticipation. As a practicing book designer for a number of years and a critical user, I had a wish list of what I wanted in such a textbook: images large enough to show the points under discussion, white space in the margins for adding my own comments, and a text font with good weight for comfortable reading for hours on end at a library desk. Thankfully, with experience and support from the Press, I believe we were able to accomplish both the authors’ and publisher’s aims and my own personal ones. The book is a heavyweight with 704 pages and over 350,000 words of text and 800 images. The geographic and chronological divisions are indicated by a cascading series of colored gradients visible on the cut edge of the book block. Their color scheme proved to be the most hotly debated component of the book.

Connections kept multiplying throughout the process. Pat Kirkham, one of the editors, was my thesis advisor, well loved by her students and a highly respected authority in the field. Some of the chapters were written by members of the BGC faculty with whom I had taken fantastic courses, including Jeffrey Collins, Sarah A. Lichtman, and Andrew Morrall. We typeset the text in a beautifully designed font by Tobias Frere-Jones, who taught a type design course I took as an undergraduate that was crucial to developing my typographic eye.

I like to think that our design contributed in its own way through its ease of use and aesthetic appeal to the extension of scholarship in this area. Before this book was published, there was no resource for design and material culture studies equivalent to Janson’s History of Art. I hope History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400–2000 goes on to live as long a life. The first edition of Janson was published in 1962!

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