Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chip Kidd: The Learners

I was intrigued by the New York Times' review of book jacket designer & obviously also book-writer Chip Kidd's latest novel The Learners. It wasn't a stunning review, but the premise of the novel is interesting & excerpts I've read seem entertaining & well written. It's still on my list to read.

As per Amazon & the Times, the book details the experiences of a recent graphic design graduate in the "real-world" of office work and his unexpected involvement with the experiments of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. The name may not ring a bell, but I'm sure you've heard of the experiments in which participants were coaxed by a "Teacher" to give "Learners" what they believed were dangerously high electric shocks.

The following is part of the New York Times article:
"...The Learners is a funny novel, if one that doesn’t always do grief as convincingly as comedy or succeed in evoking both at once. For an Image guy, Kidd has infectious fun with words. “Some people spoke volumes,” Happy says of Tip, his glib co-worker. “Tip spoke leaflets.” Sometimes Kidd strains too hard, but he’s set his novel among advertising people, who strain too hard with words for a living. One of them waxes about the transformational power of the suffix in a cereal brand, Crispy Cornies: “By adding three letters to the word ‘corn,’ it’s no longer made by God, it’s made by man. Amazing.”

But Kidd’s use and explication of graphic design — Happy’s means of expressing himself — is what’s most striking here. “Typography,” he writes, “is truly the invisible art of the last 100 years.” It’s ubiquitous, influential and too often ignored. (Especially, as Happy quickly learns, by the damn Word people: “Make it bigger.” “Make it smaller.” “Cut some of the copy? You’re joking.”) In several digressions — sometimes enlightening, sometimes pedantic — ”Content” gets monologues to describe how it can appear as deception, irony, metaphor and so on. On one tour-de-force spread, Happy gets an assignment to design a small newspaper ad — for the Milgram experiment — and breaks down the mundane-looking block of text to annotate the subtle messages of every typeface, punctuation mark and column grouping. These digressions don’t always successfully connect with the story, but when they do, they poignantly show Happy trying to find the words — and the typeface — to adequately express his emotions."

You can read the whole New York Times review "The Medium and the Message" by James Poniewozik here.

You can also listen to the recent interview with Chip on Minnesota Public Radio here (accessible through Real Player & Windows Media Player only unfortunately).

Or go to purchase The Learners or his first book in the series, The Cheese Monkeys, on here.

You can browse Chip's latest work and learn more about him on his website

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