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The Lost Art of Art Books

In our San Diego office, we have about 40 feet of shelves dedicated to showcasing great design, photography, illustration, and marketing books. I decided that we needed some more storage space and since a lot of the books were gathering dust, I would take some time to clean up and organize a bit. Little did I know, that I would end up spending more time looking at the books than actually organizing or “spring cleaning” and consolidating my collection.

I started feeling really nostalgic. Yes… I even got a little emotional. For those young designers aspiring to be great who are in their mid-30’s and younger, you may not realize how important these books were to guys like me. Looking at award winning work and amazing ideas on paper gave me inspiration. Everything I was working on had to be better. I had to be better… like the artists in the books. I wanted to be acknowledged, published, and frankly I wanted to win a LOT of awards. I wanted the public and my peers to revere my work as much as I did others.

When I started my company 18 years ago, I had a computer I purchased from macmall.com on a credit card. It was a Powermac G3 and cost roughly $3,500. It was just me, my computer, and my bedroom. I attended the University of Maryland and had a lot of friends on the East Coast with good jobs that I could call on to try to get jobs. While I was doing a lot of Web design at the time, much of the work I enjoyed were brand and print projects. Logo design was my favorite. At the time, I was charging about $35 per hour and whenever I was lucky enough to get a new design job, I would reward myself. How? I would buy a new hardbound design book. I found it really fun and relaxing to comb the graphic design aisles at Borders and Bookstar looking for the best way to spend $35 to obtain inspiration for my next project. (rationalizing to myself the whole time that I only had to work an hour to buy the book). I particularly loved the design books by David Carter like “The Big Book of Logos” or “The Big Book of Self Promotion”… let’s just say he had the market cornered on big design books.

I liked the books so much that I had to be in them. I looked up to the designers. The art I was viewing felt important. The feel of the page in my hand was crisp and clean. The book was heavy and substantial. There was a smell to the page. Let’s face it, no matter how old you are, you can remember picking up a magazine or book and holding it up to your nose to smell the ink. I’ve even bought books just because of the smell. The books made a difference and pushed me to get to the next level of my career.

Fast forward to 18 years later. My company has been published in over 20 books and won well over 100 awards. I am extremely proud of that but here’s the problem.  I love winning awards but I realized the main reason that I really enjoyed it is that I love having the legacy of my work in print. I wanted to be admired (meaning my company, Jacob Tyler) the same way I admired others. The difference between winning a platinum award and being printed on a two-page spread versus receiving a bronze award and having your work on a small portion of the page was MASSIVE in my mind. I fought to win and wanted the sheer happiness to wash over me knowing that I could go to the book store and find the great big hard cover book with my work in it. Unfortunately, for the most part, those days are over. Very few “design award show” companies are still printing these great books as it has become cost prohibitive. Well, maybe not cost prohibitive but they can certainly save money and increase profit by just posting on their Websites. Thus, I have stopped submitting for awards as much as I used to. I just don’t care as much anymore.

Now I get it… despite the rise of digital book formats, printed books still have their space in the market. And yes, I know there are still great design books being printed. However, I am just stating my opinion that in MY industry, it doesn’t seem to be the same as it was when I started. The only thing I promise is that the next project we are awarded, I am going to the book store and find ONE design book that inspires me and buy it. Sometimes going back to the start gets you to a much better finish.


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