The Design Issue

ISSUE V | December 2020

Massican Magazine

According to Editor Virginia McLeod, the flagship of Phaidon’s design publishing is the monographs produced on product, furniture and interior design. In this issue of Massican Magazine we travel from the corporate offices of nendo in Tokyo, Japan to those of Herman Miller in Zeeland, Michigan to capture the essence of their influential design philosophy.

A Q&A with Phaidon Editor Virginia McLeod

Design is obviously everywhere and a very wide topic What’s the thinking behind Phaidon’s design list. How does it sit with the style and approach of the other books Phaidon publishes?

It is indeed a huge subject, but like other categories we publish, we tend to concentrate on several strands – for example monographs on contemporary designers, monographs on classic mid-century legends, not to mention making some unusual forays into graphic design culture with our books on North Korean design and Soviet era graphics. But I would probably say that our landmark global surveys – on product, furniture and interior design are the flagships of Phaidon’s design publishing.

What makes you decide to publish a book on a designer?

It might be that we have been following the work of a designer and decide to approach them to see if they would like to collaborate with us on a book – and with Phaidon it is always a collaboration. Or it might be the other way round. Someone approaches us because they like what we do and we feel that we could make a great book with them.

With our new Dieter Rams book, The Complete Works, we realised that despite his popularity – Dieter has legions of dedicated fans – there wasn’t actually a definitive ‘catalogue raisonne’ or volume of complete works. We got in touch with Dieter and he responded enthusiastically and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to create a book that he is proud of, that he was essential to the making of, and that can become the ultimate guide to all of the incredible products he designed over so many decades.

Do you ever consider books on relative unknowns or do they have to be household names?

We tend to publish books on designers we know have an audience who are interested in their work and want to know more than it’s possible to get in other formats. Designers like Naoto Fukasawa and Hella Jongerius not only fall into this category, they also have something to say. Our books offer more than just a presentation of a designer’s works – they are often visual or written (or both) manifestos of how they work, they reveal their processes, their way of thinking about design and the world, their philosophy and so much more.

But we do also work with less well-known designers – people we think are exceptional, who are changing the world one design at a time, making things better, and pushing the practice forward – designers we think the world needs to know about.

Are designers more challenging to work with on the design of their books than other authors?

No, I don’t think they are at all. In fact, designers have a fierce appreciation for design, as you would imagine, but also a respect for designers in different disciplines. So, for example, Barber & Osgerby collaborated closely with the designer of their monograph, Henrik Nygren. And the same with nendo and the designer of their book, Irobe Design Institute – and together both designers – product and graphic – came to the project from the spirit of their own disciplines, but with an openness of mind to create something unique in the form of a book.

Some designers we work with, for example John Pawson, have a lot of experience in book making and prefer to do the design themselves. And at the other end of the spectrum, there are designers who are very happy to let a great graphic designer do their thing and take a step back from the process. Each project, each collaboration is different and as a result, uniquely rewarding.

Who are the designers whose work you like to surround yourself with at home?

I’m a big fan of the 20th century classics – looking around me I can see some Eames, some George Nelson, Arne Jacobsen and more than several Finnish designers in my various Iittala belongings. But due to a lack of endless space, I have to satisfy my love of beautifully designed object by browsing our books. Herman Miller already has a lot of well-thumbed pages!

What are the design books we should be buying for friends and family this Christmas?

For some nostalgia and something very unusual I would recommend our books on the graphic culture of North Korea and Soviet-era Russia – Made in North Korea, Printed in North Korea, Soviet Space Graphics and Designed in the USSR – plenty to keep design fans amazed for the entire holiday and into next year.

What’s the book coming next year that’s given you most pleasure to work on?

I’ve been working on a book called Patented: 1,000 Design Patents. With author Thomas Rinaldi, I’ve spent hours engrossed in the wonderful world of patents. We scoured the US Patents Office archives and collected several thousand contenders which we manged – with difficulty because there are so many brilliant ones – to whittle down to 1,000 to include in the book. It’s both a charming and fascinating collection covering over 100 years of product design in all its forms – I can’t wait to see all 1,056 pages in print.

In This Issue