In this second of our year end reviews we’re looking again at publishing, this time focussing on books. Who better to speak to on the subject than the duo responsible for FFF-favourite Unit Editions – Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook. With Manuals 2 [Unit 18] still flying off the virtual shelves we hear their individual reflections, highlights & predictions…
Tell us what it is you do, and why you do it..
AS/ I’m a graphic designer, writer and senior tutor in Visual Communication at RCA, and as one of the co-founders of Unit Editions, I’m also a publisher –but even after five years of Unit, it still sounds odd to write that. Me a publisher? Well, yes, actually. As for why I do what I do? Paranoia, fear and self-doubt.
TB/ I’m a designer at Spin and a (relatively recent) publisher with Unit Editions, I also collect graphic design and have curated a couple of exhibitions. I didn’t have any real choice about the design aspect, it is a vocation; I’m lucky enough to love what I do. The other three facets have happily fallen out of the first.
Can you both give us a couple of personal highlights from the year?
AS/ I’m not very good at looking back. I can barely remember what I did last week, far less think about what was happening in January. In my view, you only look back when you don’t have much to look forward to. There’s never been a time in my life when I haven’t had an immediate future stacked with deadlines, objectives and targets. When I’m in the old folks home with my hearing aid and pacemaker, I might start to look back. Having said that, I’d say that the success of our two Manuals books has been a highlight. Two weeks in Japan was also pretty good. Curating a show of 50 years of graphic design at the RCA was fun. But other than that it has been relentless work, work, and more work.
TB/ It’s been quite a year. I got to visit New Zealand through an invitation to talk at Semi-Permanent. It was a fabulous experience: I got to hang out with the legend that is Dean Poole from Alt group. Work-wise, seeing Manuals 2 in print has been incredibly satisfying, and launching the Spin website was a real highlight. Meeting up with Lance Wyman and Paula Scher was the cherry on top.
You collaborate on Unit Editions, how did that all come about?
AS/ I’d reached a point where I was fed up working with mainstream publishers and was beginning to think about starting my own imprint. I went to the pub with Tony and he said he was also contemplating starting a publishing venture. He had already done some self-publishing so he was ahead of me. But it made lots of sense that we combine our skills and use the knowledge and experience we’d both accumulated as studio owners over many years to start Unit.
TB/ As Adrian mentioned we had a fortuitous meeting where, after the shortest time, we realised that our ambitions were very similar and that our mutual interest and skill sets meant that we could make something work. There was a giant Unit Editions-shaped whole for books that balanced out (hopefully) beautiful design with rich visual and written content.
What changes, if any, have you observed over 2014 with regards to publishing and editorial design?
AS/ The most important thing for me is that the much predicted death of print (and the subsequent demise of books) has not happened. In fact, the opposite is true. Publishing is booming. The record business was blitzed by digital, but print publishing has coped with it much better. Yes, there are huge changes taking place. Newspapers and magazines are suffering, and like lots of people I know, I do a lot of reading online and I get most of my news and information from the web. But this has not lessened my interest in books. I’d also say that in the case of art and design books, nothing in the electronic realm –online, e-books, apps, etc. –comes close to surpassing the perfection of a good book. I’m happy to read books of continuous text –novels, etc –on an iPad, but art and design is better suited to that old fashioned combo of paper, glue and ink. It’s perfect technology. But there is one important proviso to all this –books have to have a reason to exist, and they have to be have real merit in terms of content, design and production.
TB/ The internet has enabled designers to share their passions and interestsin all aspects of creative endeavour. This definitely influences my approach in representing work that can be seen online in print. Our books take a respectful but determinedly contemporary standpoint. I see our job as bringing the subjects we choose to life and expressing their relevance to today.
Any curveballs hit you this year you just weren’t expecting?
AS/ Everything’s a curveball these days. I’m amazed at how much change there is in every aspect of life. I see it most plainly in education. I’ve been at the RCA for five years and even in that short time I’ve seen huge changes. The government wants to privatise all university education, and art schools are first in the firing line. This has resulted in a culture of fear in education. As regards working as a designer professionally, I’m glad I no longer have a studio. I take my hat off to anyone who runs one. It has never been tougher and I don’t see it getting any easier. There’s plenty of work, but budgets are tight as hell and opportunities to do good work are getting fewer and fewer.
Any must have recommendations for the print lover this Christmas?
AS/ I really loved Lars Muller’s Neue Grafik facsimile set. Very sensitively done and (almost) as good as the real thing. JG Ballard’s collected interviews Extreme Metaphors blew my mind. I keep going back to it –so superior to his novels. In the same bracket I’d mention An Encyclopaedia of Myself by Jonathan Meades. I also loved John William’s novel Stoner–and no, it’s not what you think it’s about. And anyone interested in writing (and design) should read Steven Pinker’s Sense of Style. It’s a guide to clear writing, but a lot of what he says is applicable to design.
TB/ I bought a stash of great stuff from the wonderful Steve Heller’s book sale. My favourite was a book on work by Armin Hofmann’s students. My book of the year would be Grafisk design: Henrik Nygren it is a really beautiful tome and well worth a forking out for.
With one eye on 2015, what have you got in the pipeline we can start getting excited about?
AS/ For the first time in our short history we have a “pipeline.” Just like a real publisher. What this means is that we are working on our next five or six titles. Up until now we’ve only ever known what the next book would be, but now we have titles lined up for next year and even into 2016. We’re going to announce the next three –maybe four –books in the New Year.
TB/ So little time so many books. There are some complete crackers lined up for next year, watch this space.
If Santa could bring you one thing this year what would it be?
AS/ A weekend off to do nothing but watch movies.
TB/ I’d put the old bugger in room 101 given the choice, but given that that’s unlikely, I’d settle for car tyres that don’t burst.