‘How to See’

Book Design

Book design for the 40th anniversary edition of ‘How to See.’

In his 1977 design classic How to See, George Nelson offers a primer in visual literacy that encourages readers to take a closer look at the world around them. Pentagram has “remastered” the book for a new 40th anniversary edition, out now from Phaidon Press.

Architect, industrial designer and longtime design director of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, Nelson was responsible for some of the 20th century’s most iconic objects. He believed visual reading was as important as verbal reading, and an essential skill for everyone from design aficionado to amateur. Subtitled “Adventures in a World God Never Made,” How to See helps readers hone their own powers of observation.

“Seeing is not a unique God-given talent, but a discipline. It can be learned.” Nelson writes in the book’s introduction.

Nelson reportedly never travelled without his camera, and in How to See he collects photographs of people, places and things that caught his eye, organized into portfolios—“Cities and highways,” “From the air,” “Transparencies,” and “Buttons,” to name a few—and further grouped in thematic sections like “Communications,” “Mobility” and “Geometrics.” Readers are invited to make comparisons and connections, and develop their visual literacy.

Pentagram’s design for the anniversary edition updates the framework of the original without diminishing any of its visual impact. The restoration features a new cover, larger format, refreshed typography and an interior layout that opens up the pages a bit but maintains the simple, straightforward presentation. Nelson’s photographs were resourced and rescanned, and the image juxtapositions and placements from the original are preserved.

New York
Michael Bierut
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