Books of 2012 — A Bunch of Fives

Published:  December 13, 2012
Heath Killen
Books of 2012 — A Bunch of Fives

A Bunch Of Fives
Printer: Evolution Print
Design: The Designers Republic
Editor: Ian Anderson
Inks: CMYK + PMS 805
Finishes: Satin aqueous coating, soft touch laminate & black gloss foil
Stocks: Cocoon 100% recycled silk 200gsm, Popset apricot 80gsm, Olin regular cream 120gsm

“This isn’t a book about graphic design. Maybe it’s not really a book at all.” — Ian Anderson

It’s quite a challenge to write about a graphic design book when the author explicitly states that it’s not a graphic design book. It’s perhaps a fool’s errand to do it when they claim it’s possibly not even a book at all. I’m doing it anyway, after all, A Bunch of Fives is a book by definition, and while it may not be about graphic design it is surely of graphic design. It’s also one of my favourite of the year, followed by Concrete, Pretty Ugly and FUSE 1-20. But if it’s really not a graphic design book, then what is it, and why did I like it so much?

Perhaps it’s just simply a self promotional item. After all, it was essentially made to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Evolution Print, and it does that very well. The book features some well considered and crafted embellishments. It’s superbly bound, image reproductions are high quality, stock is gorgeous, and it’s all perfectly (or deliberately imperfectly) registered. It also smells amazing, if that heady, slightly toxic perfume of ink and paper appeals. But despite the fact that it showcases their considerable craft, it’s not exclusively about Evolution Print. If this is in fact a short-run self promotional item for a printer though, it’s a progressive and quite luxurious one.

But maybe it’s self promotion for The Designer’s Republic, the release marks their 25th year as well as Ian Anderson’s 50th birthday. Anderson’s fingerprints are all over it too, quite possibly literally, rendered in black foil on the cover. His wicked sense of humour runs right through it. A brief opening editorial essay is signed off as being “sent from my iPhone”. You’re instructed to wash your hands and turn the book off at the end. The design also features some quintessential latter day TDR touches, from the typography to the playful layout. But the fact is, it’s not exclusively about them either. In fact they’ve been very generous and collaborative, to the point where even as a reader you feel like you’re part of an open dialogue between all involved.

So if technically not just a promotional piece for printer and designer (despite containing elements of possibility for both and being a stunning example of that kind of collaborative potential) then what?

Well, it definitely contains graphic design. Of some sort. I mean, it’s built on a simple yet elegant brief — What Does Five Mean To You? — which has been interpreted by over 100 of the world’s finest. Page after page of written and visual response. Some oblique. Some not. Some feeling like inside jokes that you’re accidentally overhearing, while others feeling like they are addressed to you personally. Some of it better than most of the commercial work I’ve seen throughout the year too. From the inane to the sublime, there’s a openness to all the contributions. Free from commercial pressures, and free from having to worry about whether or not people will “get it”, one very quickly gets the sense that all involved enjoyed the opportunity to get a little loose.

But maybe Ian’s right. Maybe this is actually graphic designers not doing graphic design. Maybe this is what that looks like. And maybe this isn’t a book. Perhaps it’s just a thing that just happens to look and feel like one. Ultimately, I don’t know if any of it really matters.

So why do I like it so much? Because I managed to score one of only 500 copies? Because it’s well made? Because I don’t really, truly get it but I’m too embarrassed to admit it? I don’t know. All of those things. None of those things. It doesn’t matter because I just like it. I like opening it. I like browsing through it. I like being in possession of it. It’s silly. It’s profound. It’s human. It’s something I keep coming back to. After all the analysis and rigour that we put ourselves through, in one way or another, isn’t this just the kind of thing that we’re all striving to make?

(A Lunch of Chives)

Adrian Shaughnessy

Erik Spiekermann

Graham Wood

Sean Perkins

Images: Design Week

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