Robert L. Peters

28 July 2008

Maggie Macnab reviews Worldwide Identity,

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(from DT&G Magazine)

“Thoughtfully written, concisely edited, beautifully designed…”

There is more to being a designer than using tools to re-form and regurgitate our thoughts. There is more to design than balancing concept with execution. Design is intent: the process of understanding relationships and making choices based on that knowledge. We make our thoughts real when we put them into the world, and they give us back the world we live in. Worldwide Identity, Inspired Design from Forty Countries is thoughtfully written and concisely edited by Robert L. Peters, beautifully designed by his team at Circle (Winnipeg, Canada), and published by Rockport in partnership with Icograda (the International Council of Graphic Design Associations).

Rob is very concerned about how we make our thoughts real in the world—as he should be, with the depth and breadth of his background. Rob is a renaissance designer. Founder of Circle, a former president of Icograda, an internationally respected teacher, juror and speaker; mountain climber and solar home-builder; he has more than smarts and experience—he has passion and he has vision. He ventures into the world and the world sends him back with questions about our future. He entreats, “Aware of the advancing threat of monoculture, can the world’s identity designers help conserve and revive those things that make human culture distinct and unique?”

The opening pages are written with an urgent intelligence, and give an integrated overview at where we now stand as a species from a designer’s point of view. As designers in a globally connected world, it is our responsibility to contribute towards a shift in this place we find ourselves, and Rob drives that point home. As he has said, design is a verb and not a noun—a gestalt, not a thing.

As with most design books the verbal content is brief, but is well written and informative. The first few pages of preface and introduction are worth the price of admission alone. They make you think instead of react: something we all need to do more of. The visual content has a museum quality of wayfinding in 2 dimensions: each country’s opening section is displayed as a keyed demographical brief, describing the conditions through which the designs were conceived and birthed. It is not only a quick reference, it allows cultural comparisons of design produced within various countries in an accessible way, something of interest to all of us in today’s technologically connected world. The identities are collected both as encapsulations with background briefs, and fuller histories as case studies. Many are culturally flavoured, a reminder of how wonderful and necessary distinction is in the face of the “emergence of nonplaces (uniform airports, generic shopping malls), and the advancement of what some theorists are calling ‘serial monotony.’” He also points out that more than half of the world’s top economies are no longer countries, but now belong to the corporations. This explains a lot, doesn’t it?

The book opens with “Identity lies at the very core of culture, and it is the key to our understanding of self.” This is a book to remind you of that and it should be on every thinking designer’s bookshelf. Better design leads to better choices, and better choices lead to better design.

—Maggie Macnab, author of Decoding Design, principal of Macnab Design. Read more reviews of Worldwide Identity here.

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