too big to take to the beach

This post is not about a house, or hardware, or a great architect, although its 1066 pages certainly include something about each of those.

It's hard to imagine that any subject has been passed over in Alan Fletcher's amazing book, The Art of Looking Sideways. Although it was published some years back – and, sadly, Alan died way too early at 74 years old, in 2006 – I am just getting around to reading it now.

In a filmed interview, Alan says the book is "for visually curious people" – not for those who are funny-looking, but for those who see past the obvious and delight in the connections they make there. It is deeply fascinating, and, although I know it's a bit of a cop-out, I'm going to excerpt directly from the publisher's (Phaidon) website which describes it well.

The Art of Looking Sideways is a primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain and the imagination. It is an inexhaustible mine of anecdotes, quotations, images, curious facts and useless information, oddities, serious science, jokes and memories, all concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual, and the limitless resources of the human mind. Loosely arranged in 72 chapters, all this material is presented in a wonderfully inventive series of pages that are themselves masterly demonstrations of the expressive use of type, space, colour and imagery. This book does not set out to teach lessons, but it is full of wisdom and insight collected from all over the world. Describing himself as a visual jackdaw, master designer Alan Fletcher has distilled a lifetime of experience and reflection into a brilliantly witty and inimitable exploration of such subjects as perception, colour, pattern, proportion, paradox, illusion, language, alphabets, words, letters, ideas, creativity, culture, style, aesthetics and value. The Art of Looking Sideways is the ultimate guide to visual awareness, a magical compilation that will entertain and inspire all those who enjoy the interplay between word and image, and who relish the odd and the unexpected.

I noticed that the book is paginated by spread – that is, each page and the one facing it is designed and counted as a unit (which is how we graphic designers lay out books, magazines, and things that open up – creating facing pages that work together in a dynamic way to support the story being told). That one subtle consideration (the folios are, like, 4 point type printed in grey...) is huge to me: each spread is an idea to be absorbed altogether, independent of what precedes or follows, not read one page at a time. Like looking at an exhibition where each piece has its own power, but assembled with others makes an even greater statement.

I feel I could / should read this book now, and keep reading it forever. I knew Alan, and when I see his line drawings and his own unmistakable handwriting here – as 'real' to me as any foundry's typeface – I miss him and am grateful for the proximity to his brilliance that I enjoyed even briefly. – GF

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