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May 30, 2007

The telephone in pictures

When I tell people that a big part of my research is about 'graphic description' I often get a blank look; what does this mean? but it can be good fun! I thought I'd share a few double page spreads, for your consideration:




These are also popups for more detail. There's nothing like direct comparison to see how dramatically different approaches to book design and illustration can be.

The first two spreads are from 'The Telephone' from 1972, part of the Ladybird 'How it Works' series. These are beautifully illustrated in watercolour or art markers (in the style of classic commercial art.) Note the realism in the parts that depict actual things; the straight and angular arrows; the garrish colours.

The double page spread directly below is from David Macauley's 1988 book 'The Way Things Work'. Macauley's fluid, sepia-toned illustrations of technical innards and processes are accompanied by a reader's partner in discovery, the little mammoth. This book is an obvious contrast to the Laybird; some simple parameters have great implications in terms of pricing, readership, and reading style, for instance: 'The Way Things Work' is large, heavy, glossy and dust-jacketted, whereas the Ladybirds are small, light hardcover books.

Graphic description involves much more than tallying simple metrics. It may involve an anlysis of typography and layout, language and writing; of the illustrations in terms of formal features; of characteristics that might aid learning; or of stylistic features that are products of their time or unique to the creator. Last but not least, a description might include the myriad ways that we may imagine these books to be actually used and read by the young audiences they are intended for. Graphic description is useful, even necessary, when examining objects like books; 'designed' just as much (if not more) than they are 'written'.

May 20, 2007

Science and the Public 2007

The second and very worthwhile Science and the Public conference was held yesterday at Imperial College. Like last year, the day was an opportunity to hear and mix with a great diversity of people. thanks Alice and Sarah!

Some talks of note included Justin Dillon's presentation of a project (by Materials Library/Kings College London/Goldsmiths/Tate Modern) to promote public engagement with materials via art: a series of hands-on science-themed activities set within the Tate Modern. These contributed to a later Tate Modern ipod tour which I am looking forward to taking myself.

The Art and Science session as a whole spurred some thoughtful debate about roles and interactions amongst people in fine art, technology and the sciences. Next talk of note, though of course I am biased, was Annegrete's always interesting proposition to improve the graphic design of generic textbook diagrams of closed-loop cycles such as those of carbon and nitrogen. Nicely done AG!

I also enjoyed James Sumner's somewhat bombastic and lively exposition of the fallacies of the 'digital divide', and look forward to hearing more about that work. Alice's engaging talk was part of another session that brought us into the realm of science in popular culture. Describing the contemporary diversity of narrative structures in children's scifi/fantasy literature and other media, her discussion of different shades of pre- an post-industrial tech/nostalgia will bring me to decipher these like a real cultural critic the next time I go see a children's film (yes, I do enjoy the odd animated feature!) I won't spill too many beans about Alice's theories here as she may be happier doing this herself.

My only gripe about the day was that the simultaneous tracks inevitably meant having to miss quite a lot of appealing stuff. Otherwise it was well worth it, and I do hope this event can happen again next year!

May 18, 2007

celeb spotting with the Royal Society

Children's science books in Hello. Really.

May 13, 2007

Being what science calls 'radioactive'

After a brief hiatus, I thought I'd start posting again with an entertaining film on atomic energy from 1953 called A is for Atom.This is a great example of popular animation that reflects perfectly the graphic arts and political concerns of 1950s America. (Lots more on that website by the way thanks to Lorenz for the link)