Three Good Guys. Three Good Books.

Written by in Books, Features, Holiday

Such Gifts These Three! 

How Could You Not? Bierut.

HOW TO … Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World, by Michael Bierut, Published by Harper Design/Thames & Hudson, $50

(Reviewed by Emily Potts) Michael Bierut’s frank commentary on what it takes to become a good designer is honest, compelling, and humbling as he shares his insights and his work, including his beloved collection of sketchbooks (more than 200 to date). There are more than 36 projects featured from start to finish that span his career and speak to the remarkable influence his work has had on the world.  But, really, which editor decided on a 30 word, 138 character book title? Talk about “How Not To …” attract a distracted buyer.

But you won’t find long-winded explanations about the proper way to use grids, typography, or color. Instead Bierut provides concise, one-page descriptions of each project—the client, the problem, the eventual solution—followed by pages of photos with detailed captions. The approachable nature of this book is perhaps what makes it so wonderful. His conversational tone is never preachy or pretentious, and he even tells us the ideas that didn’t fly with the client. Not many people like to admit their missteps, but he proudly shares them like a badge of honor. He is human, after all (I think).

It’s hard to pick a favorite project in this book. From rebranding airlines, department stores, and museums with big budgets, to naming and designing a 24-hour diner in midtown Manhattan with no budget and no way to eat his share of fried eggs and bacon as payment, each story is fun, informative, and inspiring—not surprisingly, much like Bierut’s design work.

Michael Bierut - How To Book 2015


Barking Hats. Snakey Boots. Dreamy Cowboys. Nakamura.


Go West! by Joel Nakamura, Published by Leafstorm Press, Santa Fe, NM, $17.95

(Reviewed by Matt Porter)  “The paintings in this book,” says painter, illustrator, and author Joel Nakamura, “were handcrafted and painted with cactus spines, hot air balloon musings, and yip-ee-i-ays of coyotes.” Liar. At the very least, you will learn how to spell “yip-ee-i-ay,” even if you do not believe coyotes can bark that sound. And, yes, a two-word book title. That’s more like it!


Author, artist Joel Nakamura loves children. And they love him. Of Asian heritages, Santa Fe tourists often mistake him for a son of Zuni. He loves it.

Mystical, dreamy, delightful, funny, wonderful, adventurous, colorful. These are words that describe most of the work from Nakamura.  He relocated to Santa Fe in 1996, is a graduate of Art Center in Pasadena and a third degree black belt in Aikido. Go West! is his first children’s book. For more than three decades, Santa Fe art buyers and graphic arts fans worldwide have come to know Nakamura and enjoy his vibrant use of color, exquisitely detailed paintings (on canvas, wood, tin, copper, and, if you visit famed Harry’s Roadhouse outside of Santa Fe town, the bar). Nakamura’s love of and respect for the history and culture of both indigenous and cowboy culture erupts from his work. His narrative power is influenced by the folklore and myths of Native American mythology and the traditions of the Westerners who migrated to this part of the American West. A native of Whittier, CA, Nakamura is a third generation American, and often mistaken by tourists as a Native American. This delights him.

Now his love for and knowledge of his adopted home of New Mexico is delivered in words and images for children to explore. Like any books by a uniquely talented illustrator and artist, this book is also for adults. But the difference is this: you’ll want to contact the artist directly, and buy one of his original paintings to hang on your wall, not bury in your dusty library.

Go West! was selected as a notable new children’s book by the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award which “celebrates youthful curiosity, discovery, and learning through books and reading.” With lizards, rainbows, bucking horses, talking rocks, barking hats, cocoa, roadrunners, laughing moons, and singing cowboys, this book is forever young. He and wife Kathleen live off an unpaved road named Bobcat with their son Kai and daughter Paloma. Their boots are always ready, dusty, and well worn.

Cahones. Clout. Kindness. Stout. 




VARIATIONS ON A RECTANGLE, 30 Years of Graphic Design, From Texas Monthly to Pentagram, by DJ Stout, Published by UT Press, Austin, TX, $50

(Reviewed by Matt Porter) To fully appreciate DJ Stout, you might have to meet him. To fully appreciate his new book, you have to read it — with your eyes closed. To be fair, this is not an objective review. If you want that, read the NYT Book Review at the end of this essay or, better, the fine review filled with images in Design Observer authored beautifully by John Foster.

We are programmed to resent people like DJ Stout. He’s got looks, money, clout, and fame. He’s got a beautiful partner (Lana) and three great children, Nick, 25, Patrick, 30, and Lucy, 8. He’s a Pentagram Partner. And now, goddammit, he’s proven he can write.  What about this guy?  I’ve searched for holes in his hat: hubris, credit grabbing, bullying, asking interns to pick up his dogs’ turds in the basement. But guess what? He’s a good guy—kind, humble, and generous. He can’t help it if he’s talented and good looking: blame his mom and dad for that.




“Really?! You like the writing!?!” That’s what he first said to me when I called to tell him I liked his manuscript. I read it and made some suggestions as a personal favor — and besides a few too many Texas-isms and bad cowboy metaphors, it was a great read, even read raw. Well, its leaner, meaner, and better now. And while I do like the writing in this book, what I like most are its stories. And Stout spins them well, with an insiders peek at some of the best years at one of the best magazines of the fourth quarter of the 20th century.

When you are caught up reading these stories, you feel like a kid sneaking under the tent at the circus. Stout offers revealing details about how these stories came alive, how photoshoots were organized, plus juicy bits about how coddled stars curdled into sobs in dimly-lit motor inns. Then there’s my favorite about how a 24 year old’s body got affixed to the weathered face of a 62 year old gubernatorial candidate. When I learned how mean Tommy Lee Jones can be at daybreak, I stopped liking him, even if he is friends with Al Gore.


These tales are the heart and soul of this book. Even if some of them aren’t 100% true, who cares? That’s a Texan’s prerogative. But rather than tell you how good he was or how much he did or how indispensable he was,  Stout assigns credit to good parents, a forgiving editor, a lot of luck, and the galaxy of writers, photographers, artists, and production teams he was blessed to work with. This is not  false humility. Its genuine gratitude. As he notes in his book, “An editorial art director is only as good as his editor.”

If you think I am kidding, I urge anyone who reads this review to send DJ Stout a personal letter telling him how you would use his book to improve your work, help others, and share credit with your collaborators (along with $50 to cover the cost of the book and postage) and he’ll send you one, with a note of gratitude. Really.







Look this story up. It will turn your stomach. DJ’s account of this tale will do the same.
Not all Texans are jolly good fellows.


NYTBR 12.6.2015 HOW TO

Rare is the design book that gets reviewed by the Sunday NYT Book Review (December 6, 2015). Both of these did. And Heller didn’t even have to write it!

  1. 12
    Tom Wright said:

    Each one of the extrodinally gifted creatives has delivered a consistency of quality and insight that few will achieve in their lifetime. It’s a blessing that they are able to share I. Their appropriate and respective voices. For me there is a fourth gifted individual that we should celebrate. And that is the blog author of this and many of Neenah’s Against The Grain articles, Matt Porter. Matt can reach to the core of the audience he servers. He has done so on stage for North America’s greatest design publications were he has given insight into those that create via breaking the rules and hence moving design forward. Congrats to all the writers within this article. Talent abounds!

  2. 12
    Matt Porter said:


  3. 12
    Matt Porter said:

    Tom, You are so kind and supportive of me. No one has ever written such a nice thing about me in a magazine or on a blog. Thank you for always encouraging me an believing that I had more to offer than Molotov Cocktails. You are a good friend. And TOTALLY biased!