Jealousy and Desire in Book Form

If you are a designer, you’ve had the experience of discovering that the same person or firm designed several of your favorite items. It’s like playing favorites without realizing it. This happens to me repeatedly with work from Volume. I pick up a book at the bookstore, admire it, turn to the colophon and yep, it's a Volume design. Now I could be angry, jealous, and spiteful, which I usually am. But, in this instance, the best recourse is to recognize the great work. I've known Eric Heiman and Adam Brodsley for two decades (yes, we’re all that old). If they were a-holes, then I could simply ignore them. They’re not, unfortunately. They teach at CCA, devote time and energy to AIGA, and are magnanimous genuine people. Damn them.

Several of my favorite books are Volume designed. They have an innate sense of when to stop. The books are true to the subject, never rely on typographic circus tricks, and are remarkably crafted. They present the content in a way that is clear and objective, but never dull or sterile. The commonality is a sense of warmth, value, and cinema. Pacing is the trick with publications. A good publication should be paced like a film: quite moments, crescendo, intimate sequences, and a defined plot. The Volume work does that and injects long shots, details, and close ups. This isn't easy.

There are two emotions that I do my best to avoid, pride and jealousy. Any decision I have ever made based on pride has been a bad one. So what if someone thinks I’m a dingbat? It doesn't cost me anything and investing resources to combat this is often pointless (I’m not talking about Noreen here. I accept her judgment of my dingbat attributes). Jealousy is a hard one to avoid. I’m human; I ask myself, “How come Volume has such great projects? How is it fair that they get to design a magnificent book on Cliff May, but I don’t? I bet they get free Heath ceramics.” But this takes so much effort, and it is so much easier to enjoy their amazing design and relax.

images courtesy Volume, Inc.


Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Cliff May ranch house

When we bought our first house, I told the realtor that we wanted a nice 1950s ranch style house. “Are you sure,” she asked several times. I was shown a great house with a knotty pine den, and kitchen that had won an award in 1955. But, we were also shown several 1930s Spanish Mission style houses. “Everyone loves these,” I was told. Nevertheless, we bought the ranch house. Now, ranch houses seem to be a sought after style. Today, it’s called mid-century modern. When I was 12, I spent hours drawing floor plans of ranch houses. Yes, it’s odd, and I’m sure points to a strange neurosis. They were all based on a book of Cliff May floor plans.

Cliff May was one of the most influential residential architects of the 20th century. He pioneered the ranch style house based on early California Spanish houses. These houses took advantage of the climate with an emphasis on the relationship between the indoors and outdoors. May described it clearly, “The early Californians had the right idea. They built for the seclusion and comfort of their families, for the enjoyment of relaxation in their homes. We want to perpetuate these ideas of home building.” Volume in San Francisco designed an incredible book on May. The book itself is worth having even if you despise ranch style houses.

In the hands of someone like May, these houses are remarkable, warm, and inviting. In other hands, you can end up with E.T. or Poltergeist -ville.