Book Review: Decoding
Design by Maggie Macnab
Mathematics, physics, philosophy and psychology. Ah yes, the tools of the visual
communication designer. No, you say? Perhaps you thought the tools are Photoshop,
Illustrator and the likes. Think again. Sure, software has been a huge help.
But, its a help in expressing our ideas, not generating them. At least
it should be.
In her new book, Decoding Design: Understanding and using symbols in visual
communication, author and designer, Maggie Macnab takes you on
a journey of symbolism. She pulls back the veil over several logos and other
designs to reveal the hidden meaning just below the surface. Meaning that may
not be obvious at first, yet is often archetypical and resonates deep within
When I first heard of the book, I figured it would be yet another, Parade
of logos, promoting their superstar designers. On the up side, great for
inspiration. On the downside, vehicles for yet more copycat designs. Not so.
This is the stuff that should be the cornerstone for every design curriculum.
For veterans, it reminds of why we may have chosen communication design as a
profession and the power to have to influence our audiences on behalf of our
Decoding Design isnt just a lot of heady theory. Theres a
lot of meat, but its not dried out. The chapters progress, one through
ten, where Maggie explains the meaning and symbolism behind each number. She
goes on to describe the forms and shapes the reflect its meaning and how it has
been incorporated into various designs. I particularly enjoyed how she deconstructed
several marks and pointed out how the underlying symbols are used. Macnab also
shares her own and other designers thoughts and process about the logos and other
designs within the pages.
Back in the day, designers enjoyed a seat in the Board Room. But, over the years,
our professions standing has eroded. We often find ourselves competing
with a clients neighbors cousins kid with a copy of Creative
Suite. Or it might be the Administrative Assistant with Microsoft Publisher.
Weve all been there. Decoding Design, and the concepts Maggie teaches,
will greatly help you to explain and, when needed, defend your work. Plus, it
will provide a roadmap for creating better design that is more than simple decoration.
Its ammunition for the thinking designer.