The New Simplicity In Graphic Design With Author Stuart Tolley

The New Simplicity In Graphic Design With Author Stuart Tolley

I have a great creative interview for you today with Stuart Tolley about his new book ‘The New Simplicity In Graphic Design’ and a bit more about editorial design, his career path and advice he has for designers.

Being someone who is a fan of print and is just about to launch a print publication then this article is timed perfectly. This is a fantastic interview on the world of print and design and Stuart Tolley’s answers are full of knowledge and information that anyone from the world of design will want to hear. This interview and Stuart’s new book have given me loads of inspiration myself and I highly recommend you read every detail of this interview. 

Before we get into this interview I have just opened up Pre-Orders for 99 Percent Lifestyle Volume 1.

That’s right, after over a year of hard work I have finally turned 99 Percent Lifestyle into a print magazine. You can find out all the information about the first magazine here or pre-order the magazine here. The magazine ships at the end of October and Volume 1 will be limited to 1000 copies only, once they’re sold that’s it! Have a look at some of the magazine spreads here below.

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How did you become a designer?

I’ve always been interested in photography, art and especially graphic design. As a child, long before I knew what graphic design was, I would pour over my dads vinyl records and admire the artwork. It was typical Dad rock stuff, but I loved the psychedelic artwork for ‘Disraeli Gears’ by Cream and the die-cut cover for ‘Jailbreak‘ by Thin Lizzy. At school I would shoehorn graphic design (badly) into all my projects, often creating small publications and skateboard inspired graphics.

Tell me the story about MIN: The New Simplicity in Graphic Design? How did it come about and where did the idea for it come from?

It all happened very organically. I’d just finished authoring my first book, Collector’s Edition: Innovative Packaging and Graphics, which is also published by Thames & Hudson, when a casual conversation with the commissioning editor turned into a book idea. We were analysing my minimal design direction for Collector’s Edition, which is about the new wave of limited edition graphic design created for the music and publishing industries, when he observed that there isn’t a book documenting the rebirth of minimalism in graphic design. We agreed that it would make a fantastic subject and he invited me to submit a book proposal.

I’ve explored minimalism in my work for some time, but what really interested me was the public perception that simplicity in design is the lazy option and easy to create. It’s like a dirty word, often ridiculed. I think the total opposite, that minimalist design takes time to perfect and just because something looks effortless, doesn’t mean it was created with little effort. So, I developed a proposal that aimed to dispel the myth that minimalist design is easy, by showcasing examples that are experimental, colourful and use innovative print production techniques.

Can you describe the creative process behind the editorial design?

Editorial design is primarily about storytelling, creating a journey and reflecting the editorial direction of the publication. All publications have a different personality and the art direction is an integral part of this. I’ve worked on titles about music, film, lifestyle, travel and visual culture, which have all had their own distinct narrative and style. The visual direction for MIN and Collector’s Edition is subtle because the featured examples are the central focus, but it’s also important to change pace and this is why the interview title typography and section openers are more playful.
How long did the book take to make? Did you source all of the content too?

MIN took about two years to complete, from signing the contract to printed article, but there are sequential deadlines throughout the process. Aside from the content, which I also sourced, the most important considerations are the structure, design and navigation system. These are usually determined within the first six months, by creating a BLAD (Book Layout and Design), which is a visual synopsis of the book. This is part of the book making process I love, as a clear navigation system is the backbone that determines the user experience. For MIN, I created a navigation that utilises the gutter, an area in the middle that is normally considered dead space in book design, which allows the user to view the three sections and essays from the outside.

I also decided to photograph each featured example, which is a massive undertaking and took a year to complete. It’s very rare for a book of this nature to include exclusive photography as it’s more common to rely on existing still life imagery. I’m really happy with the outcome, as the consistent background, lighting and art direction create a cool and calm environment.

Why is simplicity something people should take into account when working in the design world?

Simplicity comes into the fore when ornate and expressive graphic trends have become saturised. This anomaly has been repeated over the last century and is particularly pertinent in today’s switched on society, which is bombarded by digital marketing, social media and the constant access to work emails via smartphones. Simplicity provides clarity, which is an increasingly important consideration for graphic designers and communicators. Also a timeless and considered approach to graphic design won’t date over time, unlike reflecting trends, which have the tendency to date quickly.

What’s the biggest challenge you have had to overcome with the book?

The biggest challenge was ensuring the book making process was on deadline, while managing Transmission design studio projects. This became increasing difficult towards the book deadline, as I was spending 17 hours a day, 7 days a week in the studio. Luckily I have a supportive girlfriend and clients.

The book looks stunning. What does it take to make a great design book and what advice do you have for someone also looking at publishing a book on design?

Thanks. I think the most important consideration is a genuine passion, dedication and a love for the subject. Two years is a long time and it’s very important to keep motivated, inspired and ensure the project stays on deadline. The research and learning are also very rewarding, so a book should reflect your personality and interests. When Collector’s Edition was published my girlfriend commented that it’s the printed version of my personality. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s true, as I still buy vinyl records, independent publications and watch documentaries about music subcultures. The author should also be the most passionate person about the subject, as I don’t think anybody will enjoy a book if the author’s interest has waned.

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers reading this article?

Everyone is different, but for me I think it’s important to follow your dreams. I’m motivated by creating interesting projects that have depth and also allow me to be playful and experimental with design. In many ways both my books are dream projects. If someone would have said to me ten years ago that I would have authored two visual culture books, that are published by one of the biggest art publishers in the world, I wouldn’t have believed them.

What does the term ‘being creative’ mean to you?

Creativity can manifest itself in many forms and it’s not just about the arts industry. I love graphic design, but you can be creative in almost any walk of life. I think it’s about personal expression.

If you could go back any tell your 18-year-old self one thing what would it be and why?

Learn more about the business and promotional side of design, as I wish I had a better business brain when I first started to look for work and setting up Transmission. It sounds obvious, but creating interesting work isn’t enough, especially if nobody gets to see it, and the ability to market yourself is paramount too. Also, get a haircut.


What do you have planned for the future?

Sadly it’s not possible to make a living from authoring visual culture books, so my aim is to build up Transmission. Both books are fantastic calling cards and I would like to create publications and digital content for brands and organisations that are centered around design, lifestyle and music culture.

What is your favorite:

Book (can’t be your own)? England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage.

Musician? Today it’s Gonjasufi.

Film and TV Show? Goodfellas. I don’t have a favourite TV show.

Video Game? Bomberman for the SNES.

Food? Rare Argentinian Steak.

Website or Blog? The Guardian.

Mobile App? I use the Twitter app more than anything else.

If you are interested in Stuart’s books then you can purchase MIN: The New Simplicity In Graphic Design here and Collector’s Edition Innovative Packaging and Graphics here.

If you want to follow Stuart then check out the following links: