A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design

Graphic designer and author Chip Kidd has written an introduction to graphic design for children. The book offers an entertaining and inspiring look at visual communication…

Graphic designer and author Chip Kidd has written an introduction to graphic design for children. The book offers an entertaining and inspiring look at visual communication…

On the front cover of Chip Kidd‘s new book, Go! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, is a big red sign usually reserved for the word ‘stop’. On Kidd’s cover though, it says ‘go’. As he explains later in the book, Kidd is toying with his readers. “It is meant first to attract your attention, then to make you want to investigate it and figure it out. And I think that’s what all book covers should try to do,” he says.

A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is aimed at children aged 10 and above and provides an introduction to some of the key concepts in graphics and typography. Witty, engaging and never condescending, it’s exactly the kind of introduction to graphic design that I never had – but wish I did – when I was at school.

Kidd’s book starts with an explanation of what graphic design is and why it’s important. As he explains, “everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone…and it affects us all the time”.  He also provides a potted history of graphic design, stretching from cave paintings in 10,000 BC to the invention of Garamond in 1530, the first user-friendly Apple computer in 1984 and Photoshop in 1989. It isn’t an exhaustive list but it references some key design movements and technological developments.

The rest of the book is divided into four chapters – form, typography, content and concept – which outline key design principles. In form, he presents examples of how to create powerful designs using techniques such as cropping and juxtaposing images, layering text and playing with light and dark:

And in a chapter on typography, he introduces readers to kerning, points and picas, and a selection of iconic fonts including Didot, Princetown, Huxley Vertical and of course, Gill Sans and Helvetica. It’s a complex subject to relay to a young audience but Kidd pulls it off by toying with type to illustrate his points, encouraging his readers to really think about how typography affects the way we interpret words.

Chapters on content and concept introduce readers to Louis Sullivan’s ‘form follows function’ theory, highlighting the importance of addressing the question, what are you trying to communicate? before deciding on a final design concept. While Kidd acknowledges that the idea for a concept is often the result of luck or a stroke of genius, he encourages readers to “let the problem itself give you ideas”, citing the inspiration for some of his most striking cover designs:

The book ends with a series of design projects encouraging readers to practice the theory they’ve learned. In one, he invites children to create their own visual identity, asking “what is your idea of yourself? And what idea of you do you want others to have?” He also suggests starting a graphic design collection and making a font specimen sheet.

Kidd’s guide is full of practical advice and examples of his own work and others’, including his brilliant Jurassic Park book cover – just one of more than 1000 he’s designed during his design career. It’s informative without being boring,  simplifies complex themes without patronising readers and most importantly, it shows children that design can, and should, be fun.

Go! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is published by Workman and costs $17.95. To order a copy, click here. Kidd will be posting readers’ responses to practical project briefs from the book at gothebook.com.

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