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.

  • maxworth

    Now i know graphic design. The hell with a 25K education.

  • Mark

    Looks like a great book, however the cynic in me would say do we need to persuade kids to take this career path, I think it’s already oversubscribed, would be great to see an equivalent for science and engineering careers?

  • Nick

    …dunno about kids. there’s quite a few of my colleagues in the office that should read this book! maybe then, they would understand what i do!!

  • Douglass

    mark, I think that whatever profession someone chooses to go in to as an adult, it’s always helpful to encourage creativity and new ways of thinking.

  • Crixus

    This is going to be a Christmas Present for my Ex M.D – he may finally learn something about the business he claims to be an “expert” in.

  • Ben

    Nick –
    It’s a (Chip) Kidd’s guide to graphic design, not a kid’s guide to graphic design.

  • Ted

    That’s not kerning. That’s tracking.

  • mr. bald

    nice lookin’ book! looks fun to have around… doubt I’ll learn anything from it (since I’m a designer), some of the “lessons” look painfully simple (but nicely laid out!). I doubt it’s meant to be a text book though… lol!

    interesting that Mark brings up how design world is packed full now. there’s not one, but ten designers on every corner. plus, every entry-level secretary that’s read more than one chapter of the photoshop manual is trying to convince your boss that he/she is a designer too (at half the price!). wot a world!

  • Dave H

    Love it and love Chip Kidd’s way of getting his thoughts across. It is a shame about the kerning page though because I do teach the difference between tracking and kerning to my students. Must admit that I’m still very tempted to buy though. There is definite gap in the market for a book like this that is aimed at 14-16 year olds. You’d be surprised at the volume of students who leave school and think Graphics is about making bird boxes, drawing 3D orthographic projections and ‘playing’ on Photoshop.

    As far as the debate about whether we should encourage young people to pursue a career in Graphics, of course we should. Didn’t we (designers) all start off in the same way? It may be a competitive field, but the cream always rises. A lack of competition for jobs would make it a sterile industry that needs to be innovative and kept on it’s toes by fresh ideas and insights.

  • Karina

    Perfect present for my 10 year old sister who is always wondering exactly what I do in my job, she’s also very artistic so that’s her Christmas present sorted! Really looking forward to reading through it with her.

  • This looks like an amazing book. Something I would of loved when I was younger. It took me till the age of 24 years to realize I wanted to work in the designer industry.

  • cliff Witkowski

    This is a very informative book with a lot of good design ideas.And would be very helpful to young people wanting a career in art & design. I believe that everyone should follow their dreams, and do what they want to in life.
    No matter how hard it is and how long it takes to achieve your goal’s in life.
    As a self employed Advertising Artist for 35 years and now a cartoonist creating G.I.Woes , I know that good things are worth working for…

    Check out my humor series at giwoes.com

  • Matt

    ↑ Think Ted should be the first to get a copy :-)

  • This needs to be in every high school library. I would have loved something like this when I was working out my career. Attractive and well presented.

  • Lol

    Wish this had been around when I was a kid!
    Great reference for budding creatives, provides a window for learning how to appreciate the basics of how things are put together, whether they are interested in a creative career or not, fabulous addition to the school library!

  • Simone

    For reason of doubt. Kerning is the reduction of white space between two characters (inter-character space). Kerning should not be be confused with Tracking, which is the overall reduction or increase of white space between characters in a body of text. I think this is a great idea for kids, but get the facts correct.

  • richard

    i had this! http://www.amazon.com/Usborne-Graphic-Design-Practical-Guides/dp/0746001312
    And look!, you too can get all this knowledge for the princely sum of 2 cents

  • This seems really interesting. I want to try this for the kids.

  • This is great book, super present for my doughter.

  • I have just recently got my hands on this book and I have to say, it’s a real treat. Talks to the reader explaining in a friendly way the function and of course end effect of Graphic Design in the everyday. My 10 year old son is already thinking of a career in Graphic Design. It looks like the Zoo will just have to find someone else to be their keeper now 😉