A new book is celebrating Norman Ives’ deconstructed designs

Ives was known for creating striking compositions out of fragmented letterforms and abstract formations that straddled the worlds of graphic design and fine art

A new monograph published by PowerHouse Books is giving an insight into the life and work of graphic designer and fine artist Norman Ives.

Norman Ives: Constructions and Reconstructions is the work of graphic designer, author and professor John T. Hill, who also studied under and eventually taught alongside Ives at the Yale University School of Art. Ives himself studied under Josef Albers at the same university during the early years of Albers’ expansion of the education programme.


Ives died in 1978 before the “the wall separating applied from pure art disciplines” had “cracked and shattered in as many places as they have today”, according to Steven Heller, who writes the book’s foreword. He believes that, had Ives lived longer into the 80s and 90s, his work may have been recognised more so along the lines of well-known artists whose practice is closely linked to type and lettering such as Barbara Kruger.

Ives experimented with forms, techniques and materials ranging from painting and silk screen prints to murals, sculpture and bas-reliefs. His personal work also encompassed fascinating collage work, and he was a “graphic pioneer” of layering according to Heller.

Among Ives’ commercial graphic design work featured in the book are various creations that demonstrate his curious eye for slotting letterforms into complex geometric forms, whether his labyrinthine logomark for BT: Bank, or a densely layered cover design for AIGA journal in the early 70s.

The book’s section on graphic design opens with an excerpt from an essay written by Ives himself in a 1960 volume of Industrial Design journal, where he muses on the limitations imposed on graphic designers, saying that these pave the way for ingenuity: “Restrictions are present wherever products are mass-produced – and they are necessary and desirable. It takes an ingenious and dedicated designer to overcome them or use them to advantage”.

Early collage work
Mural at Southwest High School, Baltimore, Maryland

Norman Ives: Constructions and Reconstructions is published by PowerHouse Books, priced $65; powerhousebooks.com