The Graphic Language of Neville Brody - Jon Wozencroft

Another book from my last Galloway and Porter trip! Neville Brody is another Top Designer of The Eighties, but very different from Peter Saville. Whereas Saville's designs feel timeless, and are based around 'appropriation', Brody's are very, very 80s, but also highly original. The reason his 80s design feel so, well, 80s, is basically because everyone copied him! A peeve of his which runs through the book is that his work is experimental, and actually very thoughtful. By copying the look of his designs without understanding them, his imitators were going against the core principles he was working for. If they were truly imitating his approach, their designs would look nothing like his.

Brody's work is very typographically-oriented. While a trained graphic designer, he didn't do the dull-looking typographics courses, so he approaches it in a fairly graphical manner, and doesn't really buy 'typographical purity'. He even ended up designing his own fonts for individual headlines, which is pretty nutty. His fonts are heavily geometrically inspired. What's also strange is that all this work was done by hand. The book covers up until 1988, so magazines weren't assembled on computer. These custom fonts were literally drawn by hand, and a fair amount of his dicussion of fonts talks about what's appropriate for a particular printing process, and the techniques used, something that's very distant now that it's all Adobe software on Macs.

It's interesting to see what the guy has worked on. As well as his more famous work for The Face and Arena, there are a few books and posters, and some record covers. Interestingly enough, I was really very uninspired by his record covers. It feels to me as if Brody is an expert at playing with information, opening it up and presenting it, but there just isn't enough to go on with an album cover. Where Saville steals from history to fill the void, Brody flounders, but when given a pile of text and pictures, he can mould the raw material fantastically.

As you'd expect with books like this, it's mostly pictures of Brody's work, plus a certain wodge of text by Brody. However, there's also a fair amount of text by Wozencroft. This is probably the book's greatest weakness. The front and back of the book have a couple of pseudy essays full of claptrap which really obfuscate Brody's point. Ironic, really, when Brody's work is all about making the design visible.

Posted 2008-02-03.