graphic everything : talk to yourself

by Art Chantry:

this is a classic. but, i imagine most of you graphic designers out there who entered the market since the “digital revolution” has never heard of this book. this is the POCKET PAL by Michael H. Bruno, manager of graphic arts research at the corporate research center of the international paper company (this copy pictured is from 1970). this little ‘pocket book’ format paperback book was published for decades by IPC (the international paper company) as a device/promo giveaway to help sales their printing paper product line. (side note: the IPC logo was designed by lester beall)

—nobody ever said this pocket pal book told you how to do graphic design WELL. it just has the basic info about the graphic arts field in it and you’re supposed to take it from there.—AC

first published waaaay back in 1934, it stayed in print (is it still around?) until at least 1980. Bruno continually updated the info inside and continuously modernized it’s formatting through it’s entire existance. but, the real magic of this little book was that it was the greatest source of INFORMATION ever created about graphic design and printing. it has EVERYTHING in it – in concise careful detail and explanations so straight and easy even a numbskull can understand it. yes, that means you.

the story i read was that Bruno was a top salesman in the IPC company and began to notice a lack of standardization among his clients he sold paper to. basically, he found a lot of confusion and ignorance out there. to make his sales work easier, he began to compile the information he encountered among printers and designers and artists. then, soon, people began asking for his information to help themselves communicate in their work. basically, he wrote the dictionary that the industry needed to create it’s literature. it was an easy step to simply publish the info in a little book as a advertising giveaway (“swag”). the rest became instant history. and that’s where this Pocket Pal came from – not academia, but the biz itself. this is the world of printing and design talking to itself.

printing technology progressed and changed over time. for instance, originally the Pocket Pal dealt almost exclusively with letterpress printing – with some litho stuff and dab of gravure. hardly state of the art even 30 years ago. as technology changed and graphic design became it’s own discipline, the information inside this book included more and more. it grew with the industry.

some of the sections include chapters such as graphic arts and printing history (!), the printing process, art & copy preparation, graphic arts photography (the photostat camera), printing itself, binding, paper, inks, and a glossary/dictionary of printing arts terms. it ends with a chapter pitching the IPC paper line. that way, they deducted it from their advertsiign budget and kept in print for so long.

this book was so invaluable in it’s day that no graphic artist was ever caught wthout one. it was assigned as a textbook in college and voc. school classrooms. it sat on every studio bookshelf or in the desk drawer or next to the printing press itself. it’s rare to find one in clean condition because they were so heavily referenced that they became dog-eared, broken, dirty, damaged and otherwise loved to death. the steady updates and reprints became a backbone of the industry because they got used up so fast that the new editions became as essential as air for the industry.

i don’t know if these things are still around. i think they may have finally gone away. computer engineers changed the process, the dialog, the craft, the technology – the ENTIRE PARADIGM – so dramatically that much of these definitions in the glossary have been abandoned or re-defined into something different entirely (‘font’, ‘pica’, ‘invert’, etc.) indeed, paper variety itself has become so underused that most paper companies went out of business unless they manufactured ONLY No. 2 white coated paper. i don’t even know if IPC (one of the biggest on earth) survived.

so, even though most of you computer twits out there seem to think you already know everything you need to know about graphic design when you bought the program, i think you should make the minimal effort needed to find a copy of the Pocket Pal. and then i think you should actually READ it. it w

actually tell you more about what it is you do as a graphic designer than every single piece of software on the market combined. this is still essential, even though it’s forgotten. you computer jockeys can’t tell me you already know what you don’t know. because I KNOW what you don’t know.

“check your pocket pal, idiot.” that old insult now brings a tear to my eye.

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