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How to See by George Nelson

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the legendary George Nelson. From his iconic lamps and lighting, to his clocks, furniture, and years of creative direction at Herman Miller, he was a leader in design and one of the founders of American Modernism. But did you know he was also a pretty prolific writer and photographer as well?

In 1977, George Nelson released a book he called, “How To See – Visual Adventures in a World God Never Made“. It’s kind of a funny title right? The book is about George’s argument for what he calls “Visual literacy”. Just as we need to be literate with our verbal vocabulary in order to understand language, he believed it was just as important to be visually literate in order to make sense of the world we see around us. More specifically the man made world that most of us live in. Filled with all kinds of signs, buildings, and visual chaos that we are faced with on a daily basis. The book is filled with really witty essays and George gives his take on how he sees many of the common things we all see.

The book is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year, and I was recently invited to be on a panel discussion at the Herman Miller showroom in Los Angeles. I along with renowned architect, Barbara Bestor, Karen Stein, Executive Director of the George Nelson foundation, and Aaron Britt from Herman Miller, had a fun informal conversation with a group of other design lovers about the book, and also how it’s still such a relevant issue today, considering how we are now in this age of Instagram, Social Media, and all the images we are bombarded with online.

As part of the anniversary, the book is being re-issued by Phaidon, and they asked graphic design master, Michael Beruit to redesign it, or as he put it, “restore” it to work for today. Here’s a little video that Herman Miller created that speaks more to it:

George’s writing is really entertaining and it’s also kind of fun to see what parallels existed between 1977 and today (and also what’s changed!) It’s a great reminder to take some time to really “see” what’s around you, which is very “happy mundane” right?

How to See is published by Phaidon. More details and an interesting interview with Michael Beruit here.



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