The Learners

Chip Kidd

Back in 2002 I wasn’t yet officially, or perhaps consciously, interested in graphic design, but heard about Chip Kidd’s first novel The Cheese Monkeys somewhere random and put it on my Christmas list. That one is about a guy who goes to a university to study art and ends up in an intense design class that involves lots of outrageous projects. This one picks up a few years later after he’s graduated, as he sets off for his first job at an advertising agency.

Both of these books obviously have really creative, interesting designs since Kidd did them himself (well, the cover design is credited to Bulbous Medulla — with artwork by Charles Burns and lettering by Chris Ware — but I think The Cheese Monkeys said the same thing? It was in his book of book design). The stories themselves involve lots of pre-computer design nostalgia, not to mention general 1950/60s nostalgia through specific brands of products that are mentioned. But while the first one is full of quirky, funny situations that are kind of fantastic in a “life isn’t really that interesting” sort of way, this one attempts to pair the quirky, funny stuff with some existential angst — the combination doesn’t always mesh.

Additionally Kidd is sometimes very explanatory about technical design concepts and other times not. So people who don’t know a lot about design will sometimes not get things and people who do know a lot about design might feel annoyed that he’s explaining so much. I can’t remember if that was similar in The Cheese Monkeys, but then I knew less when I read that one.

I imagine I’ll hold onto these books just because they are so attractive and at some point I will read them again. But there isn’t anything so astounding about the stories, which I guess means that form triumphs over content in these books.

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