For The Next Page: Thirty Tables of Contents—an elegantly designed compendium published by Design Observer—Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, and Jessica Helfand have assembled a selection of tables of contents that becomes a superb document in its own right. Collectively, these 30 examples demonstrate vividly the dynamic combination of the rhetorical and practical functions of this familiar form. Each one also provides evidence of a rich history in which typographic and visual style shape the textual content that will follow.
The book is slim, but not slight: The contents of these tables of contents are varied, distinct, and a little whimsical. As the authors write in an appropriately brief foreword, “Why Philip Larkin and not Billy Collins, Ayn Rand and not Philip Roth, Paul Rand and not Jan Tschichold? Like [the idea of] ‘next’ itself, there’s no intentional logic or over-arching plan: we just found these examples engaging, the discrepancies between them even more so.”
Tracey Shiffman’s 1997 design for Art Issues Press turned the list of chapters for Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy into a clean curve worthy of a real axe. A terrifyingly aggressive composition in bold capital letters and Roman numerals marks Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (a 1996 Signet reprint), while the contents for Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Kitchen Sink Press, 1993) include thumbnail illustrations that perfectly demonstrate McCloud’s lessons in visual abbreviation. And Richard Eckersley created a subtly disorienting matrix, titled “Directory Assistance,” for Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) that is the very quintessence of then-chic deconstructive différence.
These 30 designs speak volumes about the historical moment of their conception, whether they express trade-publication conventions, high modern style, or experimental aesthetics. The graphical force of these pages confirms the designers’ understanding that an argument can take visual form—and that interface is an integral part of information.