Do We Need Design Annuals as Books?

Google “graphic design annuals” and up pops a list of design-related magazines (with Print and How high atop the list), publishers, organizations, and online outlets that sponsor competitions for the year’s best design, divvied up into all sorts of categories and classifications, from regional and age-related rubrics to various disciplines: posters, books, book covers, packaging, products, commercial, digital, etc.

Evaluating the output of a multifaceted field like “design,” with its astounding range of talent and originality, and lack thereof, makes sense. Companies can use these lists and competitions to find individuals and agencies to create a new campaign or visual identity; the individuals and agencies can revel in the approval of their peers, while also checking out the rest of the field for inspiration; the sponsors of these juried reviews also benefit, establishing relationships with all sorts of designers while, in some cases, also generating a little cash to cover the costs of running the competitions.

I have no issue with any of this. And I think I’ve made it clear here that I love books, the ones made up of ink printed on paper, stitched together and glued. That said, I am so over big books of the year’s best (kind of) design, or best of (your nationality here) design. I see so many pitches for these sorts of books. I’ll tell you. They all pretty much look the same in terms of what they present, and with so many online design resources, it seems to me that it is time to put these sorts of books to rest.

We all spend so much time in front of our computers, working true, but also checking the latest post on Core77, It’s Nice That, Design *Sponge, FFFFound, perhaps even Imprint. These and oh so many more websites bring the entire world of design right to us. Does such a resource really need to be printed as a big expensive book in this day and age? I don’t think so.

Before Print never lets me write another word for them, I should say that my appreciation to printed matter extends to magazines that dedicate issues to the year’s best design. I take no issue with the fact that some of these issues have more pages and might cost a little more. But there is a big difference between paying $20 or $65 for something you page through from time to time but otherwise sits on a shelf.

So what say you readers? Do you still buy big design annuals or do you find that the internet provides enough resources for you to stay caught up with the year’s best?

7 thoughts on “Do We Need Design Annuals as Books?

  1. Buzz Poole Post author

    Hi All — I thought this would generate some responses. I’m with Michael and Kyle in terms of wanting books that feature some sort of narrative in terms of the works collected within. An example that comes to mind is Pioneers of Spanish Graphic Design (full disclosure, I worked on the English-language edition). Originated by Index Books in Barcelona this book presents a time period, featuring the work of fifteen designers active between 1939 and 1975. Their work is framed within the political and cultural contexts that defined that era in Spain.

    I also dig book books of the best work from reputable publications, like Design Anarchy from Adbusters or Ginkgo’s retrospective of Emigre.

    I guess on one level these might fall slightly beyond the lines of annuals, but they are big, wonderful collections that distill lots of work.

    I guess the next question is this: In traditional design annuals, how much of the featured work will really stand the test of time? The big books we all seem to cherish hold value because the featured work is timeless. Does what we look at, and like, for a few minutes online look as good on the printed page?

    Keep the comments coming!

  2. Wren

    Have you seen the recent issues of Print? The glue on the spine is thicker than the amount of pages contained… maybe 100 pages with half advertising. $12.95 USD.

    The annuals are a quarter the size of what they used to be. Print magazine shouldn’t be included in a discussion about “big design annuals”.

    I feel bad for them, but seriously, GDUSA is free to me and has better content.

    I still buy Communication Arts and other regional annuals because, like Kyle, I think they’re a fantastic marker of design history. I also think they’re a much more rounded opinion of what “good design” trended under. A lot of books just feel like one person’s narrow opinion of “good design”.

    However, I do like gigantic books that cover periods of time like a book on the past decade in grunge or type specimens of the 1950s.

  3. Valeska Toledo

    I too spend [sometimes] hours online just browsing through great collection of designs (be it websites or print) for ‘instant’ inspiration, something I no longer get from my years of PRINT subscription, all nicely showcased in my bookcase. But there is something about flipping through the actual pages, it’s for the pure love of art and design for me. I have yet to find a website that can hold my attention for as long as a design magazine/book do.

  4. Kellie Schroeder

    I believe it is time for Print and How to look at different ways to present the information. Heck, I would love to have a “Flipbook” type app that runs on my ipad, iphone or browser and showcases the latest articles and imagery. I would even (dare I say it) pay for such a thing.

    Check out They rock it out…and I visit at least once a week.
    I think Print and How’s goals should be regular readership social integration. It’s a tall order…but it’s what’s next.

  5. Kyle Read

    I’ll go ahead and agree with M. If a design volume promises some sort of discussion sparking, or intellectual thought then I feel it’s worth buying. Some of these books that I hope never go out of print are the volumes that have had a proven history such as the TDC annuals, ADC, and the GDUSA books, to name only a mere few.
    I continually refer back to these volumes for information and guidance. There’s a sense of real history in these printed volumes that the internet sources just cannot provide. I’ve always felt in design that history can be an excellent source of how to see the future, and the print collections like these are indispensable in that.


  6. Michael Dooley

    Here’s the thing.

    If a publication consists mostly of images, then I’m not buying it. Don’t have the money, don’t have the room.

    If I simply want to look at a steady stream of what’s going on in, say, advertising, no print publication could come close to competing with sites like

    But if I want smart, in-depth, insightful, well-written – and well-edited – analysis about today’s – and yesterday’s – ads, then I’ll continue to look to books, magazines, or whatever other non-electricity based media is available to me.

    On advertising, design, illustration, whatever. An annual, monthly, one-shot, whatever. If it holds the promise of enlightenment – and pleasure – for now and into the future, then I’ll continue to find a means to afford it, and a place to store it.

    Thanks for asking, Buzz.

    ~ m