W. A. Dwiggins (1880–1956), the man who more or less gave us the term “graphic design,” had a biting wit, best expressed through his writing. He slyly and directly advocated the marked improvement in book design during the 1920s and 1930s and wrote much on the graphic arts, notably essays collected in MSS by WAD (1949) and his Layout in Advertising (1928; revised edition, 1949). Dwig’s wit had teeth, and much of his bite was reserved for the “graphic design” field, especially the quality and standards of book design and manufacture.
Here is one of his most famous satires-cum-white-papers: Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as They Are at Present Published. As this chart reveals, Dwig did not mince fever lines . . .
Excellence was not just a word. He believed that it was the normal result of a good practice. So he undertook to make a report that was not just a rant nor an academic litany, but a lively interrogation of book people. “The accompanying extracts from the Transactions of the Society of Calligraphers are published with the approval of the Society,” he wrote in 1919. “They form a part of the exhaustive and unbiassed [sic] Report returned by the Committee in charge of the Investigation, which Report will be presented in its entirety in the Annual Bulletin. The report is of so surprising a nature that it was seemed unwise to withhold all notice of the findings until the annual publication. The Society, therefore, has the honour to present certain portions of the Inquiry together with an abstract of the Committee’s recommendations.”
I offer here, some excerpts from “the extracts” that Dwig had so pitch-perfectly recorded, with his characteristic wink and nod. For those of you who want more, check your local libraries. Copies have been known to be hidden away.
Print‘s August issue is devoted to trash. It includes a special section guest designed by Sulki & Min; a visual essay by Jillian Tamaki; a look into the garbage cans and recycling bins of 18 designers; and stories by Rick Poynor, Steven Heller, Debbie Millman, Fritz Swanson, Michèle Champagne, and more. Order your copy, or download a PDF version, at MyDesignShop.com..