W.A. Dwiggins Design Daddy

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I’ve had the good fortune to be part of the W.A. Dwiggins circle for more than three decades. And I’m privileged to have authored a foreword to the new book W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett, published by Letterform Archive. The book, which was funded through Kickstarter, is now available in deluxe and regular editions. Both are beautiful and, more importantly, provide a history of the polymath who gave breadth to graphic design. Despite the erroneous long-held assertion that he was the first to coin the term “graphic design,” Dwiggins was the daddy of the practice given his multiple practices and wide-ranging talents, from advertising to type design and dozens of disciplines in between.

Dwiggins was not only a designer but a puckish critic, author, puppeteer, illustrator, type designer, calligrapher, scenarist, classicist, rebel and sci-fi fan. Below is an excerpt from my brief foreword, but to learn about his breadth of expertise and genius, this is an impeccably researched biography that you don’t want to miss.

[Editor’s Note: Kennett is delivering an inspirational and exciting talk about Dwiggins on May 3 at HOW Design Live in Boston. Learn more about his session, and be sure to register for the conference before early-bird pricing ends on March 15!)

wa dwiggins

“… what you are holding in your hand is the next best thing to being in Dwig’s midst. This is an amazingly exhaustive biographical narrative and curated collection of rare and remarkable WAD-work. When publisher Rob Saunders, founder of the Letterform Archive, asked me to introduce this volume and showed me the thick presentation dummy, I told him that the best I could muster was a giddy fanboy’s praise. And it is true: Bruce Kennett, Dwiggins researcher par excellence, bibliographer and biographer, has done exceptional (and essential) work in recreating a life in design and the design of a life. This text is impressive, fascinating and the detailed selection of images so rare that I could not hold myself back from exclaiming ‘wow, I never saw that’ after every turned page. This book does many things, but most of all it is proof positive that if there is any doubt about the origin theory of graphic design, Dwiggins did more to promote, diversify and integrate the graphic, typographic and printing arts disciplines than anyone of his generation. For a guy who was stricken with diabetes and was not supposed to live beyond his forties, during the extra thirty or so years, he did the work of three lifetimes.”

wa dwiggins
wa dwiggins

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 r
ecipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →