User Design offer little thoughts on life, words, and punctuation
Some of the things I get sent writing here at the FPI blog really do surprise. And here’s a case in point … three books, or more precisely three booklets. Not really comics, not really illustrated books….. weird, but interestingly weird, definitely interestingly weird….
All three are quirky, small things with a distinctly rough line art style, all wandering thin line and a definite, deliberately whimsical, childlike llok. Or a very deliberate, design led, hi-end illustrator feel, depending which way you come at it.
The nearest I can get to comparison in my mind is the simple, primitive line art drawings that would accompany the great Spike Milligan, or something almost like the pencil scribbles of John Lennon. I’m sure there are countless other examples of this deliberately uneven, rough look; more about speed, energy and idea than representative form.
Two are definitely of rather limited appeal to me, yet also have that perfect X factor that could make them huge hits in the novelty book market come Christmas and the third really has a chance, if presented and marketed properly, at becoming a required text for every primary and secondary in the land.
Let’s do that one first, because it’s far and away the best of the three:
Basically this does exactly what the description says:
“explains the functions and correct uses of 21 of the most used punctuation marks. It is humorous, fully illustrated using real life scenarios and is for a wide age range (young to aging) and intelligence (emerging to expert)”.
I’m absolutely convinced that I was never taught grammar at school. I’m certain that grammar just wasn’t done in The Dudley School from ’82 to ’87. I could be wrong, but I think I would have noticed. So without that, I’m well aware my punctuation and grammar is nowhere near what it should be.
Which is why something like this comes along and I’m immediately enamoured. It’s also me getting my excuses in early for any grammatical and punctuation errors in this review.
Punctuation…? really is rather beautifully simple – an A-Z of 21 punctuation marks; from the Apostrophe all the way through to the semicolon. Including all the familiar ones (comma, full stop, question mark etc.) and some not so familiar ones (guillemets <>, Interpunct, and Pilcrow), it sets everything out simply, and when even a grammar idiot such as I follows it all quickly and easily, then you can be certain that this really is something that any child, at any primary or secondary school in the land could follow.
But not just follow as blank text. It’s sparsely illustrated in what quickly became obvious was the User design illustration style; very basic line drawings, evoking a sense of Spike Milligan in both their crudeness and sense of frivolous silliness. It adds a touch of silliness to the subject, making the information even easier to absorb.
Basically this is (almost) perfect. In terms of content, whether it’s as a gift book (as User design suggest) or as I’d definitely suggest, as a text book perfect for any classroom, this is lovely. Small and unassuming it might be, but the book is both informative and fun. Mine would have been going into school, but I think in this instance I’ll be a little more selfish, and keep it for both myself and Molly. We’ll both find it incredibly useful reference.
“A picture-led book (no text) story about one day in the life of somebody.”
Now this one I’m really not sure of. At its best, in the sorts of pages you see above, that Milligan-esque sense comes through.
But the thing with this sort of art is that it does work best when driven by a narrative. As illustration, as with Punctuation…?, it’s perfectly suited to lighten and delight. Here, bereft of words, and needing to carry a story, this deliberate lack of narrative, of clarity, of perpective, of much of anything really, simply means you spend too long discerning and not enough time enjoying the images for what they are, a seemingly random series of events in one day.
“The journey of larks is played with language, words, illustration and typographic shenanigans”
So you get, very simply, page after page of word, illustration and typographical play: A wince of dentists. A lot of used car-dealers. A watch of Swiss. That sort of thing. Very playful, clever at times, silly at others.
The initial excitement of the rather brilliant Punctuation…? was rather dented by my not so keen response to Life and The journey of larks. Whilst they’re interesting in a quirky gift book sense, that’s all they are. Punctuation…? is by far the best, by virtue of it actually having something to say, a function beyond simply occupying a few moments as a gift book.
One thing that would instantly improve all three books, and take Punctuation…? into the realms of perfect rather than almost perfect, is a shift in format. All three books are presented merely as stapled pamphlets, albeit with a clever way of getting the title on the non-spine, but needed to be either hardback for the gift market, or at the very least a paperback with a proper spine and cover flaps. It’s a small thing, and no doubt expense is the main limiting factor here, but that change would make such a difference.
All three books are available from User design – details at their website.