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Never Use White Type on a Black Background

Rules, breaking rules and what the design worlds thinks of them is the subject of Anneloes van Gaalen’s new book “Never Use White Type on a Black Background and 50 Other Ridiculous Design Rules."  Out this week.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 04-06-2009

A student could study the rules, implement them faithfully and then adopt the title of a designer. But just how rule-ridden is design, and what place does the existence of so many rules leave for creativity?

It’s a challenge Anneloes van Gaalen’s new book, “Never Use White Type on a Black Background and 50 Other Ridiculous Design Rules” grapples with.

Van Gaalen’s list runs the gamut from the most obvious to the lesser-known rules that guide the design world.  “Some are so well known that they are almost clichés, and some aren’t really known at all,” she says. “But I thought it would be fun to include it all and then give insights into how the rule started, and what contemporary designers think of it.”

As it turns out, a lot of the most mainstream rules started in completely different contexts before evolving into design dogma.  And some seem so fundamental to the way designers work that they sound more like truisms than aesthetics that work for the mind.  

“One rule may have been important in architecture in the 1920s, but by the 1940s was integral to the world of fashion design,” Van Gaalen says.  “It is really interesting to trace back the life of a rule and see who was saying what about it at the time.”

The title of the book breaks all the rules about how book titles should be short and catchy, which is the same sort of cheeky irony that flavours the rest of the text.  Each new rule is traced back and then either reinforced or decimated with quotes from design professionals. Each rule is also accompanied by original photography and illustration.

“Never Use White Type on a Black Background and 50 Other Ridiculous Design Rules” can be used as a guide, a reference, a refresher course, but also just for fun by anybody who wonders about the thinking behind the design that dominates our lives.  There are insights into the psychology of young and seasoned designers as well as a few of the more outrageous design controversies like Bea Correa’s Louise Vuitton bags emblazoned with FAKE and Tinkerbell’s dead cat hand bags.   

Van Gaalen traces one well-known rule, “Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal” from Picasso back to Stravinsky and then T.S. Eliot.  “But it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to,” is filmmaker Jean Luc Goddard’s contribution to the debate.  

And even the most cynical of rule breakers knows deep down that rules matter. “Of course I have respect for all of them,” says Van Gaalen.  “Ideas can be free flowing and know no boundaries, but when it comes to actual realization, everyone needs some sort of framework.”

Which of course also includes the decision to consciously disregard the rules – because knowing how to break the rules, the last rule in Van Gaalen’s book, is probably the most important one of all.  

The next titles in the series include Ridiculous Fashion Rules, Ridiculous Advertising Rules and Ridiculous Typography Rules.
Ridiculous Design Rules is a concept developed in 2008 for Four Weeks of FreeDesigndom by Lemon Scented Tea and commissioned by Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion.
Never Use White Type on a Black Background and 50 Other Ridiculous Design Rules
Author: Anneloes van Gaalen
ISBN: 978-90-6369-207-0
Buy it here.

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