With apologies, (there’s nothing new)

“There’s nothing new in this world…” is a phrase attributed to Harry S Truman on the Brainyquote.com website. In this post-truth world, who knows whether this was actually said by him or not. I do, however, know the content of the phrase itself to be true, post-truth or not.

In June last year I made a book for a project I was working on for my Masters degree. It was called Graphic Interruptions, and it collected together photographs I had taken of items of graphic design that had been visually interrupted in some way, thus affecting their communication potential. I also wrote an essay about it, and the whole thing looked like this:


I was particularly pleased with the cover, having deconstructed the book jacket by wrapping the title around the spine, placing an image across the fore-edge, and the description of the content over the head of the front and back cover. All this, rather obviously, referencing the project concept of interrupted graphics.

Jumping ahead to now, and still with my Masters, I’m researching graphic design in shared environments. I have found through various research texts that Henri Lefebvre wrote about The Production of Space. I decided to buy a copy of the 1991 translation by Nicholson-Smith for Blackwell Publishing, and along with it, his Critique of Everyday Life, which neatly also lends itself to my research focus. Thanks Henri.

On the website I was buying these books from I didn’t take too much notice of the cover of the latter, focused as I was on reading the synopsis of the publications. This is how it looked:


It wasn’t until I unboxed the books on their arrival that I noticed that Critique Of Everyday Life looked quite similar to something I’d seen before. It looks like this:


For a better photograph of the cover, check it out here.

Designed by the rather talented Neil Donnelly, whom I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t previously on my radar—he certainly is now—I question how I haven’t come across this excellent piece of work before. On the one hand it ratified the design decisions I had made last year for my publication. On the other hand, I suddenly became aware of posting about my book here, and on Twitter, and that to other designers and non-designers alike, it probably looks like I’ve ripped off Neil Donnelly.

I started to question whether I had in fact seen this version of Critique… before; and whether it had lodged itself deep in my sub-conscious, influencing me from the recesses of my mind without me realising it.

There is just enough difference, I think, to set the two apart. Mine is also conceptually relevant to the subject matter of Graphic Interruptions, and not just an aesthetic appropriation devoid of any intellectual underpinning. At least that’s what I’m hanging on to. That, and thankfully, the fact that my publication was such a small print run that it isn’t going to see the light of day outside of digital photographs of it. It was, after all, only produced for my degree.

Had I been aware of the design of Critique…, I would certainly not have followed through with this concept, (or at least, not wrapped the title around the spine). But I can’t help dwelling on this. For me personally, it begs the question of whether there are other books out there that have broken text and images across their cover edges; I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t. However, for all designers, visually aware as we are, it raises the question of how we can be assured that anything we produce isn’t a regurgitation of something lodged deep within our sub-consciousness.

I’m not about to try and answer these musings here; but I would like to offer up my apologies to Neil Donnelly.

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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