Four design books released in the 1960s and 70s completely changed the way people saw our media-saturated world. Penguin's rebooted them for a new generation, and they're just as relevant as ever.
The books are part of the "Penguin On Design" series, and include Bruno Munari's 1965 book, Design As Art (a futurist artist's exploration of modern high tech absurdities); Marshall McLuhan's 1967 classic, The Medium is the Massage (an analysis of how mass media shape consciousness, which famously predicted the internet); John Berger's Ways Of Seeing from 1972 (about the hidden political meanings in Western art) ; and Susan Sontag's 1977 essay, On Photography (which explores how "realistic" photography manipulates rather than reflects reality - her concerns seem eerily prescient after the rise of reality TV).
My favorite of these books is probably McLuhan, partly because he embraced the typo on the cover of his original book, saying The Medium is the Massage more aptly conveyed the idea behind his original title, The Medium is the Message. The typo title stuck. Though subsequent reprintings sometimes fixed the error, Penguin has restored it to full glory here.
The cover of Ways of Seeing reproduces the first page of the book, which was also a feature of the first edition cover.
YES Design is responsible for the understated eccentricity of the new book designs, which all use a popular 60s font that reminds me of New Directions' books of modernist poetry. They manage to look very smart and slightly kooky at the same time.
All these books are also packed with art, and many contain long sections of photo and design illustrations that were intended to be essays in themselves. So each of these books is not only about looking at the world, but is also full of images for you to look at. These books are a terrific way to learn more about what's going on beneath the surface of things - and to celebrate the ambivalent power of design and media.
Image via YES design.