Review: How to Design Cool Stuff

McWade_HowToDesignCoolStuffMy Rating: 4/5

About the Book
How to Design Cool Stuff is an idea book, meant to give burgeoning (but still fairly novice) designers ideas about how to create effective and dynamic designs for common documents, like CD covers, brochures, newsletters, and fliers. The book is divided into three major sections: knowledge, which covers theoretical approaches to color, layout, and typography; technique, which provides ideas for creating cool designs; and projects, which provides template ideas for specific document types.

Author: John McWade
Publisher: Peachpit Press
Cost: about $28on Amazon
ISBN: 978-0321580122

What I Liked
McWade’s book is a fantastic resource for new designers primarily because of its image-rich pages chock-full with examples of how to design common documents using images and creative layouts. The most useful of the three sections in the book is the technique section, which gives numerous ideas about how to design effective captions, use borders, colorize pictures, develop focal points, and so forth.

What I Didn’t Like
The section on knowledge, which is intended to cover theoretical ideas about color and typography, is a bit too underdeveloped to really be useful. It would have been better to either bulk up this section, or leave it out to spend more time on the technique section. The book also teeters a bit awkwardly between absolute novice designers and experienced designers; it covers the very basic information good for beginners, but then assumes technological know-how for creating some of the techniques. I have found that students find this a bit irritating, even though they tend to really like the book.

How I Used It
I use this book in both undergraduate and master’s-level courses for students new to desktop publishing and design. While assigning readings from the book doesn’t tend to be that effective (there really isn’t much to read in the book, since it is primarily visual), the book is great for in-class tasks and as a resource for when students create posters and brochures. Mostly, the book gives students a visual resource with a nice collection of ideas from which they can jumpstart their designs.