London's book-obsessed design studio shares their top six rare reads

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As their name implies, London design firm Bibliothèque take an avid interest in books. The creative trio recently outlined how their obsession with printed matter informs their practice at the Design Indaba conference, explaining “it’s easy to cherry-pick inspiration in the digital era; we are pre-digital collectors with a fascination in the communication of images.”

Their bibliophile ways have clearly paid off with a host of successful projects in the Bibliothèque portfolio. In 2009 the group recreated part of Dieter Rams’ living room as part of their design for the “Less is More” retrospective at the London Design Museum, as well as a massive exhibition at the Barbican showcasing the work of Le Corbusier (casting a hybrid Barbican-Corbusier-inspired typeface in concrete to create the identity). The consultancy also art directed and designed the 2010 D&AD Awards ceremony and dinner, where their clever Yes or No concept included a “typographic expression of the number of rejections proportional to the acceptances” in a video installation. (See more examples of their work in the gallery below.

For a little insight into how Bibliothèque keeps up their book-oriented process without it being too “mentally exhausting,” we asked them to share a few of their favorite rare finds and special editions (housed on two shelves kindly donated by Vitsoe), because as they put it, “you can’t design in a vacuum”—or perhaps more to the point, “extra dedication always shows.”

Dieter Rams: Less But Better

Starting with Dieter Rams’ now well-known “Ten Principles of Good Design,” this out-of-print title covers 40 years of his product design at Braun as well as works for Vitsoe. The 1995 book culminates in a chapter about the design of Dieter’s home, which of course he designed with the same rigor as all of his works.

Kieler Woche: History of a Design Contest

As big fans of publisher Lars Müller, Bibliothéque cites the editorial, design and overall production level of History of a Design Contest as a shining example of the imprint’s quality. Documenting the annual poster competition held to promote the Kieler Woche regatta in Kiel, Germany, the book illustrates all the winning posters (as well some runners-up) and, with works by Wim Crouwel, Alan Fletcher, Josef Müller-Brockman and Odermatt + Tissi, reads like a who’s who of graphic design.

Design: Vignelli

This volume, a document of the works of influential New York studio Vignelli Associates since the early 1960s, presents the studio’s multidisciplinary approach to corporate identity, publishing, calendars, retail packaging, way finding, exhibitions, furniture and interiors. Few other monographs give a sense of a true total design approach with works that stand the test of time—many Vignelli designs are still in use, looking as fresh and relevant as the day they were created.

Siegfried Odermatt & Rosmarie Tissi: Graphic Design

Odermatt and Tissi have been producing outstanding work in the loft of a century-old house in Zürich’s old quarter since 1968 (without the help of assistants) and their masterful use of composition, type and image make this book a constant source of inspiration. Chapters with direct titles such as “Work for various clients 1947—1992” and “Trademarks/Logotypes and Examples from advertising campaigns, 1957—1972” show examples of the duo’s output, peppered with insights into design practice from other eminent practitioners. Paul Rand weighs in with “Some thoughts on the subject of trademarks and symbols” and Dr. Willy Rotzler’s “The concrete charm of abstract posters” rounds it out.

Typography Today

Conceived and designed by designer and typographer Helmut Schmid, this title, full of fantastic examples of typography as a craft, is derived from a special issue of Japanese design magazine Idea. Republished as a book in 1981, it introduced select works of 88 designers from 15 countries, tracing the course of modern typography from pioneers such as Lissitzky, Tschichold and Zwart to celebrated works of Wolfgang Weingart, Wim Crouwel and Kohei Sugiura. The “new, expanded, edition” that came out in 2003 includes more contemporary works to help continue the story.

Ulm Design: The Morality of Objects

During its brief existence from 1955 to 1968, the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm exerted an influence that no one could have predicted from its small size or improbable location. Originally conceived as a successor to the Bauhaus, the school quickly abandoned that model and set out to explore the unchartered territory of designing for mass production. Under the direction of Max Bill, Tomàs Maldonado and Otl Aicher the school became and extraordinary laboratory of design and a center of talent. More than 40 years after its closing, Ulm is still considered the most important European school of design since the Bauhaus.

Bibliothèque calls “the influence of Ulm and the works detailed within The Morality of Objects…a big influence on our work, ethos and approach to design.”

See examples of Bibliothèque’s outstanding work in the gallery.