50 essential books every graphic designer should read

in Resources / Books & Magazines

When it comes to seeking inspiration and learning, graphic designers are spoilt for choice. There is a wealth of literature at our fingertips, all waiting to be explored and enjoyed, helping us to improve and refine our graphic design skills.

No matter whether you're an established creative or someone who has just enrolled on a graphic design course, I highly recommend this definitive list of 50 essential reads, expertly curated by our Shillington teaching team.

These books are library favourites at our six campuses around the world where Shillington students actively research and reference for their studies and design briefs. If you feel we've missed any valuable reads that the Creative Boom audience should consider, feel free to add your own suggestions by commenting below.

1. Lance Wyman: The Monograph – Unit Editions

This monograph is the first major publication devoted to the entire output of Lance Wyman. It showcases the achievements of a long and productive career, from his early work for General Motors, through to his iconic designs for the Mexico 68 Olympics to his more recent projects. An absolute must.

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2. Eye Magazine

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal. It's easily available by subscription and stocked by many specialist bookshops and magazine stores worldwide.

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3. Spin: 360° – Unit Editions

Spin: 360º is a portrait of one of London’s leading design studios. It’s a 520pp monograph that looks in mouth-watering detail at every aspect of Spin’s work in identity, print, moving image, retail, digital and environmental graphics, as well as the studio’s self-directed activities in publishing, curating and collecting.

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4. Logo Modernism (Design) – Jens Muller

Modernist aesthetics in architecture, art, and product design are familiar to many. In soaring glass structures or minimalist canvases, we recognise a time of vast technological advance which affirmed the power of human beings to reshape their environment and to break, radically, from the conventions or constraints of the past. Less well known, but no less fascinating, is the distillation of modernism in graphic design.

This unprecedented publication, authored by Jens Müller, brings together approximately 6,000 trademarks, focused on the period 1940–1980, to examine how modernist attitudes and imperatives gave birth to corporate identity.

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5. Typorama: The Graphic Work of Philippe Apeloig – Philippe Apeloig

Philippe Apeloig's design career began in 1985 at the Musée dOrsay where he designed the poster for the museum's first exhibition, Chicago, Birth of a Metropolis. He is noted for his posters, many of which are in the collection of MoMA, and his typography, including the typefaces Octobre and Drop.

This highly recommended book surveys and explores the entirety of Apeloig's graphic design process and philosophy. His posters, logos, visual identities, books and animations are reproduced along with the steps in their development, and the major influences that fuel his work.

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6. How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World – Michael Bierut

Protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli and partner in the New York office of the international design firm Pentagram, Michael Bierut has had one of the most varied careers of any living graphic designer.

In this must-have book, Bierut presents 35 projects that illustrate the breadth of activity that graphic design encompasses today, his goal being to demonstrate not a single ideology, but the enthusiastically eclectic approach that has been a hallmark of his career. Inspiring, informative and authoritative, it's become the bible of graphic design ideas.

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7. Type Plus – Unit Editions

Today, graphic designers use type in partnership with graphic elements in ways that turbo charge meaning and impact. Type Plus is a book that investigates the practice of combining typography with images to increase effectiveness, potency and visual impact.

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8. Ready to Print : Handbook for Media Designers – Kristina Nickel

These days, designers must be proficient in creating final artwork and be familiar with pre-print and production processes. Ready to Print helps designers prepare their data and materials so that the best possible result can be achieved with an optimal print run.

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9. Project Japan. Metabolism Talks… – Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist

Between 2005 and 2011, architect Rem Koolhaas and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed the surviving members of Metabolism—the first non-western avant-garde, launched in Tokyo in 1960, in the midst of Japan’s postwar miracle.

Project Japan features hundreds of never-before-seen images—master plans from Manchuria to Tokyo, intimate snapshots of the Metabolists at work and play, architectural models, magazine excerpts, and astonishing sci-fi urban visions—telling the 20th century history of Japan through its architecture, from the tabula rasa of a colonised Manchuria in the 1930s to a devastated Japan after the war, the establishment of Metabolism at the 1960 World Design Conference in Tokyo, to the rise of Kisho Kurokawa as the first celebrity architect, to the apotheosis of Metabolism at Expo ’70 in Osaka and its expansion into the Middle East and Africa in the 1970s. The result is a vivid documentary of the last moment when architecture was a public rather than a private affair.

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10. Cook It Raw – Andrea Petrini

Cook it Raw doesn't just tell the story of an exciting collection of avant-garde chefs who come together to create unique dining experiences that explore social, cultural and environmental issues. It's also an excellent example of classic editorial design. A must for aspiring chefs and food lovers interested in cutting edge gastronomy – and designers looking for further inspiration.

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11. Manuals 2: Design and Identity Guidelines

After the success of Manuals 1 Unit 15 there was never any doubt that Manuals 2 Unit 18 would follow. In this book, Unit Editions presents another thorough compendium of graphic standards and corporate identity manuals.

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12. The Design Annual 2015 Edition

The Design Annual is an inspiring collection of incredible creative work brought to you by the makers of Computer Arts, net, 3D World and Creative Bloq. Absolutely packed with world-class design projects, spanning the full spectrum of creative disciplines. These include the Computer Arts staples of graphic design, branding, illustration and motion graphics; stunning 3D artwork, character design and concept art courtesy of 3D World; and of course the eye-catching front-end design across web, apps and other digital platforms that graces the pages of net magazine every month.

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13. Stitt Autobiographies – Alexander Stitt

Stitt Autobiographics is a pictorial record of the 50-year professional life of graphic designer Alex Stitt, who has been the hand behind many aspects of Australia's culture since the 1950s, and has been described by Phillip Adams as one of the country's most under-recognised creative talents. If you want to discover his account of the how, why and for whom Stitt worked for, then this book uncovers everything, including 1,800 illustrations, comic strips, storyboards and film title frames.

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14. Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms – Alex Fowkes

Part inspiration and part workbook, the images of hand-drawn type will inspire and excite any designer to draw and explore type. Drawing Type features real-world projects and sketchbooks of well-known type designers, including interviews about their processes.

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15. Why Fonts Matter – Sarah Hyndman

Fonts have different personalities that can create trust, mistrust, give you confidence, make things seem easier to do or make a product taste better. They’re hidden in plain sight, they trigger memories, associations and multi-sensory experiences in your imagination. This book by Sarah Hyndman – who has joined us for guest lectures at Shillington – opens up the science and the art behind how fonts influence you and explains why certain fonts or styles evoke particular experiences and associations.

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16. Type: New Perspectives in Typography – Scott Williams

This selection of typographic design, edited by leading typographers A2/SW/HK, showcases more than 100 carefully selected contemporary designers, including the best examples of their current work, and also features an introduction by Rick Poynor.

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17. Watching Words Move – Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar

This legendary document of typographic creativity, after nearly fifty years of Watching Words Move, is now available for the first time as a trade book. New essays by top designers add value even for those already familiar with the original text.

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18. Don't Get a Job... Make a Job: How to make it as a creative graduate – Gem Barton

Too often a design or architecture degree is seen as a means to an end (a job in an established practice). But imagine for one moment that there are no employers, no firms to send your CV to, no interviews to be had – what would you do? How would you forge your own path after graduation? This book celebrates the various strategies that students and graduates are taking to succeed in their design careers.

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19. Otl Aicher – Markus Rathgeb

Otl Aicher was an internationally acclaimed graphic designer and educator, renowned for his corporate identity work, visual communication systems, and typography. Although Aicher wrote a number of books on design, this book is the first comprehensive and authoritative account of his life and work, with extensive illustrations from private archives, museums, and Aicher’s estate.

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20. I Used To Be a Design Student – Frank Philippin

This book offers a rare chance to read what graphic designers feel about their education and profession. Fifty influential designers give the low-down about their student days and their professional lives.

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21. Nice to Meet You Again: Business cards, greeting cards and invitations – Viction:ary

Expanding the spectrum of visual greetings from business cards to include greeting cards and invitations, the third of the Nice To Meet You collection encapsulates the new perspectives designers have brought forward in representing companies and individuals in unique and small brand items.

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22. Making a Splash: Graphics That Flow – Viction:ary

Fluid continually deforms and shapes to its physical environment under applied force. With potential to flow and respond to texture and its surroundings, this substance has been an enduring creative influence in visual explorations, widely adopted as a dynamic colorant in image-making with the help of digital editing tools. Collating applications across the fields of advertising, branding, graphic and fashion design, Splash, Drip, Brush, Flow surveys new creative approaches that fully embrace the unique characters of liquid forms in black or blended colours.

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23. Special Edition: Artist Collaborations on Packaging Design – Viction:ary

Presenting a medley of playful and masterfully crafted designs from around the world, Special Edition focuses on product packaging that stands out for its engaging concept, unexpected choice of material or artistically elaborate design.

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24. Monotone: New Single-colour Graphics – Viction:ary

Creativity flourishes within limitations. When a palette is kept at a minimum, it dares designers to create variety out of singularity, and distinctiveness out of ordinary. When done well, single colour designs leap out in the world of visual frenzy, and project ideas in a compact and powerful way.

As the latest addition to Viction:ary’s colour-themed collection Palette, Monotone singles out a distinctive array of visual projects that thrive on the clever use of limited colours.

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25. Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids – Beth Tondreau

Adhering to certain layout and grids standards and principles is important for any job from brochures, annual reports and posters to websites and publications. However, knowing how to bend the rules and make certain grids work for the job at hand takes skill. This book outlines and demonstrates basic layout/grid guidelines and rules through 100 entries including choosing a typeface, striving for rhythm and balance with type, combining typefaces, using special characters and kerning and legibility. An essential read.

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26. A Smile in the Mind, Revised and Expanded Edition: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design – Beryl McAlhone

First published in 1996, A Smile in the Mind rapidly became one of the most influential books in graphic design – a rich source of design ideas and an entertaining guide to the techniques behind witty thinking.

Now extensively revised and updated, this book explores the powerful role of wit in graphic design, making the case for wit, as the magical element that builds the world’s biggest brands and engages people with messages that matter.

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27. Counter Print Books: Animal, Monogram, Human, Alphabet & Nature Logo

Counter Print books offer collections of logos focusing on different themes, such as Animal, Human, Alphabet and Nature. Each book contains over 300 logos from some of the world’s leading design companies such as Pentagram, FITCH, Wolff Olins, Pushpin Group, Hey, Chermayeff & Geismar, Berger & Föhr and many more.

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28. Ken Garland: Structure and Substance – Unit Editions

Ken Garland: Structure and Substance is the first comprehensive monograph devoted to the entire career of legendary English designer Ken Garland, from student exercises in the 1950s to his self-published photography books of recent years.

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29. Start Me Up!: New Branding for Businesses – Robert Klanten

Little brand, big effect: In the age of startups and a new generation of entrepreneurs, corporate design is being redefined through distinctive visual creativity. Never before has there been more enthusiasm surrounding entrepreneurship. Today, young entrepreneurs across the globe are relentlessly developing innovative products and services.

Fresh businesses and social initiatives are appearing in industries ranging from fashion to farming, from high-tech to creative handcraft. These companies are run by passionate professionals who are well aware that following their vision is just as important as continuously communicating their vision's brand.

Corporate branding works as an extension of a business by visually expressing its concept, so it is no surprise that new stories require a new visual language. Start Me Up! presents a wide range of original examples for inspiration and is a comprehensive compendium of innovative corporate design for a new generation.

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30. D&AD15

D&AD '15 is the indispensable guide to the celebrated work from the past year. The 53rd edition Annual has been designed by designer David Pearson and D&AD President, Mark Bonner at GBH. Well known for his work for Penguin Classics, David alongside colleagues Alistair Hall and Paul Finn have designed the cover in five different colourways to reflect what is the very essence of D&AD: The Pencil.

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31. Women in Graphic Design 1890-2012 – Gerda Breuer

Why are there so few women in the history of design? Why do previously well-known women become forgotten, and at what point can someone be considered successful? Do women create differently to men? What effects of the gender debate are noticeable in today's everyday working life, and are women judged today solely on the basis of their quality of work?

This book prompts a look beneath the surface: with numerous contributions from design historians, programmatic texts and a comprehensive collection of biographies, alongside interviews with internationally recognised female designers such as Irma Boom, Paula Scher, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Julia Hoffmann and Tina Roth Eisenberg.

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32. People of Print: Innovative, Independent Design and Illustration – Marcroy Smith & Andy Cooke

This book offers an overview of the exceptional work produced and championed by over 50 of the world's leading illustrators, printmakers and designers from the sphere of independent, print-based design. Split into three sections, it includes essays and interviews to offer incredible insight in to the people of print.

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33. Tasty Stories: Legendary Food Brands and Their Typefaces – Joke Gosse

Tasty Stories presents 50 of the world's best-known food brands, describing them through the evolution of their packaging, logo, typeface and fonts. A brief history of each brand is followed by details of the logo and typeface, and accompanied by 'Nice to Know' anecdotes. A must-have for graphic designers, foodies, and other people of good taste.

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34. How to Have Great Ideas: A Guide to Creative Thinking – John Ingledew

This is an essential guide for students and young professionals looking to embrace creative thinking in design, advertising and communications. Numerous strategies are introduced accompanied by practical projects each showing how to unlock creative ideas in different ways. Packed with great examples of innovative thinking in graphic design, advertising, photography, illustration, architecture, product design, furniture design, industrial design, animation, digital design, car design, engineering, art and fashion.

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35. Logotype – Michael Evamy

Logotype is the definitive modern collection of logotypes, monograms and other text-based corporate marks. Featuring more than 1,300 international typographic identities, by around 250 design studios, this is an indispensable handbook for every design studio, providing a valuable resource to draw on in branding and corporate identity projects.

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36. Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless Typographer – Unit Editions

This book celebrates the experimental typography of Dutch graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer. Famously known for his time spent at the renowned design studio Total Design, he was an outspoken figure within Dutch professional design organisations as well as a pioneer in corporate identity, a designer of photo books and art director of the architectural magazine, Forum.

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37. Type Only – Unit Editions

Type Only celebrates a current trend in typography: type unsupported by illustration or photography. In other words, typography and letterforms on their own – solus. Through the work of around 100 graphic designers from around the world, Type Only explores the communicative and emotive power of type when used in isolation.

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38. FHK Henrion The Complete Designer – Unit Editions

The designer FHK Henrion has no equal in British graphic design history. No UK designer – then or now – can match his sheer depth of accomplishments and range of abilities. This book is the first comprehensive monograph of his work.

Lavishly illustrated and designed with precision and flair, it charts his early experiments as a pre-war poster artist and culminates in his work as the creator of some of the most celebrated – and enduring – logos and identities of the 20th century, including Tate+Lyle, KLM, Blue Circle Cement and LEB.

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39. Dynamic Identities: How to Create a Living Brand – Irene van Nes

This visual book explores the systematic process of creating brand identities that are alive and gives the reader a wealth of examples of international identities that were built on the discussed systems.

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40. Make Your Own Luck: A DIY Attitude to Graphic Design and Illustration – Kate Moross

From art school student to designer for Nike, Topshop, and Google – Kate Moross has lived the life that young graphic artists dream of. But it hasn't always been a smooth ride, and in this informative memoir and guide she offers true insider tips on how to make it in a highly competitive field. Written in an approachable, forthright, and refreshingly honest tone, Make Your Own Luck features chapters on how to thrive in art school, develop your own style, self-promote, collaborate with other artists, deal with 'copycats', and when to consider working for free.

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41. 100/100 Beer Book

There’s something about a beer label: a simple canvas attached to a uniquely appealing product. Every designer wants to create one, embracing the challenge of a modest sized canvas and the deliberately limited starting point of names beginning with SB.

Then the game starts: on one level, a purely playful exercise in creative expression; on another – a distillation of the purpose of design and branding: to give life and personality to the products around us.

This book gives 100 personalities to a single product: some witty, some weird, some bold, some beautiful. Featuring works by Build, Pentagram, Spin, Manual, Commission, Hyperkit, StudioThomson, Jean Jullien, Paul Davis, Hey, Lance Wyman and 89 others.

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42. Print Matters: The Cutting Edge of Print – Viction:ary

In an attempt to examine the cutting edge of printmaking, this book brings together an amalgam of print designs that have gone beyond pure digital printing. Through more than 110 samples of recent graphic identities, packaging, communications and book designs, it offers a professional look into the use of varnish, foil-stamping, die-cut, thermal prints, technical folds, and many more, with design specifications.

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43. The Field Guide to Typography: Typefaces in the Urban Landscape – Peter Dawson

The Field Guide to Typography explores and explains the myriad typefaces that we see around us in our day-to-day lives, from airplane liveries to computer screens, from billboard hoardings to signage systems. It presents over 120 typefaces old and new, common and unusual with photographic references to help font spotters identify particular typefaces in the wild. It's a unique visual reference for novice font fans and experienced designers alike, and a comprehensive celebration of our expanding typographic world.

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44. Mr Bingo's Hate Mail

Hate Mail was conceived in 2011 by Mr Bingo. Late one night in his studio, alone (and a bit drunk), the designer was suddenly overcome with an urge to send somebody a vintage postcard from his personal collection, amassed over many years from visits to provincial charity shops and car boot fairs. He stumbled on to Twitter, declaring "I will send a postcard with an offensive message on to the first person who replies to this".

Within a couple of minutes around 50 people had replied. The winner was a Jonathan Hopkins from Forest Hill, who was rewarded with a postcard which read "Fuck you Jonathan, fuck you and fuck your shit legs" – accompanied by a drawing of his legs. He didn't know what Jonathan’s legs look like, or even if he has legs. But you get the idea. This range of books highlights some of his best Hate Mail to date.

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45. The A-Z of Visual Ideas: How to Solve any Creative Brief – John Ingledew

A sourcebook of visual ideas and strategies for visual communication An A–Z of Ideas explains the key ideas, sources of inspiration and visual techniques that have been used throughout design history. Students will find this book especially helpful.

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46. Fanzines by Teal Triggs

This highly visual illustrated book is full of reproductions of the best fanzines ever created, from the superhero tributes of the 1950s and '60s, to punk fanzines such as Sniffin Glue, right up the contemporary e-zine scene. Arranged in six chronological chapters, each with a thorough introduction, Fanzines spans eight decades of counterculture and features many extremely rare publications.

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47. Editorial Design: Digital and Print – Cath Caldwell & Yolanda Zapaterra

Editorial Design: Digital and Print is a comprehensive guide to the traditional and digital skills that a designer will need for a future career in visual journalism today and the design of magazines and newspapers for a wide variety of markets.

Generously illustrated, including case studies, practical exercises and tips, examples of best practice and profiles of individual designers including Mark Porter, Scott Dadich and Janet Froelich, the book explains the fundamentals of editorial design and layout.

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48. Branding Typography

Whether hand drawn or vector based, type is a versatile tool in the hands of most designers, creating bold, expressive graphics that extend a brand as they convey information. In the hands of a master, new typefaces become iconic and unforgettable. Branding Typography gathers a selection of the most original type design of recent years, used to promote products and companies through game changing graphics in print, fashion, interiors and packaging.

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49. Basic Designs 01: Format – Gavin Ambrose & Paul Harris

Typography is the means by which a written idea is given a visual form. Effective use of typography can produce a neutral effect or rouse the passions, symbolise artistic, political or philosophical movements, or express the personality of a person or organisation. This book aims to impart a comprehensive understanding of typography, to explore its history, theory and practice.

If you'd benefit from a thorough examination of how typography informs other aspects of creative design, this book is for you.

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50. Basic Designs 02: Layout – Gavin Ambrose & Paul Harris

Through this book, Ambrose and Harris introduce the fundamentals of layout within the field of graphic design. It provides a guide to the effective arrangement of text and image elements within a design scheme, enabling you to learn how to create powerful forms of visual communication in both print and electronic media.

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