Looking for an excellent book to take to the beach this summer, or just read out in the garden? It's always good to get a few recommendations from people who know their stuff, and that description certainly fits Wednesday Krus.
Design director at ThoughtMatter, a strategic branding and design studio based in New York, Wednesday Krus is a dynamic, thoughtful, and civic-minded creative who's brought her empathetic and laser-sharp perspective to clients big and small, including THINX, Ivy & Elder, Visit Staten Island, New-York Historical Society, and more.
Utilising her talents to drive positive social change, her work has been recognised and awarded by GDUSA, Type Director's Club, and Graphis.
For great work, you need inspiration, and Wednesday looks towards art, poetry, food, and more to inform her design. "I love my design books," she says, "but I learn more from reading between the lines than from being told what to see."
In short, she believes in going beyond the standard industry reading list in order to help set her work apart. You'll also notice her choices are all non-fiction, which comes from an obsession with human experience, ranging from high- to low-brow.
"As designers, half our task is learning to understand people, wanting to inspect otherness," she points out. "I think my reading list reflects that." Here, in her own words, she explains what she most likes about these five books.
1. I Remember by Joe Brainard
I first read this book in high school. The text was so impactful, not just for the content, but the way it was formatted. Documenting Brainard's life, every sentence begins with 'I Remember…' for all 150+ pages. It was the first time I confronted something that could challenge the format of a book but still could hold its own as a gorgeous story.
This book was also my first lesson in curating. What came to life for me is deeper than the words themselves. It's the contrast from one sentence to the next. Memories dripping with universality, followed by the deeply personal. Long, running sentences bring you on a journey. Terse ones pause for emphasis. The sentence that follows changes the meaning of the sentence you just read.
It's almost as if Brainard was writing with the design principles in mind. Contrast, balance, emphasis, repetition, rhythm, movement, and more are all present. It's an invaluable design book.
2. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
The title is accurate: this man ate everything. And he wrote about it in an impeccably-researched book. A perfect balance of the science, history and the art of cooking (and eating). Jeffrey Steingarten's book is a compilation of essays—each one diving deep into a certain food: its origin, its ideal preparation, its cultural implications…etc.
The book is beautifully systematic but so well written that the framework falls out of focus. And we're left with something hilarious, engaging, informative and transformative.
What strikes me is his ability to look from every angle. The book is born from his distastes or aversions—and setting out to prove himself wrong. For every finding or revelation, he also presents the challenge. As a reader, we're left somewhere in the middle to make our own conclusion. The goal of the arts, culinary or otherwise, is not to increase our comfort. That is the goal of an easy chair.
3. A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
There's endless overlap between food and design. This book's reputation precedes it, and not much needs to be said about it or its author's impact. While A Cook's Tour is often described as Bourdain's journey to find 'the perfect meal', that's really just a by-product. For me, as a designer, it's a search for understanding. Like Steingarten, Bourdain looks at a meal from every angle. Cultural context, history, where it was grown, how it was prepared, who is sitting next to you when you enjoy it (or don't).
Nothing is agnostic or free from history. Every colour we employ, every typeface we choose, every shape we draw are all steeped with meaning and cultural relationships. The fun of being a designer is the privilege to spend our days exploring that world.
4. Letters to a Young Artist by Peter Nesbett, Sarah Andress, and Shelly Bancroft
The book is a petite collection of short but heavy-hitting essays and letters. The authors range from well-known artists like Gorilla Girls, Adrian Piper, Yoko Ono, and Cai Guo-Qiang to an anonymous 'young artist'. It was gifted to me by an early design mentor as I was graduating high school. From that point, through to my college graduation and first job, every time I cracked open its spine and reread an essay, I interpreted it in a whole new light.
Like many young designers, I have struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my career. So this book was less of a book of advice, and more of a symbol that someone believed in me. The person who gave it to me invested their time, and in turn, I had the responsibility to shake my self-doubt and commit twice as hard to believing in myself as well.
5. Jenny Saville by Gagosian Gallery
I've always loved Jenny Saville. I think she transcends trends and can never quite be categorised. Her work and her book are gory, fleshy and human, steeped in personal experience and self-reflection. How she views the human body and how she views herself. Her work couldn't be more different from design. Yet, within her book, she takes you on the journey of process.
From her research to her sketches, to the view of her studio, Saville allows us to see herself and her subjects through her unique perception. Her ability to shape incredibly intimate moments, born from massive, often clinical artworks, defies the Western standard of beauty and femininity. This book invites readers to sit with and analyse their discomfort. Redefine their thoughts, feelings, and perspective by looking from a different angle. This is how we learn more.