A Graphic History5 min read

The inspiration for this blog series came from a little bundle of joy dropped on Dylan’s proverbial doorstep. No, it wasn’t the stork dropping off a wee babe, but it might as well have been, with the hours of enjoyment this gift is sure to garnish.

His always-inspiring mama was perusing a local goods emporium and found a curious box containing hundreds of cards. On each card, an iconic graphic design. As she thumbed through them, she found work from nearly every sector of design, along with the story behind each one.  She at once knew this art history gold mine, known as The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, should be her son’s. And she picked it up for a song at $15 (retail $95). Nothing like finding a bomber in a sea of duds.

Dylan brought it into the ol’ AC workspace to share the love. The antithesis to Pandora’s box, this bad boy let’s loose all that is good and right into the world.


Phaidon Press is known for creating some of the most beautiful books in the world on art, travel, fashion, culture; you name it. They had already done an archive on product design and wanted to do something similar for graphics. In today’s world of technology, this type of design is now the most accessible and the most consumed art. Continued innovation in this field is critical to our quality of life. Plus, it’s sort of our bread and butter around here.

Phaidon created a panel of international experts to curate this archive. Over the years, they had amassed thousands of examples of magazines, newspapers, posters, ads, typefaces, logos, flags, album covers, etc. They decided to go one step further and asked for artists, historians and critics to submit their best graphic designs. Out of 8,000 submissions, they whittled it down to 500 of the cream of the crop.

They then decided to do something a little strange and not make a book, but infocards instead.

Emilia Terragni, Editorial Director at Phaidon explains why:

“Creative people like to be surrounded by beautiful images. You can put the cards on your desk, hang them on your wall…change them as much as you can to allow you to be inspired by different images every day.”

The infocards contain the work itself, markers like designer, time, client, etc., as well as accompanying images and a brief history of the work.
Photo Cred: Mirko Ilic


What they ended up with is a definitive collection of the greatest graphic designs of our time. Spanning all the way back to the invention of the printing press, the history of print as we know it has been packaged up with a little bow on it, a gift for all the world who cares to see.

Phaidon’s archive of cards allows us to look back as we please, and isn’t constrained by a book-binding, one-way street. You can move about the works chronologically or by theme or design type. You can hang up your favorites or sift through the unfamiliar. This unique setup facilitates diversity of influence and an exciting experience each time you open it up. A beautiful history lesson that can be organic and still procedural.


So much of our past makes up our futures. Fashion trends cycle through like old friends we forgot we had. Style and process and form have evolved since the dawn of man. Studying history allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants and is an act we owe to ourselves as much as others. Phaidon’s Archive gives artists our history in our native tongue: with the art itself.

The times, spaces and movements that influenced it’s creation.
Insights into the process and experimentation.
Important life experiences of the artist.

Photo Cred: Big Bad Wolf Book Sale Indonesia


This allows each card to give you a full picture of the work of art in your own living room. It’s like having a million art galleries in your lap and with all the time in the world to process, take in and explore.


Past pinnacles of design not only inform your cultural context, they also refocus your own point of view. These Phaidon cards allow you to fill up your personal rolodex of style and fully flesh out who you are as an artist.

They inspire new techniques.

They display the wide range of human perspective and herald us into new ways of thinking about old things.

“Art represents a continuum of human experience across all parts of the world and all periods of history.


Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Looking at Art

The importance of such self-education cannot be overlooked. Don’t have a masters in art history? No problem. Pick up a card and learn. Or maybe you’ve been in the industry for years, and are tired of looking at the same graphic trends all around you? Pick up a card and be revitalized. From different countries, different aesthetics, different eras, different categories. This archive gives you countless inspiration of a thousand teachers.


So let’s go on a little art history journey together, if you’ll have me. For the next few weeks, I will randomly select a Phaidon card, working chronologically forward to today, and blog the results. Each week we’ll look at a different graphic, study the artist, understand the period it was forged in and pull out the significance. We’ll learn new things about our collective history and our individual selves. We’ll widen our understanding of the past and, in so doing, broaden the possibilities of our future.

In fact, feel free to stop into our offices, at 110 S. Main St. Fortville, IN and see the Phaidon Archive cards for yourself. I’ll have my randomly selected card displayed over my desk each week. If you’re not sure which desk is mine, it’s the one with the large green “Torrence” street sign on it. Oh, and a golden tortoise. Come riffle through the cards with me and we’ll see what we can see.

Feature Image Photo Cred: Emily Bouman

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