Design Humor: The Art of Graphic Wit

Reviewed by Zachary Anderson


This book is actually a revised version of a book called Graphic Wit: The Art of Humor in Design. The original book, written by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson, went out of print in 1996. However, as opposed to just adding a couple new paragraphs, this revision goes in depth into modern graphic design since its demise in ‘96.

Heller begins by giving us a concise history in humor in graphic design. He walks us through each era of design and how humor was implemented in that era. He walks us through the gothic, modern,late modern, and post-modern eras of wit and graphic design. He then goes in depth with the digital age, commenting on design from the late nineties to the present. 

In chapter two, Heller gives us a look at a few aspects of graphic design humor. He talks of play in the workplace, and how it can inspire creativity. He delves into the art of distortion and its use in exaggerating points. He tells us about the use of juxtaposition, bringing together two or more distinct objects to create new meaning. Heller also tells us about the use of transformation, scale, and repetition.

The third chapter focuses on puns and visual wit. He talks about the use of wordplay to the designers advantage. This chapter’s main focus is on visual puns and how graphic designers use words and visuals to convey a message.

Heller then brings us to the world of nostalgic wit. He tells us about the use of memories to stimulate emotion. This portion of the book reminds me of a recent ad campaign that uses Froot Loops and the original Super Mario Brothers to bring the viewers back to the eighties. This section also talks about vernacular humor, and how “charmingly naive” the designs were. It also goes in depth with cliches and how designers can use cliches to enhance meaning in their designs. 

Returning to a more design aspect, Heller starts telling us of the use of typeplay. He talks of typefaces, the use of jumbled letters, typography, and word play.

In the final chapter, Heller included contributions from fellow designers. The designers picked their favorite pieces of design humor and shared with us what exactly makes them so funny.