Image credit: Dana Snow Prov. RGD
There are a lot of books on how to design but this is not one of them. Rather, this is a glimpse into what it’s like to be a designer.
In the Book Club's 4th author Q & A, we had the opportunity to discuss with Paul the process of writing this book and why now was the time to write it.
Title: Two-Dimensional Man
Author: Paul Sahre
Publisher: Abrams PressPublishing Date: 2017
No. of pages: 320Written & Designed by: Paul Sahre
Reviewed by: Dana Snow Prov. RGD
Paul Sahre is a graphic designer most known for his book covers and illustrations for The New York Times, so it seems only natural that he write and design his own book. This memoire, which started as an oﬀhand joke with his now publisher, ended up taking on a life of its own. Paul shares stories that are deeply personal and talks about what led him to be a designer for 30 years.
Paul wanted to write a book that wasn’t about design, but about how and why someone would become a designer. He started by submitting small essays, and when the question kept coming up, “but what does it have to do with design?”, the project got shelved. Speed forward a few years, add a new editor at Abrams, and Two-Dimensional Man gets the green light to move forward.
Paul was skeptical of his writing abilities, but he was sure of one thing—the book would start and end with his brother Angus, an elephant trainer for the circus who passed away from an unfortunate accident. In the prologue, Paul writes about rediscovering a drawing he had done years ago called “Demon Eating Human Flesh.” He says “this is a cautionary tale, one that can serve as a warning to “all who make things.” By this, he means that once something is created–drawn, in this case– the maker, while exerting complete control over its creation, has virtually no control over what it ultimately means to others, not, apparently, where it ends up. Angus had the drawing for a while, and later told Paul in his adult life it was his best work to date. It’s an incredibly detailed drawing of exactly what it’s named, but he goes on to say how it reminds him of earlier versions of himself. The nostalgia ensues with Paul going on to tell stories from his “suburban Addams Family” life, early careers and his university experience.
Paul provides bits of guidance throughout the book when he recollects his school years and working life. One that stuck with me was, “All those years of practise had taught me that repetition and discomfort were essential if you wanted to get good at something.” He shares challenges of working with clients, stories of bridges burned and arguments with anyone who he felt was getting in the way of his work. Although a designer needs to have a good relationship with the word “no”, Paul is candid about how we are not providing a service, and if you think you are, you’re releasing your central control as a designer.
While it’s hard for a solo designer to say no too often, Paul says, “It’s the mental things that happen when we design that keeps us coming back.” Have you ever watched yourself working? Angus had filmed Paul working on his computer after buying a video camera. I would imagine it’s horrifying to watch yourself work. You may resemble a zombie, and as Angus put it “wasting your life away”. Paul thought the same.
It’s evident in Paul’s work that he considers as many diﬀerent mediums he can. This led to the ultimate creation and destruction of a life-sized monster truck hearse for the band They Might Be Giants. The idea for this project also stemmed from Paul’s self admission of trying to complicate projects on purpose. He said most designers don’t know when something is done, but they do know when it’s not done and this often starts a chain reaction. Queue the giant monster truck creation!
In addition to discussing his professional history, Paul also talks about his relationships. He addresses failed relationships, and also shares how he met his current wife and Partner at Pentagram, Emily Oberman. Paul admits that he is not shy about going to his wife for work advice, which is the attitude a designer needs when working on their own. When asked how he stays motivated working for himself, Paul replied “it’s interesting that conversations between graphic designers often centre on the ways and means of being creatively fulfilled. I don’t know if anyone really figures it out, and that’s probably a good thing.”
Two-Dimensional Man is incredibly relatable. Aside from now being a well-known designer, Paul has led a pretty normal life. A suburban teenager that never stopped drawing goes to art school, gets a degree, goes out to work in the real world and endures breakups and hardships. The book is written in a way that’s casual, funny and personable. Paul not only shares his successes, but also the failures he experiences while growing into his design career of 30 years. There are hidden bits of advice that he shares from these experiences and pairs them with great little details scattered throughout the book such as collapsing type when recollecting a breakup.
Paul also includes great galleries of his work throughout the book to satisfy those who want more portfolio pieces. The book includes a full sized poster of one of his projects for Sappi Paper where they asked six designers to render a portion of the Unites States. When all six posters are put together they form a full map of the US.
Not only do I recommend this book to future and current designers, I also suggest this to anyone who thinks they aren’t exceptionally special trying to make it in the professional world.
About the Reviewer
Dana Snow, Prov. RGDDana currently works as a production designer with Forge Media + Design. This has been her 5th book with the RGD book club. She enjoys having the opportunity to pair her love of reading with her love of design, and getting the chance to discuss each book with inspiring individuals.