Today, we have Stuart Tolley, Art Director at UK-based Design firm Transmission Design, sharing the story behind his book entitled MIN: The New Simplcity in Graphic Design.

Stuart Tolley’s 2nd book with Thames and Hudson, “MIN: The New Simplicity in Graphic Design” is a look into the rebirth of Minimalism in contemporary graphic design. It features over 150 different works from artists all over the world and over 400 photos painstakingly assembled in a fantastic collection that showcases some of the finest examples of graphic design from the last 3 years.

Today, Stuart Tolley shares the story behind the creation of MIN.

Design Instruct: How did MIN get started? Tell us about the idea behind the project.

Stuart: MIN developed really organically. I’d just finished authoring my first book, Collector’s Edition: Innovative Packaging and Graphics, which is also published by Thames & Hudson, when a casual conversation with the commissioning editor turned into a book idea. We were analysing my minimal design direction for Collector’s Edition, which is about the new wave of limited edition graphic design created for the music and publishing industries, when he observed that there isn’t a book documenting the rebirth of minimalism in graphic design. We agreed that it would make a fantastic subject and he invited me to submit a book proposal.

I’ve explored Minimalism in my work for some time, but what really interested me was the public perception that simplicity in design is the lazy option and easy to create. It’s like a dirty word, often ridiculed. I think the total opposite, that Minimalist design takes time to perfect and just because something looks effortless, doesn’t mean it was created with little effort. So, I developed a proposal that aimed to dispel the myth that minimalist design is easy, by showcasing examples that are experimental, colourful and use innovative print production techniques.

DI: Tell us about the challenges of putting this book together. What surprised you or delighted you? What discouraged you or made you think twice?

Stuart: The biggest challenge was ensuring the book making process was on deadline, while also managing Transmission design studio projects. MIN took about two years to complete, from signing the contract to printed article, but the project became increasingly difficult towards the book deadline, as I was spending 17 hours a day, 7 days a week in the studio.

I love working on editorial design projects, which is primarily about story telling, creating a journey and reflecting the editorial direction of the publication. All publications have a different personality and the art direction is an integral part of this. I’ve worked on titles about music, film, lifestyle, travel and visual culture, which have all had their own distinct narrative and style, but the visual direction for MIN had to be very subtle. This design approach reflects the content, but I was also conscious that the featured examples are the central focus of the book and the still life photography became very important. I really didn’t expect to enjoy the taking the still life photography as much as I did. From the offset I decided to photograph each featured example, which is a massive undertaking and took a year to complete. It’s very rare for a book of this nature to include exclusive photography as it’s more common to rely on existing still life imagery. I’m really happy with the outcome, as the consistent background, lighting and art direction create a cool and calm environment.

Aside from the content, which I also sourced, the most important considerations are the structure, design and navigation system. These are usually determined within the first six months, by creating a BLAD (Book Layout and Design), which is a visual synopsis of the book. This is part of the book making process I love, as a clear navigation system is the backbone that determines the user experience. For MIN I created a navigation that utilises the gutter, an area in the middle that is normally considered dead space in book design, which allows the user to view the three sections and essays from the outside. I was really pleased when this idea work out and it’s probably my favourite design detail in the book.

Aside from the challenge of meeting the deadline, the hardest part was organising all of the 160 contributors and asking them to set aside time to send me items for the still life photography. MIN was the most important project to me at the time, but it’s certainly not everyones highest consideration and I cannot thank them enough for their participation.

DI: It is mentioned that MIN is a look at the “rebirth of simplicity.” How would you characterize today’s contemporary minimalist graphic designers as compared to designers who birthed the movement in the middle of the 20th century?

Stuart: I believe that simplicity comes into the fore when ornate and expressive graphic trends have become saturised. This anomaly has been repeated over the last century and pertinent in the graphic styles of Swiss Design and Minimalist art of the 1960’s, which was a reaction against Abstract Expressionism. For me, the biggest difference is social. As today’s digital society is bombarded by digital marketing, social media and the constant access to work emails via smart phones. Simplicity provides clarity, which is an increasingly important consideration for graphic designers and communicators, especially in digital and UX design.

DI: What did you learn?

I was really taken aback by the misconception that minimalist design is easy. When explaining the project to design peers, I was often greeted with the same response ‘that sounds easy, put nothing in the book. That’s what Minimalism is’. This was something that I became determined to overcome. It really is a love or hate style.

DI: What is your origin story? Tell us about your journey to become a designer/author


Stuart: I’ve always been interested in photography, art and especially graphic design. As a child, long before I knew what graphic design was, I would pour over my dads vinyl records and admire the artwork. It was typical Dad rock stuff, but I loved the psychedelic artwork for ‘Disraeli Gears’ by Cream and the die-cut cover for ‘Jailbreak’ by Thin Lizzy. At school I would shoehorn graphic design (badly) into all my projects, often creating small publications and skateboard inspired graphics.
Art college and then university seemed like a natural progression. I studied Visual Communication for three years at Birmingham University, which was a very open course with excellent colour photography equipment, which I took full advantage of. I topped up my portfolio with an MA, before moving to London, where I got a very prestigious job working as a designer on Sleazenation magazine.

DI: Can you share a piece of advice to aspiring designers and creatives?


Stuart: Everyone is different, but for me I think it’s important to follow your dreams. I’m motivated by creating interesting projects that have depth and also allow me to be playful and experimental with design. In many ways both my books are dream projects. If someone would have said to me ten years ago that I would have authored two visual culture books, that are published by one of the biggest art publishers in the world, I wouldn’t have believed them.