Monday, July 18, 2011

Simply Illuminating, 1.04

[Part 4 of a short series]

Is this it? The illuminated business bible I’ve been looking for? The answer to all my (maybe I shouldn’t use this word) prayers

Well, let’s dig into the hardback edition of Tom Peters’ 2003 Re-imagine! and see. Evaluate it first for its manuscript qualities, then for its bible qualities.


I think it’d be mighty thought provoking to take a hard-cover, mint-condition copy of Re-imagine! and place it next to one of the world’s most magnificent illuminated manuscripts (are you familiar with the Book of Kells? I’ll attach a pic at the end) and just compare the two. Every which way. Looking for patterns. Noting what’s different…

Would you find similarities? 
Significant ones, I’d contend.

You’ll have to use your imagination for this, but – let’s first consider the key design components:

A typical two-page spread from Re-imagine! 
  1. TEXT. Not the fancy hand lettering you'd find in a manuscript, but the typography in Re-imagine! is comparably readable, modern, and appropriate for the material. 
  2. BORDERS. I liken some of the graphics, illustrations, and photos that surround Re-imagine!'s main body text to the decorated borders of illuminated manuscripts. They’re not really there to challenge the reader to “think visually”. They're more for ornamentation. 
  3. HISTORIATED INITIALS. Found in illuminated manuscripts at the beginning of new or particularly noteworthy sections of text. Re-imagine! doesn't use enlarged or decorated initial letters, but it does makes extensive use of varying word sizes, colors, and cases (upper and lower) to give clues as to their relative importance. This, by the way, is the lone design element Peters carried over – even to the title – into his The Little BIG Things, published in 2010.* 
  4. RECURRING ELEMENTS. The Saint John’s Bible, another exemplary illuminated manuscript, uses common art-elements both within and across its seven volumes. Similarly, Re-imagine! uses page headers, sidebar icons, and color-coded chapter identifiers (which are a challenge-and-a-half for press operators to print) to help give its author’s ramblings a more consistent form. 
  5. COLOR. Re-imagine! uses bold, in-your-face color from beginning to end. Says Peters,  “These are Technicolor Times. Thence...they demand Technicolor Words and Technicolor Ideas and Technicolor Actions.” Color brings the images on the pages of illuminated manuscripts to life and captivates readers. So, too, does the r-e-a-l gold or silver they employ. The cover of Re-imagine! was printed with f-a-k-e silver ink. 
  6. MINATURE ILLUSTRATIONS / ILLUMINATIONS. One of the defining features of an illuminated manuscript is its painted illustrations. You could say Re-imagine! is loaded with modern day illuminations that’ve been integrated with the main text. I also put the book's sidebars in this category. They're there to "flesh out" the main text, i.e., to shed light. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There. Does this one-to-one matching o’ design elements have you convinced?

I’d say while no one’s likely to mistake Re-imagine! for an illuminated manuscript, there are enough on-the-surface similarities that just about anyone could be made to recognize the common threads. What’s more, I’m willing to put out there with some confidence: illuminated manuscripts are to Re-imagine! as plain old, non-illuminated manuscripts are to most other business books out there today. 

NOW – 

Do I like what I see of Re-imagine!’s surface? Does it “stack up” to something like the Book of Kells in terms of the beauty of its design? 

Those are trickier questions to answer. How do I go about isolating my design-only thoughts, after all, from the other thoughts that enter my consciousness as I flip pages? (Do I like what’s being said? Is this well written? Do I trust the author? How are my interest and energy levels?)

Well, I could conceivably base my evaluation around the six design-component categories above. Or I could just make a sweeping generalization like this: 
Re-imagine! reminds me of a design-heavy college textbook, circa this past decade. The kind used in an Intro-To-Some-Subject-Intended-For-Non-Majors-Of-That-Subject. (I’d bet there are Business 101 books, for example, with a similar look.) It’s livelier and punchier than the majority o’ those, though. Full of attention grabbers. Think fairly hip textbook meets WIRED magazine. 
I can’t say I’m blown away by the design. But I do like it. And I think the team that did it deserves credit: (1.) for breaking with the tradition of biz books designed in the non-illuminated manuscript (no pics, no color) mold, and (2.) for the effort. Why for the effort? ‘Cause I’m sure they worked their tails off. A typical book relies on a template of some sort. By contrast, almost every spread of Re-imagine! is unique. Must’ve been like designing a magazine with 352 numbered pages. 


The slick packaging helped draw me in. It even called my favorite illuminated manuscripts to mind. Two illuminated (capital 'B') Bibles, in particular. Along with 'em? All kinds of deeper questions about the book's messaging. Its content. And my perceptions of its usefulness and meaning.

This Peters guy – who some have called a prophet – has sunk a lot of resources into making Re-imagine! visually appealing. Might he have something important to say? Something really important?

I’ve used the phrase “business bible” in this and previous posts. Playing the religious analogy for all it's worth, Is Re-imagine! worthy of serious consideration and study the way the Bible is for some folks? Is it worth returning to again and again (every Sunday night, perhaps) for guidance? Should its thinking-and-acting-instructions-for-managers be followed religiously? Ultimately, I wanna to know if I should place my faith in the darn thing above and beyond the other business books out there. What’s the point, otherwise? 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m searching for answers…......If business success could only be made to be predictable…......I’ve been let down in the past…......

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Will Re-imagine! one day be re-membered and re-ferred to, simply, as the Book of Tom

I’m going to leave that for a subsequent post. 

Here's a famous page from the Book of Kells: 

*I first saw this technique used by William Gass in Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, an experimental novella published in 1968. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have comments about this particular posting -- or wish to reach its maker about anything else -- fire away here!