Florilegium – gathering literary flowers

Ever have one of those moments when you realize you are not what you claimed or thought you were? Where an illusion of yourself, either self-imagined or externally imposed, dissipates.

Well, an interesting thing happened to me on the way to the Intermodal Station. While I had thirty minutes to spend, I lost my way through the labyrinthian shelves of Downtown Books in search of a Latin dictionary. Instead, I found a used English dictionary.

Knowing that half of the English language is built on the foundation of Latin, I found a delicious word: florilegium. Culling flowers is the literal definition. But “a volume of writings” reminded me of something else. The idea of gathering literary flowers or collecting the flowers of one’s reading. Somewhere between the Middle Ages and Renaissance the practice of writing quotes and excerpts from other texts began. Later it manifested itself in European culture as commonplace books.

For years I considered myself a modernist of sorts. Writing down quotes, excerpts and notes on or from influential artists like Jackson Pollock, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, and Ezra Pound. But there I was, standing in Downtown Books searching a dictionary for English words with the Latin root word “loci.”

When did this happen? When did I begin act and resemble a classicalist? Maybe this is part of the great conversation. Connecting the dots. Reading the ancient writers. Comparing them to modern literature. Maybe this is part of gathering literary flowers. Legacy informing legacy.

I boarded the train. Found a seat. Opened a copy of Gary Snyder’s Left Out in the Rain. And gazed out the window at the setting sun.

Good design is more than this


(image via Jonathan Trier Brikner)

There’s more to being a design genius than this. Truly.

Just because you have a computer, laptop or tablet allowing you to download free fonts and free images and use some free app you discovered on Twitter does not make you a design genius.

Just because you “designed” a cool graphic image the way many misled souls believe they labored and “built” an IKEA bookshelf does not make you a design genius. [1]

Celebrated graphic designer, Milton Glaser, put it best:

Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.

Good design solves problems and presents stories. As a creative director for an international publishing house, my chief goal is to attract potential readers to new books by capturing a story in a single cover image. To illustrate the point further, an author (for whom I had just completed a book design) emailed me recently: “I’m getting some great feedback on my Facebook page about the cover. Thank you very much…” Good design is about communication: problem solved, story told.

NOTE: [1] For what it is worth, IKEA is not good design. It is nothing more than cheaper-than-Wal-mart veneer furniture, second-rate fabric products and wax-paper lamps. And don’t call IKEA “modern design” because modern design is so 1948. Seriously, the modernist movement began almost a century ago. But I digress.