John Lewis, a typographer and tutor at the RCA, in the conclusion to his 1967 book The Twentieth Century Book: Its Illustration and Design predicted that graphic designers would “play a bigger part in the book of the future, not as one who provides a prettifying element, but as one who can act as an elucidating factor in the graphic presentation of a text”. In Ways of Seeing Hollis certainly achieves this, decisions are content driven rather than stylistic. The key reason that Ways of Seeing has become iconic as a piece of book design is how it dealt with text and image: the two are integrated, where an image is mentioned in the text it also appears there. Captions are avoided where possible, when unavoidable they are in a lighter weight of type and run horizontally, so as not to disrupt the text. Images are often set at the same width as the lines of text, or indented by the same amount, this democratises the text and image relationship. Occasionally works of art are cropped to show only the pertinent details. All of these features are a big departure from the art books of the time which usually featured glorified full page colour images, often in a middle section completely distanced from where the text refers to them.
When I asked Richard Hollis about working with text and image together he replied, saying: “That was something I got used to working on magazines, I had to find images which illustrated points made in the text, and I got used to working in that way. We used to say that every designer should work on magazines, and you had to work to tight deadlines. You had to make decisions very quickly!”
This method of book design, integrating text and image, has its origins in modernism, for instance László Moholy-Nagy’s Typophotos and propaganda artist John Heartfield’s book designs. Richard Hollis was also drawing inspiration from the work of the French film essayist Chris Marker, who had tackled the problem of turning film into a book with his two Commentaires publications, as well as an early version of Phaidon’s landmark book The Story of Art by EH Gombrich. For Hollis, Ways of Seeing has come to define his long and varied career (somewhat unwantedly perhaps): “it's funny people always ask me about that book. I've answered so many things about it, it was just another job for me among many,” but the book is undeniably iconic, it has been in print continuously for over forty years and remains a key text on a huge number of university and college reading lists. Again the collaborative process was key, with the five contributors working together in a BBC office for two or three weeks until it was complete, Richard Hollis explained that this BBC involvement proved instrumental: “On that book I mainly worked with the television producers, we were lucky that despite it being with Penguin books, the BBC were in charge and told us to do it however we liked in the Penguin format. Hans Schmoller, who was a very traditional typographer and head of design at Penguin, hated it”.