Smith’s Rules*

Smith’s Rules should be followed wherever practicable. Exceptions can be made for narrow minds and when the rearrangement of ideas to conform with these rules would prove unreasonable.

Smith’s Rules is an ongoing series of ideas concerned with standards and attitudes towards the subject of visual communication.

Smith’s Rules intention is to observe and address existing standards of visual language and their graphic representation.

Smith’s Rules should offer the opportunity for the reader to contemplate their own ideas and reconsider their philosophical approach




Education: A Practical Guide for Amateurs 1/1

“The many-sided questions of design can only be answered adequately with experience and it may therefore be necessary, in your early years . . . 

to call upon the experience of others. ”This austere insight — top-sliced from John Ryder’s penultimate chapter: ‘Sources of Inspiration’ in his 1955 exacting (gem of a) publication ’Printing for Pleasure’; A Practical Guide for Amateurs — affords an opportunity to reflect upon those whose experience we have once called upon.

Mr Ryder’s ‘little’* book is filled with elegant philosophical advice — certainly only ever accumulated through a lifetimes experience submerged in one’s subject. The author articulates his ideas and ideals through simple grammatical and linguistic precision. Combining the direct earnest optimism of post-war 1950’s Britain, with a vast knowledge, learned study and a startling passion for the subject; he ignites the premise that this ‘amateur undertaking’ is for pleasure of the experience; its intrinsic value is in the process and the pleasure of undertaking the process.

Discovered discarded in the Letterpress workshop at Northumbria University, the book instantly struck a cord with me. This slim and modest volume echoed my own philosophy of both printing and teaching: that pleasure should be the guiding principle behind both. Perhaps surprisingly Mr Ryder’s views match contemporary educational thinking; certainly that process is the central activity of learning and more radically that the guidelines of an experienced tutor/mentor are not prescriptive, but offered to ‘the student’ to discover through their own practice and application.

Education: A Practical Guide for Amateurs 2/2

My proposition here is simply that students of Graphic Design should follow Mr Ryder’s advice and consider themselves ‘amateur’.

As an amateur your activity is not rewarded financially, but rather by pleasure, knowledge and experience. Therefore the emphasis is on actual process; both physical and intellectual; rather than final reward. As Mr Ryder suggests; amateur status affords [the student] the opportunity to embrace experimentation and exploration through process: the process that John Maeda now defines as ‘the core’.

In the early 1990’s; when I first began teaching at Middlesex University I was quietly sifting through the remarkable Cat Hill library boxed collection of the English ‘Form’ magazine when a slip of photocopied (A7) paper fell to the ground; on it was printed in capitals ‘Erratum Slip’; then underneath in smaller upper and lower case default Helvetica type; ‘In all cases: for: Art, read: Science’. This discovery prompted contemplation of the framework that underpins any subject. It offered me the opportunity to reflect upon my own Graphic Design teaching and reinforce the importance of discovery through process; as Maeda’s “the core is the process that informs the final outcome”.