What is the purpose of a design coffee table book?

The question What is the purpose of a design coffee table book? came from a conversation with a couple of friends about if we were to write a design book it would be a bit like a coffee table book, mostly as we didn’t wish to write an overly academic design book, also having given this question further thought, mostly designers prefer coffee table books anyway; however what purpose do they actually serve? On Wikipedia the main elements of a ‘coffee table book’ communicates information through visual and small text boxes; they provide a light read, however this could indicate a superficial approach to the subject. In addition as they do not need to be moved around, they are generally hardback books. From the wiki entry, the main purpose they serve is as a talking point or to stop boredom. From looking at a couple of design coffee table books, insights can be gained into their purpose.

The Art of Looking Sideways by Fletcher provides an enjoyable experience and takes you on a journey, which makes you think twice. In Fletcher’s words ‘The book is full of ‘little entertainments‘, not for the sake of it, but everything is there to make a point’. Fletcher’s book plays a similar role as Information is Beautiful by McCandless as this book encourages the design to rethink what they see and look at the bigger picture, but also inspires designers to consider how information is communicated.

If we now take Tactile – High Touch Visuals by Ehmann, Hubner and Klanten it provides inspiration and when words are not enough it enables conversations around what ideas look like and what ideas do not look like. Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings From The Worlds Most Influential Designers and Creatives by O’Donnell and Drawing from Life: The Journal as Art by New, plays a similar role as Tactile – High Touch Visuals, but they also enable designers to reflect on how they explore and capture the world around them.

Although not published worldwide, Designing Obama not only shares and captures the role of design, but also shares web analytics that communicates the impact of the design. Although more likely found on every designers bookshelf it could also be on a coffee table, Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge captures the current story of interaction designers, and communicates what they do through their stories.

From this brief review the purpose of a design coffee table book as well as communicating what designer do, is to enable designers:
- To rethink what and how we see,
- Provide inspiration,
- Aid conversations when words are not enough and,
- Provide designers with a space to reflect.

For other design coffee table book you can take a look at: www.designandbooks.com and www.designersreviewofbooks.com and Tashen books.

Feel free to comments below about your design coffee table books, and what you like about them and the purpose they serve for you?

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