Bringing on the smiles, again

Popular design guide A Smile In The Mind gets an update with more cheeky humour and visual wit

Back in 1996, A Smile In The Mind tickled readers with its spread of witty graphic designs, cheeky advertisements and hilariously designed branding for products and businesses.

The plain white-covered book - which featured a red-lipped smile in place of the last letter of the title - was a hit.

Written by British authors Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart, it became a design guide for advertising and graphic design students and professionals around the world. It was reprinted 13 times, with more than 100,000 copies sold.

Now, 20 years on, an updated version of the book is set to influence a new generation of designers.

Sporting a neon pink cover, A Smile In The Mind has 1,000 examples of cheeky humour, clever wordplay and visual wit in graphic designs and branding collected over the last 40 years. Previously, there were just 400 examples.


The new A Smile In The Mind features works such as fruit juice box packaging (above) by Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa. PHOTO: PHAIDON

The new book, which was released in March, has been extensively revised and updated by new co-authors Greg Quinton and Nick Asbury. Publisher Phaidon, which puts out books on a range of topics from art to architecture to design, is behind both versions.

Paying tribute to the first book, London-based Quinton, 51, executive creative director at The Partners, a brand strategy, design and innovation agency, says the first book "defined an era of wit".

Since then, better technology has changed the way messages are put out and people want information faster.

Calling the book a "confident, modern update", he says: "People were excited by new technological advances and moving things. But there's a new generation which is now engaging with wit again.

"There's too much negativity in the world and people just want to smile. Using wit, you get those moments of joy that can make (life) better," he adds.

The 272-page tome is divided into five parts. The authors deconstruct wit and use past examples and write-ups to explain each part.

The section on Types Of Wit explores the various elements that make up a witty piece - think puns and rebuses, or a jarring juxtaposition of images.


The new A Smile In The Mind (above) features works such as fruit juice box packaging by Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa. PHOTO: PHAIDON

Wit In Practice is a gallery of how designers translate wit through various media - from invitations to packaging - while Wit In The World looks at the "influence of wit in business and life".

The book ends with 23 interviews - a mix of interviews from the first book and new ones - with the who's who of the creative industry internationally.

Conversations with heavyweights such as Israel-born graphic designer and illustrator Noma Bar and late American graphic designer and film-maker Saul Bass explore how their ideas came about and how they used humour in their works.

The book uses works from 40 countries as examples.

One of Quinton’s favourites is Juice Skin (2004) by Naoto Fukasawa. The Japanese industrial designer’s series of fruit juice box packaging has each looking like the fruit inside it, while the box’s texture mimics the skin of the fruit.

Quinton says: “It does its job. It sells because you immediately know what it is, even if it comes from Japan. It makes you smile and you want it.

“The great thing about wit is that it’s incredibly simple. That engagement of the brain is an intimate experience – just you and the designer communicating.”

While it took 20 years for the book to be updated, Quinton hopes it will be updated frequently now and perhaps be presented differently. “It would be lovely if readers could flip through and see holograms or engage all the senses as they read. But more importantly, I hope there will be loads more brilliant ideas that use wit. That’s timeless.”

• A Smile In The Mind (2016, $58.83), is available at Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'Bringing on the smiles, again'. Print Edition | Subscribe