As part of my Back to School Blog in September, I recommended a title called Bugs by Simon Tyler. Simon is a graphic designer with a passion for presenting facts and information in an aesthetically pleasing way, and the book is certainly eye-catching. In 2013, Simon launched the acclaimed infographic poster brand Atomic Printworks, and to celebrate National Non-Fiction November, he writes for MinervaReads about the inspiration behind his graphic design, his love for facts and stats, and how it led to the publication of Bugs.
My journey from small child with an interest in bright, bold computer graphics to the publication of Bugs started quite early on. I remember designing a Dr Who monster with a friend. We were about 10 years old, I think, so this would’ve been around 1987. We used an incredibly rudimentary computer programme, pretty much doing it one pixel at a time. We printed it out and sent it to the BBC. I think we were expecting to become internationally famous monster consultants. Predictably, this did not happen.
Some years later, applying for university, I had convinced myself that I wanted to be a scientist, but soon after starting a degree in biochemistry at Imperial College, I realised I was absolutely not cut out for the process of actually doing science. I guess I was more interested in the idea of it, rather than the reality of highly involved lab experiments that went on for days and days. So, I moved to UCL to study the history and philosophy of science, which suited me far better.
However, it did take a long time before I would put it to good use. I had got into graphic design, and one day I was idly messing around with some colours and shapes which became the first design – called the Deepest Trenches – for my poster company, Atomic Printworks. It suddenly occurred to me that there were all sorts of things that I could represent in a similar way. The idea being that kids would find the information presented interesting, and adults would actually want to hang up the designs around the house. One of my favourites is the Geological Timescale design – I think it succeeds in communicating the main message – how much time is involved, and how much has been packed into the most recent part of that history – whilst working as an attractive graphic object in its own right. My criticism of many other educational posters is that they tend to be covered in lengthy passages of text, which detracts from the explanation of the particular concept.
I also wanted to avoid dumbing anything down. For example, when I was working on the Dinosaur Evolution design, I was amazed by how many of the full binomial Latin names my (at the time) three-year-old daughter and her friends knew. Thanks to TV programmes such as Octonauts, they’re already little experts. Ask an Octonauts fan about hydrothermal vents and prepare to be amazed!
The publicity the posters received led to the Bugs book, which I wrote and illustrated for Pavilion. I wanted to apply the same design thinking – the clean, bold and colourful approach – alongside a depth of information that would interest and inspire a wide age range. I like the idea of kids’ books that adults get something out of too. I’m currently working on the sequel to Bugs – a book about the exploration of space, both in terms of space travel and visual exploration from Earth – astronomy – and that subject also lends itself very well to the wide-appeal approach.
Bugs by Simon Tyler is out now, £14.99 hardback, published by Pavilion, and you can buy it here.