W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design

W.A. Dwiggins was among the most influential and innovative designers of the 20th century. He was believed to have coined the term 'graphic designer' in 1922. He designed for S.D Warren, now Sappi, for decades including several issues of the Warren Standard.

Sappi worked closely on its new Dwiggins booklet of “The Reflected Works” with author Bruce Kennett, who authored a biography and anthology of work on Dwiggins titled, "W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design." Below are excerpts from the foreword by Steven Heller. Reprinted with permission from Bruce Kennett.

WAD work

Before meeting the book-jacket designer Louise Fili, now my wife of more than thirty years, I had never heard the name of nor seen any work by William Addison Dwiggins (Dwig, WAD, Bill). I had no idea that he (or anyone else for that matter) coined the term “graphic design” (or “graphic designer) or that his prolific talent touched every realm of “commercial art”. Nor did I have a clue that he was an erudite designer-critic-satirist. I had totally missed this work, despite what I believed was extensive research into the history of design writing. By the time Dwiggins light shined on me, I had written about half a dozen important American and European designers and illustrators, among them people who I’m certain knew Dwiggins personally. Nonetheless, I remained shamefully and embarrassedly ignorant. Until redemption came.

W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design is an amazingly exhaustive biographical narrative and curated collection of rare and remarkable WAD-work. When the publisher Rob Saunders, founder of Letterform Archive, asked me to introduce this volume and showed me the thick presentation dummy, I told him that the best I could muster was a giddy fanboy’s praise.

Dwiggins worked closely with S.D. Warren art director Watson Gordon, producing swatchbooks, samples and other sales materials while honing his craft across media.

And it’s true: Bruce Kennett, Dwiggins researcher par excellence, biographer, and himself a book designer—in fact he designed all the pages in this one—has done exceptional (and essential) work in re-creating a life in design and the design of a life. This text is impressive and fascinating and the detailed selection of images so fine that I couldn’t hold myself back from exclaiming “Wow, I never saw that” after every turned page.

This book is many things, but most of all it is proof positive that if there is any doubt about the origin theory of graphic design, Dwiggins did more to promote, diversify, and integrate the graphic, typographic, and printing-arts disciplines than anyone else of his generation.

To learn more about Dwiggins, visit Sappi’s The Reflected Works, which tells the Sappi story through a collection of Advertising, Education and Promotion pieces from 1910–1969, including our work with the legendary father of graphic design, W.A. Dwiggins. Or buy your very own copy of W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design printed on Sappi Opus Dull here. Feeling lucky? Click this link to get a copy of a special The Reflected Works: Dwiggins resource or The Reflected Works: Dwiggins notecard set.

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