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The Book of Cal's

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The Book of Kells is widely regarded as the finest codex ever produced. Scribed and illustrated by monks in late eighth century Ireland, it is an extraordinary example of illuminated manuscript, written in the half uncial letterform which has defined the visual character of the Irish written word for evermore.

The Book of Cal’s is clearly nothing of the former, this is the story of Cal Swann, just a journeyman graphic designer and design educator during an extraordinary period when the letterpress technology that was invented five centuries earlier, changed dramatically. The hand typesetting and letterpress printing skills that he was taught in the fifties, vanished by the nineteen nineties.

That was five hundred years of high-level craft down the gurgler within one working lifetime. What was a complicated and highly skilled process carried out in substantial factories, transmogrified into a computerised, digital system that could be carried out entirely on top of a desk, within just a decade or two. We are now full circle with the monks, a graphic designer can produce a book almost single handedly in their monastic cell.

Cal first taught typographic design in the Over the Shoulder atelier tradition of the English art schools (the author of Nellie is Dead, The Designer UK, 1986). Then much later, at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, he developed the first Master of Design program that could be studied entirely on the Internet, another technological revolution replacing a traditional on-campus pedagogic model. Combining his typographic experience with an MA in Applied Linguistics (Lancaster University UK 1986), the author of Techniques of Typography (Lund Humphries UK/Watson-Guptil New York, 1969) and then Language and Typography (Lund Humphries UK/Routledge Kegan Paul, New York 1991), Cal morphed into a senior academic in Australia presenting papers at international conferences. Professor Swann was awarded Honorary Fellow of the International Society of Typographic Design (2017) in recognition of outstanding typographic achievement.

This tongue-in-cheek book title is the personal reflection of a typographic designer and design educationalist in the second half of the twentieth century, a journey with the inevitable ups and downs of a life fully lived, illustrated with samples of his own graphic work and written with that design educator’s insider knowledge and some Anglo-Australian humour.



Hywel James Former Registrar for Art and Design, CNAA, UK

For more than half a century Cal Swann has been recognised as a designer of distinction, both in the UK and abroad. In addition, his many students have paid warm tribute to the excellence of his work as a teacher of typographic design in colleges and universities throughout Britain, in Australia and, more recently, via the Internet. He has described himself as a ‘journeyman designer’, one who has been content to take on work as it has come his way, but that seriously undervalues the quality of his craftsmanship and the remarkable extent of his versatility. Quite apart from these professional attributes, Cal is known to at least two generations of people in the design education field as a man of enormous good humour and charm, and as an enthusiastic jazz musician. From Leicester College of Art in the 1950s to Curtin University in 1996, he has given of his best. And to those who know him and his work, his best is, quite simply, pre-eminent.


Olaf Leu Professor/Designer, Germany

My compliments for this long-time work. It is a real work-of-life. Your life. In your case was the

detail, the deepness of craftsmanship of old crafts and the combination with the language so important. You had enormous knowledge about early situations, persons, (I forget all those names, but the places I remember) and five decades, these important decades, were important to write about! This is the great benefit of your book! All persons say thanks for this!


Jeremy Myerson Professor Emeritus RCA, founder-editor DesignWeek; former editor Creative


Few people can claim five decades of experience in graphic design education; fewer still can distil that experience into a vividly entertaining, brutally honest and highly readable memoir. Cal Swann does not just summon up a lost ‘golden age’ of art schools – his brushes with bureaucratic bosses and intransigent staff show how easily those educational values can be eroded. Swann is as tough on himself as everyone else, but his robust approach achieved results at a time when graphic design was moving from craft to computer and educationalists were scrambling to keep pace.


Anthony Cahalan Professor, Sydney Australia

Through many decades of design publishing and conferences, we have witnessed the lauding and lionising of a relative handful of stars, but The Book of Cal’s describes the realities of the vast majority of designers and educators, sprinkled with joy, humour, and Cal Swann’s significant personal and professional achievements. His wit, enthusiasm, knowledge, innovative approaches to wading through university bureaucracy, his encouragement and generosity led a number of us along an untrodden path in Australia to a PhD in typography. This book is a vitally important record of five decades of the design world as we experienced it.


Lady Rachel Cooper OBE

Cal Swann recounts more than forty years as a designer and academic, a personal reflection which illustrates in detail the changes in design education during the later part of the 20th century. Cal was a significant part of the change from Design as a technical education to a respected academic discipline, leading debate and at time causing sparks to fly. The insights gained from this book are those of the a private life alongside navigating an academic journey, in the ever-changing context of higher education, whilst practising as an inspiring designer. Deeply personal and fascinating.


Mike Doyle Copywriter/Author, Sydney Australia

Cal changed the lives of so many for the better (including me) by introducing us to the love of typography. He revolutionised education for those of us who had almost been written off by the education system. So many went on to have highly successful careers, largely thanks to him. This is a story that the world needs to know about. Not just about the challenges of managing college politics but also how we can all learn from the past and make a better future for design students.


Charlotte Fiell Design Author/Historian, UK

This wonderful book packed full of eye-catching, thought-provoking work provides a fascinating and deeply personal insight into the ever-changing landscape of graphic design, typography and design education. From letter press to digital, it charts a life’s work, which reflects the twists and turns of visual communications over the last five decades.


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