By Michael Horsham
232 pages, hardcover, $39.95
Published by Thames & Hudson
This meticulously researched volume—part history, part autobiography—takes readers on a journey from cave painting to clickbait with unexpected stops along the way. Pull up a chair and bring your dictionary. Don’t let Horsham, a partner in the London-based arts collaborative Tomato, deter you with his dense text in which a typical page is peppered with words like latterly, palimpsest and aniconic.
Although he credits the contributions of Islamic calligraphers, Japanese printmakers and American tech entrepreneurs, most of the references in Horsham’s sphere are English, i.e. Margaret Thatcher, the British Museum and Royal College of Art. If you’re not a white European male, you might wonder, ‘Where is my culture?’ With so much focus on gestures and symbols, why isn’t there an illustration of nsibidi, the pictographic script West Africans used for at least 2,000 years? Why no mention of Mayan hieroglyphics? And why is April Greiman’s 1986 digital self-portrait not pictured under Chuck Close’s Big Nude?
To those who expect “visual communication” to only show award-winning graphic design and advertising, though, this book will be an eye-opener. Some topics and illustrations are as well-known as Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man; some as quirky as the Beatles’s Help album as an example of “the semiology of the semaphore.” I found especially worthwhile the explanations of why letters are called “characters” and how the advent of the newspaper changed society through job creation and the rise of labor unions. With some caveats, Hello Human deserves to be required reading and discussion fodder for all graduate students in communication design. —Ellen Shapiro