Kevin Yuen Kit Lo recommends 6 books that challenge, inspire, and cut deep


The Editors


Jun 20, 2024

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo’s new book Design Against Design argues for the urgent necessity of critical engagement and political resistance through graphic practice. Both a passionate indictment of the discipline of graphic design, and a utopian love letter to its radical potential, Lo’s collection of almost confessional, candid essays challenge the status quo of design writing. Design Against Design demands that we think more intimately about the politics of visual culture under contemporary capitalism and, importantly, how we can act against it.

We caught up with Kevin to recommend some of the books that have influenced him.

Design Against Design is a collection of diverse essays, interviews, and artwork. If there’s a connecting thread, it is an argument to take graphic design (and visual culture) — its social, political and personal ramifications — more seriously and to open up space for doing design differently. It starts from an understanding that all design is inherently political, which might not necessarily be an original thesis, but is hopefully articulated in an original way.

About half of the essays and interviews were written earlier (the oldest essay, though an outlier, is from 2011), and the other half were written specifically with the book in mind. “The Propaganda of Pantone” was written in 2016, sparked by my outrage over their “colour of the year,” and published on my website and by Graphik magazine. It surprisingly went viral and helped to convince me that my writing was strong enough to perhaps put a book together. About a year later, I started to work on the essays in sporadic bursts in my spare time, developing ideas from contemporary events and debates, and fleshing out the talks and presentations I was invited to give. I started to think about who I wanted to interview, most of them are not designers but they brought such insight into the practice. Though the book is clearly aimed at (graphic) design students and practitioners, I also hope it is accessible and engaging to a more general public interested in visual culture. A lot of the essays are also quite personal and I hope this makes them relatable to a wider audience as well.

A mutual friend, Chris Lee, put me in touch with Freek Lomme (Onomatopee/Set Margins’) in 2021, and I presented him with the collection of essays and he agreed to publish the book. Working with Freek helped to clarify the editorial structure, and the four sections (Critique, Practice, Materiality, and Autonomy) guided the rest of the writing and editing. This is one of the aspects that has been most satisfying for me, the ability to pull together all these disparate things into a framework that makes sense and hopefully pushes me towards further study.

The book that most influenced you while writing Design Against Design

It’s really hard to pick just one given the amount of time spent developing the book, however the title (and spirit) of the book is directly inspired from the design beyond Design publication edited by Jan van Toorn and Els Kuipers that emerged from the conference of the same name at the Jan van Eyck Academie in 1997. I was given this book by a professor in 2001, and its ideas have stayed with me ever since. Unfortunately it’s long out of print.

A non-design book that has influenced how you write

Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes is a beautifully painful assemblage of personal memory, theory, history, criticism, images; a series of numbered “notes” that trace the contours and excavate the depths of anti-Black racism, and resistance/resilience through beauty, care, and joy. Sharpe’s use of the fragmentary form feels like a masterful act of design, where form and content are inseparable.

A fiction book that has influenced your work/thinking

Ocean Vuong’s memoir (is memoir fiction?) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a poetic study of diaspora, a dark and poignant portrait of growing up in (North) America, of addiction and love. I’m not sure exactly how it’s influenced my work, but it cut so deep, there’s no way it hasn’t.

A book more designers should read

Not really a book, but an arc of three Visible Language journal issues entitled “New Perspectives: Critical Histories of Graphic Design” from 1994. I found a stack of these in a cupboard when I was studying in Breda. The series pulls together so many important essays from such great design thinkers that I feel not only still resonate, but remain some of the most critical questions today in how we think through graphic design.

A book readers should turn to next after yours

I’m not sure if people should read it before or after, but Silvio Lorusso’s What Design Can’t Do (also from Set Margins’) is an excellent diagnosis of the current state of design pedagogy and practice. Though it can come across as cynical, I’ve found it to be revelatory in actually articulating a “realist”, to borrow James Dyer’s (Graphic Events) framing, understanding of design.

An upcoming book you’re excited to read

I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger. Her book No Logo was fundamental in shaping my early political positioning and design practice. Despite the subject matter, the mirror world of contemporary fascism, it’s eerily comforting to be reading her now. She’s such a good, readerly, writer.

Design Against Design: Cause and consequence of a dissident graphic practice by Kevin Yuen Kit Lo, is available from Set Margins.