I began this book with an assignment on “The Form of a Maple Leaf,” in which I ask students to draw a realistic version of this botanical object. Understandably, they render sketchy approximations, often charming but usually wide of the mark. They do not yet know that leaf from the inside out; they do not yet see how the outer form is shaped by inner form and the interrelated functions of its parts. I end my account of this exercise with a general principle: “There is no substitute for knowledge about the object or process one is attempting to convey through graphic design.”

Over the past three decades I have spent thousands of hours with students. During that time I have tried to follow my own advice, to study them, as it were, from the ...

Get Inside/Outside: From the Basics to the Practice of Design, Second Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.