Visual lists, pictorial dictionaries, knolling, encyclopedia of the everyday, visual families, visual groupings – these are a few of the phrases I’ve collected to describe one of my favourite formats: the catalogue of objects. I was first introduced to this genre when I was a kid with The Baby’s Catalogue, which contained a selection of things in a baby’s life.
For children, this format is more functional than anything else: kids need to learn the names of things and these types of books help expedite the process.
But for adults, the genre can provide profound insight into our relationship with the inanimate world. It’s a graphic medium that celebrates objects – their form, function and meaning – and explores philosophical themes in new and accessible ways.
Here are a few of my favourites examples of this form of graphic storytelling.
Visual Families, Gestalten
Visual Families is a collection of collections. It includes posters, infographics, illustrations, advertisements and graphic representations that reveal the relationships between a set of objects, people or ideas. Featuring work by a variety of artists and designers, the book shows how this visual format can reveal new truths and provoke thought.
Blackstock’s Collection, Gregory L. Blackstock
The introduction to Blackstock’s Collection explains perfectly why the catalogue format is so compelling: “Modern-life is an ever-accelerating barrage of people, buildings, vehicles, creatures, and things. How much can a curious mind take in? And what can it do with all the data?”
Gregory L. Blackstock is an artistic savant. He’s never received any training, yet he’s able to capture the subtle differences between objects with extreme detail. His visual lists are expansive and well-researched, capturing many different species of knots, tents, tools, birds, insects and shoes – to name a few.
Almost Everything, Joelle Jolivet
I purchased this children’s book as an adult and it helped me to identify and articulate my love of the genre. It’s a simple and practical look at a collection of worldly objects. Fruits, animals, costumes, dwellings – the categories are straightforward but there are many surprising objects in the bunch.
About Time, Vahram Muratyan
Described as a “visual memoir around the clock,” About Time is an illustrated look at our relationship with time and how it changes throughout our lives. Using simple vector illustrations, Muratyan combines witty and whimsical storytelling with the practicality of information design. This book isn’t a collection of objects, but rather a collection of the many ways that time reveals itself to us.
My Bio in Chairs, Rochelle Udell
Rochelle Udell is a designer who’s spent most of her career in the publishing industry, working as an art director for magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazar and Esquire. Today, she mostly focusses on painting. Her recent work, My Bio in Chairs, features acrylic paintings of the important chairs in her life. Accompanying each painting is a brief, loving description of the importance of each chair. You can hear her talk about this project on Design Matters with Debbie Millman.