Design master Rob Forbes promotes new ways of seeing
By Lou Fancher
It’s one of life’s ironies that after our infant brains perform the miracle of learning to see, we spend our adult years largely metaphorically blind.
We overlook the splendor of ecstatic color expressed in fabric and pass ordinances against the outdoor hanging of laundry. We construct dull, gray rivers of cement and call them “safe sidewalks.” Or, we simply fail to pause and notice the elegant or comic composition in a jumble of keys, paint tubes, sewer tiles, baseballs or other paraphernalia.
Fortunately, Rob Forbes is out to reverse unintentional blindness with his new book, “See For Yourself: A Visual Guide to Everyday Beauty.” The 176-page, softback manifesto from the design wizard best known as the founder of Design Within Reach and Public Bikes features more than 500 images taken during a 10-year span of walking and biking.
Straightforward declarations in short essays on form, pattern, repetition, point of view, light and shadow, symmetry, texture and other subjects are turned into pearl-like one-paragraph, 12-picture illustrations of a particular premise. If the first-person narrative occasionally has a reader wishing Forbes shed a sliver of his designer ego, the impact of his message will quickly erase residual grumbling.
Whether a person is stuck at home or about to soar away on an around-the-world trip, “See” is a gift, potentially enlightening and restoring true vision to tired eyes.
Forbes’ photo of doorbells in Venice, Italy, will have readers laughing and looking for faces beside every doorway. Even if a European vacation isn’t in the cards, the curve and color of the Golden Gate Bridge allows a Bay Area resident’s eye a lively jaunt.
Flea markets become a mecca of visual stimulation; public transportation is an opportunity to find patterns in wheels and windows. The book also offers cause for celebration for cities across the world with streets that haven’t been widened for cars, public spaces preserved as parks instead of being turned into parking lots, and historic buildings that have escaped the demolition ball.
Forbes credits his see-ability in part to designer George Nelson’s “How to See,” a 72-page pamphlet with black-and-white photos written for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1973. “Seeing, as Nelson defines it, is a discipline,” Forbes writes, “and I have found it to be equally fun, addictive and meaningful.”