Creating the Formica Forever Book
In June, we announced the arrival of Formica Forever, a commemorative book that celebrates our 100 years of global design through advertising, product photography and essays. We recently spoke with Abbott Miller, Partner at Pentagram, who led the direction for, and design of, the book as well as the Formica® laminate Anniversary Collection. He provides his insights on capturing the essence of a 100 year-old global brand on 408 pages.
What inspired your design concept of Formica Forever?
I found a gorgeous 1960s swatchbook and it had a friendliness that felt perfect for the anniversary book. We didn't want a cumbersome coffee-table book format, or something that felt traditional in the context of a grand history. The goal was to create something celebratory rather than grandiose.
Do you have a favorite image and, if so, which one?
There were brilliant illustrations done for Formica Group in the 1960s and 70s in Europe that conjure a different cultural landscape, but I'd have to say my favorite is the scope and ambition of a series of photographic ads from Spain in the 1970s. They have an incredibly sophisticated mood, almost like an Antonioni film. In some of them, the woman of the household can be seen going about her business while the kids are doing homework; in another, she is seen in a pensive mood near the dinner hour. It’s somewhere between Almodovar and Antonioni, but the interest is not the campy kind. Someone really knew how to conjure a mood, and it’s not the typical mood of SELL, SELL, SELL.
How were the three authors chosen?
Phil Patton was a natural choice for a strong overview of Formica Group as a business: he did a fantastic book on Volkswagon, and he also has a natural feel for Midwestern, heart-of-America topics. Add to that his ability to convey the international expansion and you have the right author for the right topic.
Alexandra Lange has been working in the sweet spot of architecture and design pioneers through mid-century to the present. I knew she had a strong interest in the material aspects of Formica® laminate and that she could show how it was present at various thresholds of design history.
Peter York was a natural choice to speak from a broader position of cultural history – he links Formica® laminate to an evolving story of hygiene and modernization that forms a current from the birth of Formica® laminate to the present. Peter's characterization of the "wipe clean" world conveys the spirit of the material … not from a visual standpoint, but for what it meant for people in their daily lives.
What impression do you hope the book will make on the design community?
We want it to be authoritative but also lively: it has a lot of meat, but a lot of visual fun as well. We hope it’s engaging because of its editorial as well as its visual qualities. Arranging much of the material through a kind of color spectrum makes it clear that we first want to make a statement about the visual impact of Formica® laminate, and then to be able to dig down into its history.
I think it’s noteworthy that it’s translated into six different languages: two forms of Chinese, Thai, Finnish, French and Spanish – it’s accessible in all the parts of the world that Formica Group has a presence.
Limited quantities of Formica Forever are available now with full distribution at better bookstores, online booksellers and www.artbook.com in September.