Book Chapter: “Beauty in Code” (2020, CentreCentre)

I am very happy to announce the coming release of the book “Print Punch. Artefacts From The Punch Card Era” by CentreCentre publishing in London. It is a rare and beautiful collection of specimen from that long gone era when we used to print (and punch) standardized cardboards in order to feed data to calculating machines.    


I am honored to have contributed a chapter to this book: “Beauty in Code. Graphic Design and the Aesthetics of Automation”, which examines the curious design conventions that had evolved in the creation of punched cards.

As many other ephemera — products of graphic design made for daily use — punched cards would lose their value and be discarded once they were not needed anymore. Compared to their widespread use in the decades up to the 1970s, only few are surviving to this day, and there are only few comprehensive collections of punched cards. When looking back at this era, it is interesting to reflect on how far we have come in terms of digital data processing. 

Punched cards reveal an interesting mixture of a very generic, engineering-driven design which was optimized for machine-readability, while also featuring various design elements which were aiming to facilitate the human handling – such as silly little illustrations or logos:

“Reviewing this design process, a picture emerges that the graphic styles of punched cards were – most of all – engineering-driven. Beauty or visual pleasure were no desirable objectives in their design process… This is a fundamental difference to most other products of graphic design: that its purpose was neither to please, nor to communicate cultural values. It is all the more surprising, then, that this technology-driven design brings about an idiosyncratic beauty.”

The book will be out soon (in two different editions) and is available for pre-order from CentreCentre, London, and was put together by Patrick Fry. Thanks to Patrick for inviting me for this collaboration!


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