How to See: decoding the man-made world

George Nelson’s 40-year-old manifesto, an education on visual literacy, is republished by Phaidon

Architect, author and designer George Nelson released his manifesto How To See as a means to help others recognise, evaluate and understand the man-made world. Now Phaidon, 40 years since its publication, has brought the book book back to life with a new design.

Throughout his life, Nelson always carried a camera with him – snapping photographs spontaneously simply as a means to record people, places and things that caught his eye. His fascination with images proceeded from his obsession with something he called visual literacy, which he described as “an ability to decode nonverbal messages.”

Nelson saw this as indispensable to our ability to think critically about the built environment, typically referred to as “man-made” but which he wittily called “a world God never made”. He was quick to acknowledge this skill was often confused with innate and mysterious traits like take or talent. But he was convinced that we could learn to read images in the same way we learn to read words: through experience, exposure and practice. How to See is his primer.