Sven Völker’s ‘A Million Dots’ turns the concept of doubling into something I want to use to help me decorate my house.
Völker has a quirky background as a children’s book creator. This is one of his many ventures into creating simplistic beautiful things. He is a ‘Professor for Experiment and Strategy in Graphic Design’ at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, and his meticulous minimalism lends itself well to the playful mathematical picture book.
Expert colour combination enables the dot to become the perfect form to represent the leaves of a tree, pieces of confetti, the bubbles in a fizzy drink, and the stars in the sky.
It is quite masterful in its understanding of how we categorise shape and colour in order to make meaning. The page representing the number 16,384 (2 to the power of 14) depicts the figure as water in a swimming pool. A small brown line atop the page is enough to suggest a diving board, and to render it all meaningful. The placement of the dots suggests an invisible diver mid-plunge.
Similarly, a yellow triangle is a yellow triangle, but a yellow triangle with a red dot on it, and tiny little grey dots atop it – in Völker’s hands – becomes a perfect representation of a digger tipping out sand.
Details like this make the picture book something fun and playful for children. It’s like as if Where’s Wally was made by Jean Baudrillard, nudging the simulacra away from reality.
I had to get a second opinion on this book, since I am a fiend for typography and graphic design myself. I changed my doctor’s surgery when the practice put up new signage using Comic Sans. I spend quiet times browsing the Sainsbury’s ‘Own Label’ marketing from the sixties. So, I know why I enjoy the book, but I was concerned that it might be more of a table book for similarly pernickety millennials.
When I presented the book to somebody roughly the same age as TikTok, this small person engaged with it in the lively and varied way that Völker probably intended – they flipped between pages, built their own narrative from one page to the next, and had lots of questions about scale. Said child also began counting the dots, which is wonderful but challenging when we got to seven-figures.
This is a book to be enjoyed and played with. Personally, I would want to place it somewhere where the kids in a classroom would find it, rather than do anything teacher-led or instructive with it. The exception would be in an art or design lesson. It is a wonderful example of minimalist design and would be a great way to showcase that sometimes ‘less is more’.
New York Times ‘Best lllustrated Children’s Book 2019’
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