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Rick Poynor
Blog | Biography | About | Books | Articles & Essays | Public Speaking | Uncanny | Other Exhibitions | Contact

Books


Rick Poynor: BookUncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
Rick Poynor
Moravian Gallery, 2010

Order the Catalogue >>

Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design, curated by Poynor for the Moravian Gallery in Brno, in the Czech Republic, is the first major exhibition to explore the influence of Surrealism on graphic image-making and graphic design.

The catalogue, like the exhibition, is divided into thematic sections: Birth of the Marvelous; The Polymorphous Image; The Surreal Body; Cabinets of Wonder; and The Liberated Letterform. The book includes work by Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, Jan Švankmajer, Josef Vylet’al, Roman Cieslewicz, Jan Lenica, Franciszek Starowieyski, Bronislaw Zelek, M/M (Paris), Andrzej Klimowski, Vaughan Oliver, Quay Brothers, Elliott Earls, Edward Fella, Jonathon Rosen, and many others.

Most graphic design conforms to an underlying grid, a sense of structure and good taste, which brings order but also imposes limits. The images and designs collected in Uncanny break free from these restrictions and follow the impulses of a wayward, subjective, dreamlike logic to arrive at their own kind of equilibrium and form. They show that graphic design can also sometimes be a place to encounter the strange, the fantastical and the uncanny, to rediscover our lost sense of mystery, and to experience the convulsive beauty and capacity for enchantment and wonder that the Surrealists called “the marvelous.”



Rick Poynor: BookJan van Toorn: Critical Practice
Rick Poynor
010 Publishers, 2008

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Jan van Toorn is one of the most significant and influential Dutch graphic designers to have emerged since the early 1960s. While graphic design often does little more than give unthinking visual form to the status quo, Van Toorn focused on meaning rather than smooth stylistic expression and developed critical alternatives to the usual design world conventions.

Van Toorn aligned himself with the reflexive tradition of art and communication exemplified by Brecht and Godard. His designs persistently call attention to their status as visual contrivances, obliging the viewer to make an effort to process their complexities. Van Toorn wanted the public to measure the motives of both the client and the designer who mediates the client’s message against their own experiences of the world. He hoped in this way to stimulate a more active and skeptical view of art, communication, media ownership and society.

“Rick Poynor’s essay provides a thoughtful analysis of the designer’s work that helps the reader to make sense of it... Van Toorn is first and foremost a designer, and in that capacity he is well served by this outstanding survey of his illustrious career.”
— Victor Margolin, Print

“This book is not only a commendable contribution to design history but a rare example of a graphic design monograph that celebrates forms and comprehensively presents a body of work that is deeply engaged in issues of social consciousness.”
— Peter Bil’ak, Eye

“This monograph is more than a record of fascinating career. Van Toorn’s output is dissected with the insight and attention to detail only a justly lauded design critic like Poynor could manage. An excellent addition to any designer’s library.”
— Step Inside Design




Rick Poynor: BookDesigning Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture
Rick Poynor
Laurence King Publishing/Princeton Architectural Press, 2006

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>
Korean edition >>

Design is the new recreation. Compulsively visual and tactile, it offers a realm of sensual gratification based on luxurious interiors, magical technology, trendy graphics, and shops built like temples. Poynor’s third collection of essays about design and visual culture directs a critical eye at brands, billboards, magazines, architecture, tattoos, and trends in cosmetic surgery. Along the way he considers Björk’s cyber-image, Rem Koolhaas’s “junkspace”, Stefan Sagmeister’s fame, W.G. Sebald’s photographs, and book cover interpretations of J. G. Ballard’s Crash.

A key target is the pervasiveness of sexual imagery in the marketplace and the media’s symbiotic relationship with porn. Poynor shows how commerce exploits the blurring of art and advertising, and paints a vivid, not always comfortable picture of where 21st-century design culture is heading. Designing Pornotopia challenges the climate of mediocrity that dominates much of our commercial environment, highlights alternatives, and considers the way forward.

“Cultural theorists so often come up with sexy-sounding ideas and then kill them dead with dull writing. Not Rick Poynor, whose latest book... is a collection of sharp essays that move from our obsession with sex to interviews with Rem Koolhaas and discussion about the rekindling of our affair with modernism.”
— The Guardian

“Poynor’s delivery is fluid, surprisingly visual, emotional, tough where he needs to be, yet sensitive generally. He offers us food for thought with no intellectual arrogance (damn him) or dictatorial solutions or answers.”
— Blueprint


“Hugely varied content... a bit like National Geographic on speed... rewarding as a thought-provoking insight into the fast-changing nature of today’s creative culture — exciting and energetic but troubling as well.”
— DAMn

“Poynor’s prose is witty and direct, his ideas provocative, and his observations utterly on the mark.”
— Metropolis

“Poynor’s writing is vigorously intelligent.”
— Financial Times



Rick Poynor: BookCommunicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties
Edited by Rick Poynor
Laurence King Publishing/Yale University Press, 2004

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>

Communicate explores the work of British graphic designers who maintain their independence as a key principle. It examines the influence of youth culture, pop music and new wave aesthetics on design from the 1960s to the present. Featured projects range from era-defining early classics to the work of today’s leading design teams, including album covers, concert posters, political protest posters, typeface projects and signs, and designs for books, magazines, and film.

Focusing on work from small, highly motivated studios where creative freedom is paramount, Communicate includes projects by more than 80 outstanding designers, including Derek Birdsall, Ken Garland, Neville Brody, Why Not Associates and Graphic Thought Facility. An introduction by Poynor and essays by other contributors trace how and why British graphic design has developed as it has, and interviews with 15 designers — Richard Hollis, Julian House and Margaret Calvert among them — provide insider views on the design world.

“As an exhibition, Communicate was a glorious reflection of British design’s progress. The book captures the spirit of that undertaking, adding rich background details and critical insight to the history.”
— Print

“An inside look at how an aesthetic deeply influenced by popular culture, fine art, and fashion has evolved... The reader will come away with a clearer understanding of the power, reach, and eloquence of visual communication... A valuable reference not only for graphic design libraries but also for collections that seek titles exploring the history and language of visual communication.”
— Library Journal



Rick Poynor: BookNo More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism
Rick Poynor
Laurence King Publishing/Yale University Press, 2003

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>
Portuguese edition >>
German edition >>
French edition >>
Spanish edition >>
Korean second edition >>

The past thirty years have seen profound changes in the field of graphic communication. As the computer became a ubiquitous tool, there was an explosion of creativity in graphic design; designers and typographers jettisoned existing rules and forged experimental new approaches. No More Rules is the first critical survey to offer a wide-ranging overview of the graphic revolution during the postmodern period.

The book tells this story in detail, breaking down a broad, multifaceted field of design activity into key developments and themes: the origins of postmodern graphic design; deconstructionist design and theory; issues of appropriation; the revolution in digital type; questions of authorship; and critiques of postmodern graphic design. Each theme is illustrated by spectacular and significant examples of work produced between 1970 and 2000 that changed the way in which designers and their audiences think about graphic communication.

“In the hurly-burly world of design publishing, where word-counts are minimal, and ‘never before published’ images are reputed to be what the punters want, it’s a treat to be presented with such a tightly constructed narrative.”
— Liz Farrelly, Blueprint

“Poynor eases us through the theoretical forest with lucid prose and his profound knowledge of the history of graphic design.”
— Adrian Shaughnessy, Creative Review

“The most comprehensive collection of graphic design work under the rubric of postmodernism yet... Poynor’s undertaking brings clarity to a confusing subject.”
— Armin Vit, Speak Up

“Indispensable... Beautifully printed and bound, lavishly illustrated, comprehensive, and important... Highly recommended.”
— Choice



Rick Poynor: BookObey the Giant: Life in the Image World
Rick Poynor
Birkhäuser, 2001

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>
French edition >>
Korean edition >>

In the 21st century, commerce and culture are ever more closely entwined. This collection of essays takes a searching look at visual culture to discover the reality beneath the ultra-seductive surfaces. Obey the Giant explores the thinking behind the emerging resistance to commercial rhetoric among designers, and offers critical insights into the changing dialogue between advertising and design.

Other essays address the topics of visual journalism; brands as religion; the new solipsism; graphic memes; culture jamming; death in the image world; the pleasures of imperfection; and the poverty of “cool”. The worldwide dominance of huge corporations is invariably expressed by visual means. Obey the Giant challenges this monoculture by offering inspirational evidence of alternative ways of engaging with design.

“An articulate and poignant set of essays... Poynor is a sensitive, often brilliant writer on visual design in graphics, advertising and commercial visual culture.”
— Art Monthly

“His eloquence, intellectual rigor, and ability to penetrate to the heart of complex cultural issues with surgical precision have won him many admirers... a must-read for anyone with an ounce of interest in widening his understanding not just of design and brands, but of the nature of the contemporary world.”
— Print

“A lucid analysis of the current situation... Poynor claims the right to a design criticism comparable to that of literature or film.”
— Domus

“A terrific book. Essential. After you’ve read it, you really can’t look at the world in the same way, which is also one definition of art.”
— Douglas Coupland



Rick Poynor: BookTypographica
Rick Poynor
Laurence King Publishing/Princeton Architectural Press, 2001

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>

Typographica magazine (1949-1967), founded, edited and designed by the renowned British typographer Herbert Spencer, was one of the most extraordinary and distinctive arts publications of the last 60 years. It was unusual for its originality of editorial vision and for its exceptional standards of design and production.

Spencer’s magazine played a pivotal role in introducing modernist approaches into British graphic design, but it was most remarkable for the eclectic synthesis of its subject matter. Alongside groundbreaking articles on modernist pioneers and examples of the new typography and design, Spencer showed traditional printing history, vernacular images from the city and street, and avant-garde innovation in the fine arts. Typographica’s boundary-blurring approach anticipated many of the preoccupations of contemporary designers, artists and cultural commentators.

“A long overdue assessment of what is arguably the most influential design and typographical magazine ever produced... Poynor’s thorough book is worthy testament to Spencer’s energy and vision, and should find its way on to the bookshelves of any designer worth their salt.”
— Graphics International

“It would be hard to find anyone better placed than Poynor to write this long overdue book... [he] brings to his study a keen familiarity with the nuts and bolts of graphic practice, and a thorough understanding of the wider issues.”
— Eye

“A superb account of Typographica and its brilliant editor Herbert Spencer. A must for anyone interested in design history.”
— Victor Margolin

“A loving dissection of an influential journal.”
— Wallpaper*



Rick Poynor: BookDesign Without Boundaries: Visual Communication in Transition
Rick Poynor
Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1998

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In the late 1990s, it was widely recognized that art and design were moving closer together — that design in at least some of its forms was taking on the characteristics of art. Poynor’s first collection of essays, gathering a decade of critical journalism, documents and analyses these controversial developments. Design Without Boundaries assesses the work of Neville Brody, Peter Saville, Studio Dumbar, 8vo, David Carson, Irma Boom, Jonathan Barnbrook, Tomato, and many others, and traces the development of ideas about authorship in graphic design and applied image-making back to the 1960s and earlier.

“No British writer has done more to promote graphic design as a subject of interest and importance... The clarity of the writing and the author's evident passion make it an illuminating entry into contemporary graphic design.”
— Patrick Cramsie, “Top 10 Graphic Design Books,” The Guardian

“Poynor has made a substantial and undeniable contribution to the fledgling discipline that is design journalism/criticism/theory/history...  Design Without Boundaries is a much needed document... Poynor shows us how visual/textual analysis is to be done... a self-motivated investigation into how acts of reading, writing, looking, image-making and designing generate experience and/or understanding.”
— Liz Farrelly, Blueprint

“One of the elder statesmen of design criticism... an informative, inspiring and entertaining read.”
— Graphics International



Rick Poynor: BookPostmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-1990
Edited by Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt
V&A Publishing, 2011

Two essays by Rick Poynor appear in this book:
“Big Magazines: Design as the Message”
“True Stories: A Film about People Like Us” 

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>





Rick Poynor: BookDutch Design Yearbook 2010
Edited by Antoine Achten et al
NAi Publishers, 2010

An essay by Rick Poynor appears in this book.

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>









Rick Poynor: BookNow is the Time: Art & Theory in the 21st Century
Edited by Jelle Bouwhuis et al
NAi Publishers, 2009

An essay by Rick Poynor appears in this book.

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>











Rick Poynor: BookDesign in Britain
Edited by Deyan Sudjic
Conran Octopus, 2009

An essay by Rick Poynor appears in this book.

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>









Rick Poynor: BookDesign and Art
Edited by Alex Coles
Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2007

An essay by Rick Poynor appears in this book.

Amazon US >>
Amazon UK >>












Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.


Recent Essay


The Mysteries of France:<br />A Gothic Guidebook

The Mysteries of France:
A Gothic Guidebook

Guide de la France mystérieuse, illustrated by Roman Cieslewicz, is a surreal beast of a travel book.
Read More >>


Recent Book


Uncanny Surrealism and Graphic Design
Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
Rick Poynor
Moravian Gallery, 2010
More books by Rick Poynor >>


Design Observer Essays


06.11.14

The Body as Factory: Anatomy of an Image

Peeling back the skin of a New Scientist cover illustration by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson.

05.28.14

Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Typewriter

Typewriters are making a comeback and, as a wide-ranging new survey book shows, so is typewriter art.

04.17.14

The Conceptual Advertising of J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard’s conceptual ads anticipated the emergence of culture jamming, subvertising, design fiction and speculative design.

03.22.14

The Filmic Page: Chris Marker’s Commentaires

The French director Chris Marker’s book Commentaires is as innovative as book design as his documentaries are as films.

02.14.14

From the Archive: Surface Wreckage

Why do photographs and images of torn street posters exert such a powerful hold on the imagination and emotions?

DESIGN OBSERVER ESSAY ARCHIVE

02.04.14: Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again
01.13.14: The Compulsively Visual World of Pinterest
01.03.14: Martin Sharp: People, Politics and Pop
12.28.13: The Writings of William Drenttel
12.06.13: Martin Sharp: From Satire to Psychedelia
11.11.13: Collage Culture: Nostalgia and Critique
10.30.13: Belgian Solutions: The True State of Things?
10.15.13: From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light
10.10.13: New York: City of Spectacular Doors
09.16.13: Bohumil Stepan’s Family Album of Oddities
09.07.13: Bohumil Stepan’s Gallery of Erotic Humor
08.29.13: The Hotel that Dreamed It Was a Museum
08.22.13: Collage Now, Part 1: Sergei Sviatchenko
08.22.13: Collage Now, Part 2: Cut and Paste Culture
08.15.13: Keld Helmer-Petersen: Pioneer of Color
08.09.13: David Maisel and the Apocalyptic Sublime
07.29.13: Soft Machine’s Dysfunctional Mechanism
07.10.13: The Incidental Pleasures of Street Art
07.02.13: Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 2
06.26.13: Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 1
06.20.13: From the Archive: Upgrade Yourself!
06.02.13: The Irresistible Attraction of Self Storage
05.15.13: The Conceptual Posters of Boris Bucan
05.09.13: The Age of Wire and String Rebooted
04.27.13: On the Trail of The Eater of Darkness
04.08.13: The Practical Virtue of Works That Work
03.10.13: Utopian Image: Politics and Posters
03.05.13: On My Shelf: Fin de Copenhague
02.22.13: The Experiential Thrill of Driving in Films
02.15.13: A Dictionary of Surrealism and the Graphic Image
01.26.13: Herbert Spencer and The Book of Numbers
01.15.13: Socialism and Modernity: A Hidden History
01.03.13: On My Screen: Shooting the Past
12.09.12: Dom Sylvester Houédard’s Cosmic Typewriter
11.30.12: Herbert Spencer and the Decisive Detail
11.18.12: Robert Brownjohn: Photos at Street Level
10.23.12: True Stories: A Film about People Like Us
10.14.12: The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic
10.05.12: The Museum of Communicating Objects
09.24.12: Demonstrations, Democracy and Design
09.15.12: Why the Activist Poster is Here to Stay
09.09.12: John Stezaker: Images from a Lost World
09.02.12: It’s Smart to Use a Crash Test Dummy
08.26.12: The Never-ending Struggle against Clutter
08.19.12: On My Shelf: André Breton’s Nadja
08.09.12: Sending Signals about Political Graphics
07.30.12: Pierre Faucheux and Le Livre de Poche
07.06.12: Design a Cover for Eno’s Music for Films
06.28.12: What Does Critical Writing Look Like?
06.18.12: Updating the Maps of Graphic Design History
06.07.12: On My Shelf: A History of the Machine
05.31.12: From the Archive: Graphic Metallica
05.23.12: Jan van Toorn: The World in a Calendar
05.15.12: The Strange Afterlife of Common Objects
05.02.12: Career Prospects in the Pain Business
04.26.12: Studio Culture: The Materialism of Matter
04.19.12: Phil Sayer, Designer of Photo-Portraits
04.13.12: The Closed Shop of Design Academia
04.06.12: The Enduring Influence of Richard Hollis
03.29.12: On Display: Museum of Broken Relationships
03.23.12: The Covers of J.G. Ballard’s Crash: An Update
03.09.12: Typographic Stories of the City Streets
03.02.12: Motif Magazine: The World Made Visible
02.26.12: John McHale and the Expendable Ikon
02.18.12: The Unspeakable Pleasure of Ruins
02.08.12: On My Shelf: A Classic by Berger and Mohr
01.31.12: The Evil Genius of David Shrigley
01.27.12: In Response to An Anatomy of Uncriticism
01.19.12: Ernst Haas and the Color Underground
01.09.12: Read All That? You Must be Kidding Me
01.01.12: On My Shelf: Jean-Luc Godard Anthologized
12.23.11: How We Learned to Live with Zombies
12.16.11: Saul Leiter and the Typographic Fragment
12.11.11: Another Design Voice Falls Silent
12.01.11: Man in a Bowler: Illustration after Magritte
11.25.11: How to Cover an Impossible Book
11.17.11: The Infinite Warehouse of Images
11.10.11: Literary Horror from the Chapman Brothers
11.03.11: This Post has Been Declared a Link-free Zone
10.28.11: On My Shelf: Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series
10.22.11: On Display: The Kirkland Museum
10.16.11: Did We Ever Stop Being Postmodern?
09.29.11: Should We Look at Corrosive Images?
09.22.11: Jan Svankmajer and the Graphic Uncanny
09.15.11: Richard Hamilton, the Great Decipherer
09.09.11: A Swedish Perspective on Critical Practice
09.01.11: Chris Foss and the Technological Sublime
08.25.11: On My Shelf: The Metallization of a Dream
08.17.11: Funerary Portraits: Snapshots in Stone
08.09.11: From the Archive: Raging Bull
08.02.11: From the Archive: Down with Innovation
07.27.11: Andrzej Klimowski: Transmitting the Image
07.21.11: J.G. Ballard’s Terminal Documents
07.13.11: The House That Design Journalism Built
07.06.11: The Dictionary as Art Concept
06.28.11: Speculative Fiction, Speculative Design
06.22.11: On the Threshold of Sebald’s Room
06.14.11: Lost Inside the Collector’s Cabinet
06.06.11: Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?
06.01.11: On My Shelf: Stefan Lorant’s Lilliput
05.26.11: A Dream World Made by Machines
05.19.11: Unearthly Powers: Surrealism and SF
05.10.11: Books Every Graphic Designer Should Read
05.07.11: Paul Stiff, the Reader’s Champion
04.28.11: On My Screen: The Back of Beyond
04.21.11: Wim Wenders’ Strange and Quiet Places
04.12.11: Stewart Mackinnon: Ruptured and Remade
04.07.11: Starowieyski’s Graphic Universe of Excess
04.01.11: Wim Crouwel: The Ghost in the Machine
03.25.11: An Unknown Master of Poster Design
03.18.11: Slicing Open the Surrealist Eyeball
03.11.11: What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like? Part 2
03.04.11: The Secret History of the Edgelands
02.22.11: On My Shelf: Richard Neville’s Playpower
02.15.11: Solitude in Dark Trees
02.10.11: A Journal with No Fear of Flying
02.04.11: What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like?
01.27.11: On My Shelf: Nairn‘s London
01.23.11: Discovered by Chance in a Paris Arcade
01.14.11: In Praise of the East European Film Poster
01.10.11: Out of the Studio: Graphic Design History and Visual Studies
01.07.11: How to Chew Gum while Walking
12.30.10: Surrealism in the Pre-School Years
12.21.10: W.G. Sebald: Writing with Pictures
12.17.10: Everything has Become Science Fiction
12.16.10: Agency or Studio? The Dutch Design Dilemma
12.10.10: The Impossibility of an Island
12.03.10: On My Screen: Bill Morrison’s Decasia
12.01.10: Where Is Art Now?
11.22.10: Rethinking Conceptual Type Design
11.11.10: What Does H. P. Lovecraft Look Like?
11.05.10: Adventures in the Image World
11.05.10: Danzig Baldaev’s Prison House of Flesh
11.05.10: Design Writing from Down Under
11.05.10: On My Shelf: Surrealism Permanent Revelation
11.05.10: An App for the Self-Replacing Book
12.18.08: Barney Bubbles: Optics and Semantics
06.16.08: We Found It at the Movies: Part I
06.16.08: We Found It at the Movies: Part II
06.02.08: A Critical View of Graphic Design History
02.17.08: Lost America: The Flamingo Motor Hotel
04.03.07: Dancing to the Sound in Your Head
11.10.05: Emigre: An Ending
09.25.05: Where Are the Design Critics?
09.19.05: The Guardian’s New European Look
08.20.05: Sublime Little Tubes of Destruction
07.27.05: Vladimir’s House and Garden of Earthly Delights
07.01.05: We Are All Editors Now. Or Are We?
06.16.05: In Memoriam: My Manual Typewriter
06.03.05: Mevis and Van Deursen: Rueful Recollections, Recycled Design
05.20.05: But Darling of Course it’s Normal: The Post-Punk Record Sleeve
05.05.05: Getting Louder: Chinese Design on the March
04.24.05: Eduardo Paolozzi, 20th Century Image-Maker
04.05.05: Wisconsin Death Trip: A Psychic History
03.21.05: Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot
03.13.05: Why Architects Give Me the Willies
02.12.05: The Ikea Riot: Unsatisfied Excess?
01.09.05: The I.D. Forty: What Are Lists For?
11.11.04: Who's In and Who's Out of the Dictionary
10.29.04: Fear and Loathing at the Design Museum
07.31.04: Britain and America: United in Idiocy
07.03.04: Where are the Design Intellectuals?
06.06.04: Modernising MoMA: Design on Display
04.23.04: Critics and Their Purpose
04.17.04: Theory with a Small "t"
04.09.04: How to Say What You Mean
04.03.04: The Two Cultures of Design
03.21.04: Jan van Toorn: Arguing with Visual Means
02.28.04: Bruce Mau: The Aura of Power
02.11.04: Neville Brody Revisited
01.11.04: Stephen Gill: Behind the Billboard
12.21.03: Notes on Experimental Jetset
12.11.03: Adbusters in Anarchy
12.02.03: Remember Picelj
11.24.03: Missing Sleeve Notes
11.16.03: Unnecessary Revival
11.09.03: Those Inward-looking Europeans
11.02.03: It's a Man's World





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