Chain Letters


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Celene Aubry
“The natural path to solving any design problem is rarely straight.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Melissa Deckert + Nicole Licht
"We really enjoy the ideation stage of a project because it is where we can be thoughtful and considered, but also allow ourselves to entertain crazy ideas."


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Victor Melendez
This December, we’re elevating the act of gift giving by pondering the items inside the box: examining design as craft, poring over process, and picking the brains of designers whose technical skill turn products into objets d’art.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dana Chisnell
You might think these aren’t design questions, but you’re in the business of culture change.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Toni L. Griffin
I strongly believe—and have seen firsthand—how shared ownership in creating a vision plan inspires greater collective action.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Chelsea Mauldin
“Most broken government systems are not designed—they accrete, bits and pieces stuck on to address problems.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Steven Heller
“Design is a profession that has grown out of its stereotypes.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Elysia Borowy-Reeder
“Information is everywhere now. We need educated, well-versed curators to make sense of it.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Alexander Tochilovsky
"Reading the imprint of past choices can teach us a lot about how to be a designer today."



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Sean Adams
The point regarding design history is about documentation. If the work is not documented and disseminated, it disappears.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Margaret Gould Stewart
Margaret Gould Stewart is Vice-President of Product Design at Facebook where she leads a global team of product designers and researchers for teams such as Artificial Intelligence and Privacy & Data Use.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Arthur Cohen
I support a world in which design is not elevated and codified into some idealized “other,” but rather integrated into everyday practice that is just good business.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Randy J. Hunt
“There are examples of designs that were the spark of an innovation and there are examples of designs that added to and evolved an otherwise already innovative idea.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Grace Jun
“Design is way of seeing and a way of doing. A unique perspective and method that combined can lead to innovation.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Zachary Lieberman
“Tools and jobs will always change but the fundamentals stay the same.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Paul Pangaro
In my experience, an understanding of the processes of design and the means for expanding techniques and capabilities are a matter of practice and critique, tightly coupled.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dori Tunstall
“Designing is not about a job. Design is one of many pathways for doing meaningful work in the world.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Gail Anderson
“As a designer, I am sensitive to the way people consume information, and very concerned about the survival of print.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Joan Wong
“I’m not sure the experience between print and ebooks is really that different.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jennifer 8. Lee
“In my line of work, sometimes you have to wait for the future to catch up.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Anna Gerber
“Readers and writers are open, adventurous, and eager to try new things. Even if those experiences are not always perfect.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Paul Moore
“Streaming has shocked new life into the music industry and the vinyl we all hold dear to our hearts. Now the platform is finding a new generation of ardent fans. As designers, that’s where we can influence a movement.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Emily Batson
“A key part of my job is collaboration. I enjoy the negotiation of finding a concept that truly works.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Frank Ockenfels 3
“I am a true believer of creating in the moment.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Lawrence Azerrad
It‘s June, and you know what that means—the unofficial kick-off of summer concert season. This month, we examine design and music, and why fans everywhere benefit when these creative industries work in concert.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jamer Hunt
“And it’s likely the case that most design criticism today focuses on ideology more than aesthetics, as we’re going through a period of long-overdue self-scrutiny.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Molly Heintz
Labeling design, or anything, “good” is a slippery slope—good for whom?



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Andrew Blauvelt
Criticism allows for self-reflection, and that is necessary when we use words like discipline and field to talk about design.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Alice Twemlow
“Of course design criticism is still relevant—it just inhabits formats that we might be less familiar with.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Karin Fong
“A bit of uncertainty is good for the design process. I would hate to be trapped in the sureness of my own thoughts.”



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Deva Pardue
“I don’t believe that being an artist or a designer by definition makes you an activist. I think the responsibility arises when you have something relevant to say.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Rhea Combs
“I believe art has many functions, and one of them is to interrogate the status quo.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Lindsay Peoples
Celebrating Women’s History month and how to better design for inclusivity with The Cut’s fashion market editor, Lindsay Peoples.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Julian Alexander
What made Julian Alexander become a designer, and what was it like working with 50 Cent during the start of his career?



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jason Murphy
“Inclusivity. That is the cliché. Where are they doing that?”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Ced Funches
“Admitting you may not be the best person to bring a vision to life is the hard part.”



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dian Holton
"As designers, we are problem-solvers, visionaries, and teachers," says Holton. "It’s important for us to be empathic and proactive in learning about our audience, so that we can provide meaningful experiences. This means getting to know the people who may not be like you."


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Briana Como
“We make an effort to be aware of and remove bias by focusing on behaviors instead of demographics when creating distinct personas.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Sarah Doody
“With anything we create, the first step in the design process must be to understand. This happens through research.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Richard Ting
Richard Ting, Global Chief Experience Officer at R/GA, continues our Chain Letters interview series.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jessica Gaddis
This interview is part of a new Design Observer series, Chain Letters, in which we ask leading design minds a few burning questions—and so do their peers, for a year-long conversation about the state of the industry.



Observed | August 19

Visual identity for Re:publica rebels against digital culture with reams of text. Fertig Design has created a visual identity for the Re:publica conference that uses lengthy passages of text and typography instead of conventional graphics to pay “homage to the written word”. [LY]

This is the world’s worst UI—and it speaks volumes about design today. The Antwerp design agency Bagaar built an impossible form for you to fill out—and it puts all your design assumptions to the test. [LY]


Observed | August 15

Roger Ballen revisits his never-before-published Woodstock photos. The internationally renowned artist was just 19 when he took his trusty Nikon to the festival. Only one was ever published—till now. [LY]

Google has a secret design library. The company’s industrial design team shares a handful of titles from its studio library, which is curated by team members. Here are 35 of its best books. [LY]

Morphosis is designing LA’s Korean American National Museum. The museum will incorporate elements of traditional Korean houses and lots of greenery. [LY]


Observed | August 14

Be water’ The Hong Kong protest mantra encourages fluidity and adaptability to any situation influences how art is designed and distributed. [LY]

London design agency OMSE has created an augmented reality campaign for cultural venue Printworks London that transforms static typography into immersive three-dimensional animations. [LY]


Observed | August 12

Why are all recreational vehicles covered in swirls and swooshes? (via James I. Bowie) [LY]


Observed | August 08

New York knows its arts organizations have a diversity problem. The city asked cultural institutions, including museums and performing arts centers, to draw up plans to make their staff and board members more diverse. [LY]

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation aims to make circular design “the new normal” by persuading 20 million designers to help transform the global economy from a linear to a circular model. [LY]


Observed | August 07

Domino’s Pizza is locked in a legal battle over the future of web design. The pizza company has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a three-year-old case that deals with whether Domino’s is legally required to make its websites and apps accessible to all users. [LY]


Observed | August 06

Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li win The Peoples Notre-Dame Design Competition. The competition aimed to create a new vision for the future of the iconic cathedral after the Notre Dame fire in April this year. Called Paris Heartbeat, the winning design creates a literal heartbeat for the city. [LY]

Imran Chaudhri, one of six designers who created the interface of the very first iPhone, left Apple to start his own company Humane. He now wants to use A.I., machine learning, and computer vision technology to improve our relationships with our devices. [LY]


Observed | August 05

To mark 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the United States, Baltimore Museum of Art has announced its whole year of exhibitions will be dedicated to artists who identify as female. [BV]

The Aspen Institute center devoted to Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer will open in 2022 and will have galleries and educational programs and study Bayer’s work. [BV]

“We may not have designed the systems or the community, but I do believe we have a responsibility to redesign them.” — Hugh Webber on talking to design communities all over the country. [BV]


Observed | August 01

The boundary-breaking women of New York’s graffiti scene. [BV]


Observed | July 31

When Ellen Lupton said typography was the common currency of graphic design, she wasn’t kidding. Legendary type foundry Monotype sold to private equity firm for $825 million. [JH]

Time seems to go from past to future, not in reverse. Matt Farr asks: What if time doesn’t even have a direction? [BV]


Observed | July 30

“I like work that just feels a bit wrong.” An interview with Richard Turley. [MB]

Disruption—a dressed-up version of scab-ism—does not make the world a better place. [JH]

We live in an environment where there are moving images constantly around us....But in 1897, this was startling and new and completely revolutionary. MOMA film curator Dave Kehr narrates a different way of looking at early films. [BV]


Observed | July 29

Scientists in Germany have developed an actual, intradermal tattoo that can change colour in response to changing levels of glucose, albumin, or pH. [BV]


Observed | July 25

Learning from Breezewood, Pennsylvania; Or, A Significance for Meme Culture, Peak Oil, Highway Engineering, Local Politics, Fine Art Photography, Urban Planning, and Taco Bell. It‘s official: Amanda Kolson Hurley has written the design essay of the year. [MB]

The utopian ‘feminist apartment hotels’ of Charlotte Perkins Gilman were considered to be “the most dangerous enemy American domesticity has yet had to encounter”. [BV]


Observed | July 24

Sappi is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Ideas that Matter program and they want you to snap a picture of what inspires you to design for good and share it with the hashtag #IdeasThatMatter. [BV]

“‘Imaginary’ universes are so much more beautiful than this stupidly constructed ‘real’ one.” [MB]


Observed | July 23

Lisa Sanders has done something extraordinary: in a world spinning out of control, this is what humanism looks like. [JH]


Observed | July 19

Today’s New York Times feature on the fire at Notre Dame has superb photography & dazzling interactive animations, but nothing is more mesmerizing than these sketches made at the scene by French firefighter Laurent Clerjeau. A landmark piece of visual journalism. [MB]

Everyone at this new advertising agency has served time in prison. [BV]



Jobs | August 21