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 | June 14

The late William Helfand had an incredible collection of medical prints, posters, and advertising emphasized "quack" pills, potions, and snake oil cure-alls. Hear his daughter, and our co-founder Jessica Helfand pay tribute to his "quackery” obsession. [BV]


Observed | June 11

“Beer cans are officially the new record sleeve.” The rise in craft brewing has spurred a beer aisle design renaissance. [BV]


Observed | June 10

Seeking 1000 people who eat. ZOE‘s experts are marrying nutritional science with machine learning to perform the world‘s largest study of individuals‘ unique nutritional responses. Visit joinzoe.com to sign up. Read this NYTimes article to see why. [BV]

A new exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum celebrates amateur photography from 1890–1970 through the recent gift of 150 amateur photographs from St. Louis collectors John and Teenuh Foster. John Foster assembled this collection of anonymous found images over the past 20 years, some of which can be seen in his Design Observer column. [BV]


Observed | June 06

An in-depth look at an urban mall designed to revive downtown San Diego that is set to be destroyed, from Alissa Walker. [BV]


Observed | June 05

Congratulations to Susan Kare, Patricia Moore, MIT D-Lab, Tom Phifer, Tobias Frere-Jones, Tobias Frere-Jones, Derek Lam, Ivan Poupyrev, Open Style Lab and all the winners of the 2019 Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards! [BV]


Observed | June 03

The first in a series of articles about the early days of the space age, in celebration of this summer’s 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing:
How NASA selected the first astronauts (and why no convicts have walked on the Moon). [BV]


Observed | May 30

Felice Frankel has donated hundreds of images taken during her early career as a landscape architecture photographer—Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Richard Haag’s Bloedel Reserve, and Dan Kiley’s Miller Garden—to MIT libraries to create a learning resource. [BV]

As a kid, I had no idea that Peter Max was so derivative (Heinz Edelmann, Andy Warhol, Push Pin). I just knew his work was everywhere, and he got to sign it. To me he was the most famous artist in the world. That makes this story so depressing. [MB]


Observed | May 29

London Street Photographer Nick Turpin highlights five photographers making candid public photographs on the fringes of street photography. [BV]


Observed | May 28

An essay from Rob Walker on the tension inherent in what we do with the time we have, and how we try to make more. [BV]

NBA players are no longer waiting for shoe companies to give them personal logos — they are creating their own. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | May 24

Congratulations to Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand! The Observatory made dezeen’s list of 14 of the best architecture and design podcasts to subscribe to. [BV]


Observed | May 23

From Atlas Obscura: 18 of the world’s most wondrous public transportation options. [BV]

Iceland’s environmental ministry says Justin and his Belibers have nearly ruined Fjadrárgljúfur canyon. But even for the non-famous, selfies are ruining national parks and the great outdoors around the world. Go outside but leave your phones at home. [BV]


Observed | May 22

How do you create a logo for a presidential candidate? On this week‘s The West Wing Weekly: West Wing & fonts. The guests are our co-founder Michael Bierut, who designed Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 logo, and Leslie Wah, who made the campaign logos in Season 6 of the West Wing. [BV]


Observed | May 21

Wanna play with some Brutalist buildings? Skyline chess has a new offering of London’s most-notable architecture from the Brutalist movement including the Trellick Tower, Petty France, Centrepoint and Cromwell Tower. [BV]

Design Observer co-founder @jessicahelfand is heading to Malta this week as an external critic working with Professor Vince Briffa, recipient of the Tribute to Art and Innovation award at this year’s Venice Biennale. [BV]


Observed | May 20

Book lovers will want to pay close attention to a new collaboration between Designers & Books and Peter Kraus’s Ursus Books & Gallery in New York. This installment: A Flowering of Creativity: Ladislav Sutnar and F. T. Marinetti. [BV]


Observed | May 15

We can‘t wait to explore Boston this fall when we host The Design of Business | The Business of Design conference at MIT. Bike-commuting, T-riding, and monorail-tweeting around Boston with transit-oriented 20-something NUMTOT founder Juliet Eldred. [BV]


Observed | May 14

What year is it? Why does it matter? While chronology and dating might not be exciting, they are the stuff that history is made on, for dates do two things: they allow things to happen only once, and they insist on the ordering and interrelation of all happenings. [BV]

“We should not be excessively interested in books”, wrote Roy Gold, biblio-graffiti outsider artist, and a bookish man. [BV]


Observed | May 13

You may not love sports, but it’s hard not to enjoy sports photography, especially for it’s innovativeness. Case in point: Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer hit a grand slam when he set out to capture a double play on film. [BV]


Observed | May 10

In the 1950s and 1960s artists from the Soviet Union looked to the skies and foresaw a Utopia in space. [BV]


Observed | May 09

Early cinema is often remembered as an exclusively black-and-white affair—the bold and often fantastical colors that flickered across the earliest film reels are frequently left out of our greater cinematic history. More neglected still are the women responsible for those dazzling hues. [BV]


Observed | May 08

We’re addicted to likes, retweets, and reshares, and our addiction makes us distracted and depressed. Tristan Harris believes that tech is ‘downgrading humans’ and that the words we use to describe the problem are tepid and insufficient. It’s time to fight back. [BV]

Created for animators aiming to perfect their rendering of animal gaits, this video combines illustration, biology, and physics, and is a joy to watch! [BV]

The compelling history and impressive prints of the earliest printing press in the Uruguayan territory. [BV]


Observed | May 07

Our very talented friend Rob Walker has a new book out today! Get yourself a copy of The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday and be inspired. [BV]


Observed | May 02

Gail Bichler and Jake Silverstein look back at a year designing The New York Times Magazine. [BV]



Jobs | June 16