The Observatory

Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand discuss, design, current events, and current enthusiasms.

Subscribe to The Observatory on iTunes or your favorite podcast app, or follow Design Observer on Soundcloud.

Episode 102: The Long View
Black hole image, Dyson Airblade, Titus Kaphar, Liz Jackson, Comic Sans takeover


Episode 101: Going West
2019 AIGA design conference, creative partnerships, Full Frontal’s Brexit video, film noir YouTube comment thread


Episode 100: Loving Librarians
Ralph Nader v. graphic design, libraries and serendipity, Sally Potter’s The Party, the shape of silence


Episode 99: The Space Between
Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim, Kevin Roche and the Miller House, Josh Lipnik’s modern midwest tours, Ben Stiller plays Michael Cohen


Episode 98: Traffic
Adam Grant, email response times, Slack, John Ruskin, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 Oscars speech, Diana Vreeland Memo Generator


Episode 97: Candidates and “Creatives”
2020 presidential campaign logos, 50 Books | 50 Covers, the “creative” hustle, Ellsworth Kelly stamps, Olivia Colman in Flowers


Episode 96: Wither the Magazine
Adam Moss, Tina Brown, and the future of print magazines; Rookie, Design Sponge, and the future of online magazines; Karen Green’s Frail Sister; Anni Albers at the Tate


Episode 95: Back to Basics
Distinctive brands choose minimalist logos, remembering David Pease, Nicholas Rougeux revives Byrne’s Euclid, The Favourite


Episode 94: Women of the Year
Elena Ferrante’s My Beautiful Friend on HBO, Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy, Esperanza Spalding, Tierra Whack, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, Max Richter, Henry Cobb: Words and Works, Oddityviz, The True Size, Dunkin’, Stack, Pamela’s gluten-free graham crackers, Clausthaler Dry-Hopped Non Alcoholic Beer


Episode 93: I Spy, You Spy
Sergei Skripal, Jamal Khashoggi, Bellingcat, Malachy Brown, visual investigations, Pablo Ferro, Ricky Jay, William Goldman, Boy Erased, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Glenn Gould’s manuscript for the Goldberg variations


Episode 92: Polite Sociopaths
The Design of Business | The Business of Design conference, Apple CarPlay and talking cars, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Justin Timberlake, dogs watching TV, Visual Capitalist


Episode 91: Voter Experience
Voter suppression by Republicans, The McKinsey Design Index, Lovevery, Photogrammar


Episode 90: The Container for the Story
The Cleveland Justice Center and Season 3 of Serial, adaptive reuse, the Secret History of the Future, Articles of Interest, The Romanoffs


Episode 89: Headsets and Holograms
VR typography, Glenn Gould hologram tour, Paul Rand ephemera auction, Robert Venturi, Mark Lamster’s Philip Johnson biography, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colors


Episode 88: Anonymous™
Bob Woodward’s Fear, the Quiet Resistance, representing anonymity, Face Values at the London Design Biennale, QAnon infographics, Todd Alcott’s faux vintage book covers


Episode 87: Mortadella and Mortality
Eataly World, HBO’s Succession, Betsy DeVos in McMansion Hell, Little Fires Everywhere, the Coltrane Circle


Episode 86: Home and Away
Wes Anderson in Italy; 3D printed Mars habitat competition; from Hilton to boutique hotels to Airbnb; designer baby names; the Vignelli townhouse


Episode 85: Midsummer Music
Musical theater, soundtracks, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in D Minor, and more.


Episode 84: The Politician’s Gaze
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a White House without culture, John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, early Ivan Chermayeff book covers


Episode 83: Post-Its and Blocks
Design Thinking Wars: Lee Vinsel vs. d.school; Alexandra Lange’s The Design of Childhood; The Incredibles 2; Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous


Episode 82: Constitutional Sans
The president’s lawyer uses Comic Sans, speculative design, Let the Sun Shine In, crazy walls.


Episode 81: American Royalty
Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle; Tom Wolfe as design writer, Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose; the scent of Play-Doh


Episode 80: Age and Authenticity
The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture, a Prince George parody account, American house numbers


Episode 79: 1968 at 50
Nixon-Humphrey, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The White Album, Laugh-In, LSD… and the meaning of anniversaries


Episode 78: Delete Your Account
Deleting Facebook, AI and images, Tree Change Dolls, Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, listing for 450 W. Grixdale


Episode 77: Cape to California
Cape Town’s water crisis, Los Angeles’ first chief design officer, Lubalin 100, Walter Dorwin Teague’s Design This Day


Episode 76: Taking License
A proposal to license designers, Black Panther, Legally Black movie posters, NASA’s Pluto site


Episode 75: Dressed and Obsessed
Phantom Thread, John Perry Barlow, Cleveland Indians to retire Chief Wahoo, Obama portraits, riotous schnauzers


Episode 74: Eyes and Hands
Cræft by Alexander Langlands, doctors and design, Sean Tejaratchi’s LiarTown, a pair of iRi NYC sneakers


Episode 73: Fire, Fury, Playtime
Eva Hagberg Fisher on dressing for sexual harassment proceedings, Oprah at the Golden Globes, Print goes digital, Fire and Fury pop-up book, Jacques Tati’s PlayTime


Episode 72: Out With the Old
New York Times Magazine, Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, favorite podcasts, Wormwood, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


Episode 71: A 40,000-point 9
Ivan Chermayeff and American modernism, Kurt Andersen, Vincent Scully, Ivo van Hove’s The Fountainhead, Brothers in Arms


Episode 70: When Art Imitates Life
Monstrous men, magazine covers and editors, Arranged!, Prongles


Episode 69: Fixes and Facelifts
Fixing American democracy, Snøhetta’s plan for Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building, Internetting With Amanda Hess, Synoptical History of the Civil War


Episode 68: Learning from Muriel Cooper
Muriel Cooper, Now You See It, Harvey Weinstein and #metoo, kilonova explosion, Lin-Manuel Miranda interviews Stephen Sondheim


Episode 67: Guns N’ Tote Bags
Visualizing gun violence after Las Vegas, Louis Vuitton v. My Other Bag, tote bags, Helen Rosner on Olive Garden, Call My Agent!, Netflix in French


Episode 66: Ethics!
The Copenhagen Letter, Mike Monteiro’s Design the Right Thing, Branded by Memory, Google Quick, Draw!, Otl Aicher’s Isny, the Trash Isles.


Episode 65: Cones of Uncertainty
Visualizing hurricanes, elections, and other future events; the Jefferson Davis Highway; Margaret Calvert and British road signs; Alexander Todorov’s Face Value


Episode 64: The Eye and the Storm
Hurricane Harvey, weather data visualization, electric cars, Taylor Swift, Scarfolk Council, the internet as an Uncanny Valley


Episode 63: August Recess
The Doomsday Clock, the color blue, selfie sticks, graphic designers on screen


Episode 62: Keepin’ It Nasty
Cursing, Anthony Scaramucci, the alt-right’s shit aesthetic, Tony Fadell and Silicon Valley regrets, John G. Morris, Donald Trump draws the Manhattan skyline


Episode 61: Font of Corruption?
Pakistan, Donald Trump Jr., default fonts; Calibri, Courier, Hobo, Cooper Black; Silicon Valley corporate headquarters; subway signage mystery; The Turnaround; Steven Colbert’s Figure-It-Out-a-Tron


Episode 60: Everyman and Ariane
The new Ken dolls, Tonl and diversity in stock photography, Zillow threatens McMansion Hell, InspiroBot


Episode 59: Signatures and Circles
Egregious email signatures, circular Twitter avatars, Wonder Woman, Demetri Martin’s Dean


Episode 58: The Family Circus
Green lights for the Paris Climate Accord, NY Times Magazine comics issue, Lynda Barry in Family Circus, knitting as spycraft, Jim Russek’s poster for Our Town


Episode 57: Communion and Commerce
A record-breaking Basquiat; design, life coaching, and therapy; Thomas de Monchaux reviews Wendy Lesser’s biography of Louis Kahn; a neural network names paint colors


Episode 56: All the Presidents’ Libraries
Presidential libraries, Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design 2017 Tech Industry Edition, Ai Weiwei, I.M. Pei


Episode 55: Sea and Sky
Earth Day, the March for Science, EPA Graphic Standards Manual, Design and Exclusion, Big Little Lies, Five Came Back


Episode 54: Egos, Eggs, and Half an Onion
Twitter’s default avatar, border wall submissions, Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad, School for Justice, the Uline catalog


Episode 53: On Writing Well
#trypod, Dan Brown cover contest, Design in Tech, writing for designers, The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce


Episode 52: Dictator Style
Peter York on autocrat chic, Sunday in the Park with George, BBC interview with Robert Kelly, Jessica Dimmock’s The Convention


Episode 51: Vintages
Behance Design Trends of 2017, George Nelson’s How to See, Michael K. Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois’ infographics


Episode 50: What Democracy Looks Like
The Women’s March, Parker Palmer, The Young Pope, Oreos, Girl Scout Cookies


Episode 49: My First Tattoo
Tattoos, Type 1 diabetes, ID cards, taking MBA students to the art gallery, Kerry James Marshall, Mark Rothko, Mike Mills, the 2017 Citizen Designer Pledge


Episode 48: Lella and La La
Lella Vignelli, John Berger, Second Avenue Subway, Jackie, La La Land


Episode 47: True Colors
Pantone’s color of the year, Time’s Person of the Year, Arrival, The Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog, Seinfeldia


Episode 46: TV Party
TV party: Search Party, The Crown, Fleabag, Crisis in Six Scenes, Highston, I Love Dick, Daniella Zalcman, the fallout shelter sign


Episode 45: I’m With(out) Her
Election night, Brand Trump and the presidency, Design That Matters, Facebook’s flawed news feed


Episode 44: In Dreams
Marcin Wichary visits the Technology Museum of Emporda, Vine, Grand Central Station vistas, deluxe composition notebooks, Errol Morris on Elsa Dorfman, bad ballot design, Grilli Type’s GT America, Transparent, Elaine Lustig Cohen.


Episode 43: The End Is Near
Campaign fatigue, advertising and viral video, voting technology, intellectualism in the design community, the art of David Pease, the 1986 Mets


Doors and Perception
Bathroom signs, MBA students, Mozilla and open logo design, The Commissar Vanishes, Masters of Sex


Memory Loss
The Napalm Girl photo on Facebook, 9/11 out of context, Apple stores and the iPhone 7 launch, the Doctor Strangelove trailer, Wiener-Dog, Pantsuit


Food for Thought
Samsung v. Apple, the International Style v. capitalism, Sausage Party, mozzarella sticks


Passing the Torch
Olympics, cursive handwriting, NASA’s secret art studio, gun sales on Facebook, #firstsevenjobs


Rough Sketches
Trump-Pence, Clinton-Kaine, Black Lives Matter, The Four Seasons, mapping the brain, the video essay


Border Control
Brexit, borders, naming, Fiorello La Guardia and his airport, robot dogs, though leadership, Snapfax


A Seat at the Table
The President needs a Cabinet-level Secretary of Design — or a design consigliere


Mind-Body Problems
Nutrition Facts, Mark Bittman’s food rating system, colon cancer screening, Time Well Spent, Peter Arno, Flat File


The Good, the Flat, and the Ugly
Instagram, rainbows, digital brutalism, Design: The Invention of Desire, the Freewrite.


Prisons and Paradise
Solitary confinement, virtual reality, design thinking for prisoners, Drew Hodges’s Broadway, The Paradise, Prince’s unpronounceable glyph


High Maintenance
Innovators and maintainers, Bernie and Hillary, mapping and infrastructure, algorithms and Rembrandt


Shapes and Japes
Corporate design humor from Mic Drop to bland.ly, photoviz, remembering Zaha Hadid


Crowd Control
Tay, Boaty McBoatface, New Zealand, emoji, and the madness of crowds


The Logosphere
The Met and the logosphere, designing with scientists, the Clinton-Sanders graphics race


Magic on the Page
Matthias Buchinger, Beyonce, Mohawk Superfine at 70, Umberto Eco



Guys and Dolls
Barbie and Rey, food and design, 30 years after the Challenger disaster



Working-Class Heroes
British art schools, Bowie, Alan Rickman, the State of the Union, cannabis chocolate


State of the Chart
Data visualization, The Big Short



Hello
Michael finally gets an iPhone, the Pirelli calendar, Amy Schumer, design and TV 



Brute Force
Behind the Bataclan, pigeon pathologists, Design Thinking at IBM, the Coke bottle at 100, Michael Gross



Magnitude
Climate change, Drake’s take on James Turrell, an IKEA horror catalog


The Opposite of Ugly
Michael Bierut’s monograph, the lost art of album art, ugliness


Basic Human Needs
IKEA and Facebook efforts for refugees, e-reading, Adrian Frutiger, Phil Patton



Moving Pictures
Aylan Kurdi, photojournalism, airline posters, early television


September Issues
Google’s new logo, design thinking, and lessons from Oliver Sacks



Over the Rainbow
Rainbows, selfie sticks, and the flag of New Zealand


New Horizons
Pluto is at the outer limits of the solar system. Porto is at the end of Europe.


Places and Faces
Art, nostalgia, and community


M Is for a Million Things
Milan, Mario Batali, Michelle Obama, Moshe Safdie, Modernism, MOO (our sponsor), Michael Erard, metaphor design, Macintosh icons, Massimo Vignelli....


Knockout
Are boxing and photography hipster pleasures? Are they past their prime, or do they have a bright future?


150 Years, 7 Minutes, 6 Seconds
Visualizing business data, a logo to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, and more.


East Meets West
Or collaboration vs. “one person making one thing at one time”


Inside the Lines
Michael and Jessica discuss the The Grid, which uses artificial intelligence to design websites, the history of grids, and the unlikely success of coloring books for adults.


The Observatory: The Inevitable
On this episode, Michael and Jessica talk about death (not taxes): how designers have to think about preventing death and representing death, and whether death is “just another design challenge.” Also, the color blue.


The Observatory: Land, Rand, Mad Men
Michael and Jessica talk about a panel they participated in at the Paul Rand exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, plus the return of Mad Men and the fate of photography giants Kodak and Polaroid.


The Observatory: Such Watch
On this episode of The Observatory, Michael and Jessica talk about Jonathan Ive, the rollout of the Apple Watch, and Michael Graves


The Observatory: FYI We Are Graphic Designers
This week, Michael and Jessica talk about graphic designers on screen, highlights from What Design Sounds Like, and Michael’s trip to Design Indaba.


The Observatory: Words, Pictures, Sounds
A few things on our minds


The Observatory: Our Favorite Things
On this episode, Jessica Helfand talks about her Paris 140 series, and Michael Bierut describes his 100 Day Project + some of the cultural highlights of the year.


The Observatory: Dollars and Change
On this episode of The Observatory, Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand discuss the midterm election and currency design.


The Observatory: Epidemics and Theater
On this episode of The Observatory, Jessica and Michael talk about design, performance, and fear of Ebola. 


Announcing The Observatory
A new monthly podcast with Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand



Observed | April 24

American food is increasingly channeled through a handful of companies: Amazon, Walmart, FreshDirect, Blue Apron. What do we lose if traditional neighborhood supermarkets go under? Meet the man who’s going to save your neighborhood grocery store. [BV]

Timed to coincide with Easter, Earth Day and, for New Englanders, Patriot’s Day: two billboards outside of Boston. [BV]


Observed | April 23

Public Sans is a new typeface from the US Government. According to the General Services Administration, “sometimes you need [a typeface] that’s simple, neutral, and isn’t Helvetica.” Not sure we agree. [BV]


Observed | April 22

A brief memoir of growing up in the library. [BV]

Where can a teen get a poster in 2019? How does a teenager turn their bedroom into a shrine? A wonderful history of the poster and it’s meaning past, current, and future. [BV]

In honor of Earth Day, three galleries that remind us of the beauty and power of nature: the power of storms from Mitch Dobrowner, amazing landscapes from Leah Kennedy, and Earth from space by Astronaut Scott Kelly. [BV]


Observed | April 19

Spam musubi (a Hawaiian snack of canned meat served on rice and wrapped in nori) and other unintended consequences of cultural exchange. [BV]

Despite their seeming environmental unfriendliness, logos with factories and smokestacks have made a comeback in the US. [BV]


Observed | April 18

Post Typography created an unconventional participatory campaign to support the Baltimore Museum of Art‘s conversation series on art, race, social justice, and imagining the future(s) we want. [BV]

Where do you stand on the “Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale”? Why your brain hates slowpokes. [BV]


Observed | April 17

An in-depth look at how the Second World War warped the way United States mapped the world. [BV]


Observed | April 16

Joshua Dudley Greer logged 100,000 miles between 2011 and 2017, a period defined by the financial crisis and election, documenting what he saw along the U.S. Interstate Highway System. [BV]

Pete Buttigieg may be the first candidate to anticipate (and provide for!) graphic design considerations. [JH]


Observed | April 11

The toxic disinformation of social media has rendered traditional forms of humor—like satire—quaint and futile. [BV]

In a study of 26,000 people from over 100 countries, dark blue is the world’s most relaxing color, orange is the happiest, and pink is the sexiest. [BV]


Observed | April 10

Ever wondered what a black hole looks like? Scientists reveal the first picture of a black hole. [BV]

Business Insider wrote about a Twitter thread where the Vignelli Center, Michael Bierut, Jesse Reed, and Alexandra Lange chatted about the difficulty of identifying Helvetica. [BV]


Observed | April 09

Nikil Saval in The New Yorker on how “good design” failed us. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | April 05

Some Friday fun: “A log flume winds its way around a watery course and slowly climbs the lift hill. Reaching the top, it then hurtles down the slope...Splash!” But what if no one is riding? [BV]

The quest to acquire the oldest, most expensive book on the planet: unwrapping the most beautiful Gutenberg of them all. [BV]


Observed | April 04

“All submission to authority humiliates. All exercise of authority perverts.” Roger Perry‘s photos of London graffiti in a time of recession, poor housing, and urban decay. [BV]

Patagonia will no longer emblazon its products with other companies’ logos unless they commit to using their profits for the greater good. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | April 03

Lydian was created by designer and children’s book illustrator Warren Chappell in 1938, but didn’t really find its groove until after World War II when it was the font for Nancy Drew. [BV]

“When I visited for lunch, a few days ago, I found a tawny sea of tight jawlines and Goyard totes, women with blowouts as pristine as their natty Gucci loafers.” A delicious review by Helen Rosner of “the one place in Hudson Yards that feels like New York”. [MB]


Observed | April 02

The MITX DesignTech Summit is coming up next Wednesday, April 10th at the Innovation & Design Building in Boston. Join leaders from JPMorgan Chase, Automattic, Fidelity, athenahealth, Walmart & others as they discuss the business of design. (Check our twitter feed for a discount code.) [BV]

The New Yorker asked five designers, Na Kim, Alex Merto, Paul Sahre, Janet Hansen, and our very own Michael Bierut, to imagine a cover for the Mueller report when it‘s released as a book. [BV]


Observed | April 01

A young paleontologist may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth: the day the dinosaurs died. [BV]

As we begin to judge the current 50 Covers entries, this collection of 100 brilliant rejected book covers caught our attention. [BV]


Observed | March 28

Hilma af Klint is celebrated as an inventor of abstract art. But she didn’t think of her work as abstract. [BV]


Observed | March 27

A new video about IDEO from Dress Code features over 30+ interviews and is a look behind the curtain at the global design firm, who for 40 years (and counting) has changed the way we think about design. [BV]



Jobs | April 25