The Self-Reliance Project

The Self-Reliance Project is a daily essay about what it means to be a maker during a crisis—to think through making, to know yourself better through the process of producing something—and how this kind of return to self-knowledge might just be the entire point.

It’s title comes from the 1841 essay on self-reliance by the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote with astonishing clarity about the perils of conformity and consistency, about what it means to follow your mind, trust your instincts, and listen to your heart.

So for now, stay well, stay home, and do your work. But don’t just take it from me. Take it from Emerson.

Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.

Self-Reliance
Emerson’s text is widely available to read online, but this new Volume edition—produced with Design Observer—elevates his wisdom through the printed word. With twelve essays from Jessica Helfand’s Self-Reliance Project: pledge now and order your copy today!




Jessica Helfand
On Activism
A starting point for a new kind of dialogue—us with you, and you with yourself—because even and especially in a year such as this one, we know that at the core of all creative enterprise lies a singular, beating heart.


Jessica Helfand + Sara Hendren
On Ablerism
What does it mean, right now, to be self-reliant—to trust your voice, heed your mind, and connect to your own sense of what really matters?


Jessica Helfand + Noreen Khawaja
On Philosophy
Noreen Khawaja and Jessica Helfand talk about the philisophical nature of self-reliance.


Jessica Helfand
On Seeing
Rethinking a color. Awakening the senses. And soldiering on.


Jessica Helfand + Claire Weisz
On Architecture
Herewith, the first in a series of conversations with artists, architects, photographers, cinematographers, designers and makers of all kinds, from all over the world.


Jessica Helfand
Remembering
Visual memories sear themselves into the unconscious, bearing down and not letting go.


Jessica Helfand
Storytelling
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.


Jessica Helfand
Discerning
Sometimes you have to unlearn the constellations to see the stars.


Jessica Helfand
Making
Real makers produce against all odds: ever evolving, all of it work in progress


Jessica Helfand
Feeling
To feel fragile is to feel human, which is to recognize your inherent vulnerability, not your presumed invincibility.


Jessica Helfand
Observing
Observing is truth-telling. It’s not a picture postcard, or a gilded lily.


Jessica Helfand
Pretending
The faking of feelings is a sin against the imagination.


Jessica Helfand
Sharpening
As an isolated activity, sharpening’s got its own powerful syntax. It’s the art of paying attention.


Jessica Helfand
Missing
Ambiguous loss is the loss we can not see, just as it lingers in the closure we can not find.


Jessica Helfand
Tracing
Tracing is a way to think in stages, and seeing those stages pulls you along in your thinking.


Jessica Helfand
Animating
As an artistic practice, animation is a process of aggregation. But as a life practice, to animate is to awaken.


Jessica Helfand
Helping
It’s time to pierce the routine of the everyday. What else is there to know?


Jessica Helfand
Waiting
To wait inside is also a chance to go inside—and stay there for awhile.


Jessica Helfand
Admitting
Productivity is a tonic for loss—not a replacement for it—and the work of reconstruction is always brutal.


Jessica Helfand
Assimilating
What becomes of public space when we’re absent from it—when our familiar human constellations cease to exist?


Jessica Helfand
Dreaming
Dreaming is how we allow the unconscious mind to improvise.


Jessica Helfand
Reading
Reading is one of life’s great indulgences, even (and especially) if you are stuck inside.


Jessica Helfand
Generating
The studio is the seed lab: it’s where we realize that practice is at once speculative, iterative, and generative.


Jessica Helfand
Reciprocating
Reciprocity is not binary—it’s fragmented—like people are, and like life is.


Jessica Helfand
Turning
Turning is a deliberate and conscious act: it’s how we express attentiveness.


Jessica Helfand
Walking
Walking is a form of creative trespassing, like tourism for the psyche.


Jessica Helfand
Responding
Responses are reactions, and reactions demand attention.


Jessica Helfand
Distancing
Will social alienation make us a socially alien nation?


Jessica Helfand
Surrendering
Surrender is the art of uncertainty: it’s the practice of giving in, not giving up.


Jessica Helfand
Sheltering
Shelter is not so much a gesture of imprisonment as an invitation to dream.


Jessica Helfand
Canoeing
What is an actor without an audience? A person—that’s what.


Jessica Helfand
Burning
To read a poem allows you to visit words, the same way you might, say, go to a museum to visit a particular painting.


Jessica Helfand
Recalibrating
To measure your worth against what life looked like until last month is a fool’s errand.


Jessica Helfand
Longing
Wanting what is not possible—no matter how you define your object of desire—is a recipe for disappointment.


Jessica Helfand
Listening
Sound cuts right through you and tells its own story—whether you like it or not.


Jessica Helfand
Reflecting
Photographs like these are trenchant reminders about who we are as a people.


Jessica Helfand
Harvesting
What kind of work would you make if you thought no one was looking?


Jessica Helfand
Breathing
Breathing is one of those things you take for granted. Until you can’t.


Jessica Helfand
Looking
What it means to be a maker during this pandemic.


The Design Observer Cooperative

Observed | September 21

Help support this monumental public messaging campaign promoting the patriotism of science, religion and voting from Class Action Collective. [BV]


Observed | September 17

The strange, uninspired history of Spotify’s bland logo. [BV]


Observed | September 16

Behold: Calamityware! (Via Kim Baer.) [JH]


Observed | September 01

Got a Very Serious Book to sell about the dangers of radical right-wing overreach? In book publishing, this is the summer of the Sith Lord design palette. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | August 20

Design criticism is everywhere. Why are we still looking for it? A must-read essay from Jarrett Fuller. [MB]

Goodbye mosh pits, hello “personal platforms.” A new music venue in the UK was designed for socially distant concerts. [BV]


Observed | August 18

Contactless filming: design for never leaving home. [JH]


Observed | August 17

No books were harmed in the testing of these animals. [JH]


Observed | August 14

How do activism slideshows go viral on Instagram? By co-opting popular design aesthetics from brands. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | August 13

Can you identify the city in which each picture was taken? A visual quiz. [JH]


Observed | August 06

On the power (and ephemerality) of street art. [JH]

The UX of LEGO interface panels. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | August 03

Antica is a new type family designed by Ale Paul & the Sudtipos team. [JH]


Observed | July 31

Branding a pandemic. (via Kim Baer.) [JH]


Observed | July 28

Why do these Apple ads, from a company that takes such pride in design, feature four people who are clearly not trained designers, designing? [BV]


Observed | July 27

Communicative efficiency is not the same as communicative empathy, and one of the truly gut-punching limits of social media is how poorly it corresponds to the individual experience of human grief. A primer by Jason Fields. [JH]


Observed | July 22

Futurefeed is an online space where writers, artists, and thinkers are invited to experiment + explore ideas that are important to them over an extended period of time. [JH]


Observed | July 21

Open a new window somewhere in the world. [BV]

The X-Prize Mask Challenge is looking for a face mask that is attractive, innovative, and achieves the filtration efficacy on par with a surgical mask. PS: You also have to be under 25 years old to enter. (Via Kim Baer.) [JH]


Observed | July 16

How Mexico City crowdsourced a map of its riotous informal bus system. [BV]

The atlas of surveillance. (Yes, you read that right.) [JH]


Observed | July 15

Social Matter, Social Design challenges the way we look at, think of, and interact with the social world by emphasizing the role of materiality. [JH]

When governors are graphic designers: a continuing story. [JH]


Observed | July 14

Design For America, the World Design Organization, and IBM team up to launch the COVID Design Challenge. [JH]

A national reckoning: why It is falling to individuals to become their own interim museums and archives. [JH]


Observed | July 10

Together again for the very first time, Microsoft ditches backgrounds for foregrounds—like simulated office desks. [JH]

A new, coronavirus-inspired concoction at Alinea, one of the world’s most famous restaurants, is spurring backlash online. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | July 08

A look inside the typography of the Biden campaign, by Hoefler & Co. [JH]


Observed | July 06

Designer and photographer Margaret Morton, who taught for many years at Cooper Union and at Yale, died last week at her home in New York City. She was 71. [JH]


Observed | July 03

Architect James Biber on backgrounds as the new foregrounds. (Via Adrian Shaughnessy.) [JH]



Jobs | September 22