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—designed by Jessica Helfand + Jarrett Fuller—elevates his wisdom through the printed word. With twelve essays from Jessica Helfand’s Self-Reliance Project: order your copy today!




Jessica Helfand
On Whispering
Looking. Listening. And Lessons from Quaker Meeting.


Jessica Helfand
On Learning
What resonates most unequivocally here is Emerson ’s plea for individuality—that iron string—the sovereignty of selfhood.


Jessica Helfand, De Andrea Nichols
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.



Observed | September 30

Adobe. Figma. TWENTY BILLION DOLLARS. Discuss! [JH]

Can a design studio democratize innovation? Sam’s Club thinks so. [JH]

A retrospective of the South African artist, William Kentridge opens at the Royal Academy in London this week, and runs through early December. [JH]

When the former President of Harvard pays attention to typography, it’s time to pay attention to her. [JH]


Observed | September 16

Eye candy? (Eye dairy?) Behold: the Barcelona Butter Chair! [JH]

A new exhibit at the Victoria & Albert museum reveals what objects people choose to repair—and how they want them fixed. [BV]


Observed | September 09

NYC is looking for volunteer artists to paint its garbage trucks. [JH]

Dezeen announces the 2022 award winners. [JH]

Artificial intelligence in the service of ... the skyscraper? [JH]

The Smithsonian announces the winners of the National Design Award. [JH]

Wellness—for designers. [JH]


Observed | August 13

Dizzying discs and obscene wordplay—revisiting Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 film debut. [BV]

For Ben Watson, who leads MillerKnoll, every great designer is an optimist. [JH]

Tina Charad—a Los Angeles-based South African by way of Britain—on the challenges of graphic in film. [JH]

Entertainment for the dog days of August: Focukups are digital mockups that show your work in, um, real conditions. [JH]


Observed | July 29

Conceptual magazine covers, and why they matter. [JH]


Observed | July 22

Deem is a design journal established upon the notion that design is fundamentally a shared experience that adds value to communities. [JH]

Fast Company shares its favorite design books of summer. [JH]

Design and surrealism, an exhibition at the London Design Museum. [JH]

Claes Oldenberg, the Swedish-born American Pop artist known for his monumental sculptures of everyday objects, has died. He was 93. [JH]

Manuhuia Barcham, Managing Director, Archetekt, will be the next head of the AIGA Board of Directors. [JH]


Observed | July 15

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About (Design And) Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. [JH]

“He’s even branched out into graphic design himself, with a little help from Naoto Fukasawa, in a bizarre collaboration that has yet to see the light of day.” Kanye West does design. (And doesn’t.) [JH]

Sreoshy Banerjea has been appointed by Mayor Eric Adams as the next Executive Director of the New York City Public Design Commission. [JH]

“He’s not just a designer,” Steve Jobs once said of Jonathan Ive, then-design director at Apple. “He has more operational power than anyone at Apple, except me.” [JH]


Observed | July 08

The American designer Arnold Skolnick who—Inspired by Matisse’s cutouts—created the iconic Woodstock poster in 1969, has died. He was 85. [JH]

Where graphic design meets architecture: Thonik’s new studio, in Amsterdam. [JH]

Marcus Fairs, the founder and editor-in-chief of Dezeen, has died. The well-known design journalist was 54. [JH]

2022 SEGD Award winners announced. [JH]


Observed | June 17

Molly Young reviews Alexandra Lange’s new book, Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall. (Read an excerpt here.) [JH]

Can you quantify creativity? [JH]

Zimbabwean born designer, visual artist, and educator Nontsikelelo Mutiti has been appointed the next Director of Graduate Studies in Graphic Design at Yale School of Art. [JH]



Jobs | October 04