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 | January 17

Slack has a new logo. And some of the best reasons to want a new one. You can read their brief here. [BV]

I am of course a savage apple snob. I don’t mean to be. It’s just, I’ve seen the truth and the truth is that there are literally thousands of types of apples, and they range wildly in taste and complexity and quality and that’s just a lot of fun. It’s interesting. It’s like getting a whole range of fruit-tasting experience that you didn’t know existed before.” — Chuck Wendig on ranking grocery store apples. [BV]

1969 was a hell of a year. Sesame Street, Firebird Trans Am, ATMs, Monty Python’s Flying Circus + 46 other things turning 50 this year. [BV]


Observed | January 16

Big (really, really big) business, “fun” marketing ideas, facial recognition, data collection, and privacy. The #10YearChallenge. [BV]

Kanye West has donated $10 million to James Turrell’s Roden Crater project near Flagstaff, Arizona. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | January 15

Scientists haven’t tamed volcanoes but it’s wild and fun to watch them try. [BV]

Visualizing the astonishing effects of the longest government shutdown in history in 8 charts. [BV]


Observed | January 14

I almost missed this lovely explainer by Estelle Caswell on how Coltrane constructed “Giant Steps” on the circle of fifths to create “the most feared song in jazz” (feat. a cameo appearance by L. Bernstein from his 1972 Norton Lectures at Harvard) [MB]


Observed | January 11

British artist Clive Head captures the often dizzying urban environment in his multilayered oil paintings that visualize movements through space and time. [BV]

A year of United States weather. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | January 10

#TBT: Separate areas with sofas, vanities, and even writing tables used to put the “rest” in women’s restrooms. Why were these spaces built, and why did they vanish? [BV]

#TBT: The foods of provincial New Jersey in vintage postcards. [BV]


Observed | January 09

Whose peace of mind benefits when we meditate at the art museum? [BV]

This artist is making massive mosaics from to anatomical medical illustrations, stone by stone. [BV]


Observed | January 08

Already dreaming of your next vacation? From Massachusetts to Tunisia, eight famous artists‘ favorite vacation spots. [BV]

Congo Tales: A new book and collaboration that offers an opportunity to grapple with what an ethical approach to storytelling might look like. [BV]

Shipping this month: A fanzine that visualizes the history of Fugazi through their own data, created by Carni Klirs. [BV]


Observed | January 07

The periodic table is 150 – but it could have looked very different. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]

Bunkitsu: the new bookstore in Tokyo that has a cover charge (h/t Joe Freedman) [BV]


Observed | January 03

#TBT: A gallery of posters designed for Braniff airlines. [BV]


Observed | December 27

#TBT: Videographer Guy Jones edited Lumière brother’s film footage from 1890’s Paris to explore some of the everyday thrills of late 19th-century life. [BV]


Observed | December 26

WOSU’s All Sides Weekend’s Clare Roth discusses art as self-expression and curative made during and after the Holocaust; Arthur Szyk with Steven Heller. [BV]

Ah, the shimmer of aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate (aka glitter). [BV]


Observed | December 20

The Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index is a scientific investigation into the quality of soup dumplings in Shanghai. It applies a quantitative framework to the existing qualitative descriptors of the Shanghai soup dumpling: thin skin, plentiful soup, abundant filling, fresh meat. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]

A Christmas #TBT: aluminum Christmas trees in mid-century photographs! (via John Foster) [BV]


Observed | December 19

News you can use: Nose-breathing boosts memory, study finds. So stop and smell the roses. [BV]

A household is a miniature ecosystem with inputs, outputs and flows: one that can, and should, be designed. [BV]


Observed | December 18

Check out these rather ordinary looking portraits. They’re all fake. They weren‘t Photoshopped, but rather completely generated by artificial intelligence. None of these people actually exist. (via Steven Heller) [BV]

The Portland Trail Blazers commission local artists to design posters for each of the team’s home games. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | December 17

The Lake Victoria Challenge wants to transform mobility in Africa’s Lake Victoria region using innovative drone design to connect 30 million people. [BV]



Jobs | January 20