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 | March 04

On the brink of nuclear war, America’s bold response to the Soviet Union depended on Juanita Moody, an unknown spy agency operative, whose story can at last be told. [BV]


Observed | March 03

For his piece Quantum Fluctuations: Experiments in Flux, London-based artist Markos R Kay set out to visually express a quantum interaction – a phenomenon that’s notoriously unobservable. [BV]


Observed | March 02

The beautiful, origami-like art of letterlocking. [JH]


Observed | March 01

See what other people are reading—quite literally. [JH]

Old photos of famous artists and scientists animated into ‘living portraits’ using AI. [BV]

From the brilliant Ariel Avissar, a supercut of the everlasting typewriter. (Via Kottke.) [JH]

Art, activism, and the Xerox machine. [JH]


Observed | February 25

The story of designer/Marxist Enzo Mari, the role of value creation, and a tale of two bookcases. [JH]


Observed | February 24

Vintage clothes, bright colors, and empowerment for Black women: one graphic designer’s sartorial adventure. [JH]


Observed | February 23

A revolutionary artist and the former minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas used graphic design to build a culture of resistance. [JH]

OUCH, or, why UX design matters. [JH]


Observed | February 22

The story of Ford’s first African-American designer, McKinley Thompson, who sketched the original 1966 Bronco [BV]


Observed | February 19

Magazines and The American Experience, on view at the Grolier Club in New York. (View the exhibition online here.) [JH]

Bruce Blackburn, designer of the iconic NASA “worm” logo, dies at 82. [JH]


Observed | February 18

Everything you ever wanted to know about stamps, but were afraid to ask. [JH]

The extraordinary, long overlooked story of artist and sculptor, Selma Burke. [JH]


Observed | February 12

NYCxDesign’s inaugural breakout grant will provide a lifeline to three independent designers (or businesses) with a product or project that’s ready to go to market. Applications are due March 26. [JH]


Observed | February 11

For its inaugural year of 2020-2021, Caltech’s Critical Intersections: Conversations on Race, History, and Science online seminar series is dedicated to the history leading up to—and beyond—eugenics. For this week’s event, artists Edgar Arcenaux and Kurt Forman will create a printed artwork in conversation with the topic, which will be mailed to early registrants (who provide their mailing addresses) when registering. [JH]


Observed | February 10

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: our very own Jessica Helfand in the newest issue of Lovers Magazine. [BV]


Observed | February 09

Toying with design, in India (and online) [JH]


Observed | February 07

Our friends Wix launched a great new development tool: EditorX offers powerful collaboration, flexible grids and full breakpoint control. Watch a video of all the new functionality. (Thanks for the demo!) [BV]


Observed | February 04

Beautiful green helix or glass poop emoji covered in trees? You decide. [BV]


Observed | February 03

We seek beauty in nature, art, and philosophy but also in our phones and furniture. Now scientists search for the neural basis of how the brain responds to beauty. [BV]


Observed | February 02

Black Art Library is a resource of rare publications highlighting the work of Black artists. [BV]


Observed | February 01

John Maeda breaks up—then reconciles—with design. [JH]

The 1-year-old company Formr sells furniture made by formerly incarcerated people, using discarded materials from construction sites to help fix America’s massive waste problem. [BV]

“At worst, cover letters strain one’s faith that words convey meaning at all” [BV]


Observed | January 28

Designer Inga Plönnigs new font, Magnet, is the latest family from Frere-Jones Type, a sans-serif in thirteen styles. [JH]


Observed | January 26

What are dreams? Just the theater of the unconscious? Our brains’ attempts to impose a semblance of structure on the chaotic imagery we retain? Random epiphenomena? Responses to potential threats? [BV]


Observed | January 25

How an augmented reality app transformed London into an immersive art gallery. [BV]



Jobs | March 05