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 | July 19

Today’s New York Times feature on the fire at Notre Dame has superb photography & dazzling interactive animations, but nothing is more mesmerizing than these sketches made at the scene by French firefighter Laurent Clerjeau. A landmark piece of visual journalism. [MB]

Everyone at this new advertising agency has served time in prison. [BV]


Observed | July 18

From ancient art to modern manuscripts, Harvard digital collections provides free, public access to over 6 million objects. #Explore! [BV]


Observed | July 17

Can a typeface embraces uncertainty and celebrates differences? Ambiguity is up to the challenge. [BV]


Observed | July 16

New out today from Shutterstock: Elements video effects. And some pretty fun behind the scenes footage. [BV]

Get Up, Stand Up Now is a major new exhibition at Somerset House celebrating the past 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond. The exhibition explores migration, psychological and social borders, the body and participation, power and resistance. [LY]


Observed | July 15

Congratulations! Acclaimed Dutch typographer Wim Crouwel has just received the 32nd TDC Medal from the Type Directors Club. [BV]


Observed | July 12

Ikea claims to have created the World’s Comfiest Font, Soffa Sans, where each letter is formed by pieces from a sofa! Free download here. [LY]

Can you imagine the cereal isle? Kellogg’s has temporarily made the packaging for its most popular cereal varieties black and white in a new partnership with Crayola. [BV]

Not over the hill: Design With Nature, Ian McHarg’s landmark book of ecological design turns 50. [LY]


Observed | July 11

Congratulations to Collins, Ad Age‘s first design agency of the year! [BV]

Our privacy crisis is a crisis of design. [JH]


Observed | July 09

A wonderful deep dive online Bauhaus exhibition from Getty Research Institute. [BV]

Featuring upside-down pages, illegible interviews, and appearances from Sonic Youth, Björk, and David Bowie, Ray Gun, 90s America’s bible of music and style, shook up US publishing in the ‘90s. [BV]


Observed | July 08

Pioneering video artist Gretchen Bender predicted our obsession with screens. [BV]


Observed | July 02

“Not having anything to do sounds terrible. I fear that more than anything else. It’s greater than the fear of death.” Anne Quito interviews Milton Glaser on his 90th birthday. [MB]

70% of graphic design students are women, yet only 11% are Creative Directors. Discuss. [JH]


Observed | July 01

What a better way to kick off July than with some new art? And what better place to get it than the 20x200 weeklong sitewide semi-annual sale? Starting tomorrow their vintage & space editions are on sale. [BV]

Congratulations to our co-founder, Jessica Helfand, and all the Fall 2019 Bogliasco Fellowship recipients! [BV]

What’s as satisfying as a good book? Seeing one made the old-fashioned way, by hand. [BV]


Observed | June 28

Matthew Carter will discuss his ambitious new Latin superfamily of serif, sans, slab, and rounded typefaces at the Katherine Small Gallery. [BV]


Observed | June 27

The enduring appeal of mustard yellow. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | June 26

Color theory explored by Peter Kraus in three jewels of book-making. [BV]


Observed | June 25

Jessica Helfand gave a poster design workshop to scientists at Yale a few years ago and was told by one that if he followed her advice, nobody would take him seriously as a scientist. Behold: the future! A graphic design revolution for scientific conference posters. [BV]

The new ghost museums of China. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | June 20

Poster House, the first museum in the US dedicated exclusively to posters, opens today! Listen here to their first audio newsletter and guide narrated by Steven Heller. [BV]


Observed | June 19

Remembering the Bantam paperback of The Greening of America with its truly relentless deployment of Bookman Swash Italic. Quintessential 70s. RIP Charles Reich, 1928-2019. [MB]

Here’s your chance to hear Debbie Millman on the other side of the mike. Recorded live on stage at the famous Design and Advertising festival in London in May, Debbie is interviewed on episode 14 of This Way Up. [BV]


Observed | June 17

The School of Visual Arts has donated nearly 100 of its beloved Subway Series posters from the past three decades to the brand new Poster Museum, opening Thursday, June 20. These, as well as all new posters created in the future, will live in the Museum’s permanent archival collection. [BV]

Can a small Italian village point the way to more livable modern cities? A conference of urbanists aims to find out. [BV]



Jobs | July 22