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Comments (168) Posted 12.21.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

The Editors

In Memory of William Drenttel



William Gordon Drenttel
1953-2013

It is with great sorrow that we announce that William Drenttel, who co-founded Design Observer ten years ago and was its mastermind, conscience, and animating spirit, died on December 21, 2013, after a year-and-a-half struggle with brain cancer. He was 60 years old.

Bill lived many lives over six decades. It was no accident that his restless imagination often placed himself at the center of an era’s concerns. He was an unlikely advertising man at the tail end of the “Mad Men” era. With Stephen Doyle and Tom Kluepfel, he helped create one of the most influential design firms of the 1980s. At Winterhouse, the studio he founded with Jessica Helfand in the nineties, he worked as a first-rate designer, an independent publisher, and a champion of causes from voting rights to freedom of the press. He anticipated the rise of social design in the 21st century through his work with the Rockefeller Foundation and Mayo Clinic, and gave substance to the promise of “design thinking” with classes and case studies for the Yale School of Management. When Bill and Jessica won the AIGA Medal this year, it was only surprising because it was so long overdue.

But it was here at Design Observer that the impossibly wide range of his intellect has been truly demonstrated. Although he was never the site’s most prolific writer — he often complained of writer’s block — he worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Bill discovered and encouraged new writers, pioneered new features to better serve our readers, and ceaselessly sought new ways to expand the site’s purview. He was positive that anything could be an appropriate subject for Design Observer’s writers. This reflected his conviction that design had the capacity to help us understand, transform, and improve every aspect of human life. Although over 500 writers have contributed to this site over the last ten years — and although he would have been the first to deny it — Design Observer is, in the end, the product of Bill Drenttel’s vision.

Bill leaves behind his wife and partner, Jessica Helfand; their two wonderful children, Malcolm and Fiona; his father-in-law, William Helfand; and countless heartbroken friends who came to depend on his companionship more than he would ever know. We will miss him, and so will you.
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Comments (168)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Endless gratitude for what he did for the design industry and his ongoing drive to make us all strive for more in it.

My sincere condolences to Jessica and her family, and to the DO founders and writers.
Armin Vit
12.21.13 at 09:48

Our hearts are broken. My deepest condolences to Bill's family & friends at Design Observer.
Lee H. Moody
12.21.13 at 10:36

with love and respect, bob and cathe
robert appleton
12.21.13 at 10:50

So, so sorry, Jessica.
Alex Knowlton
12.21.13 at 10:57

Today, I am very sad. Bill moved, stirred, and inspired a generation of us. His tireless devotion to our scholarship will never be forgotten but will surely be missed along with his punctuating laugh which reverberates in my memory. Jessica and family I hope you can feel my virtual embrace.
rick valicenti
12.21.13 at 11:04

Jessica, my heartfelt sympathy.
John Foster
12.21.13 at 11:17

In the family of design, Bill was our big daddy supplying wisdom and leadership. We grew and matured into adults thanks so much to his efforts — many of those in partnership with Jessica Helfand. His passing is a loss to all of us and I'm so grateful for our time with him, but my heart hurts for those to whom he was husband, partner, and father — Jessica and their children. Sending a circle of love.
Louise Sandhaus
12.21.13 at 11:18

So sad to hear the news. My condolences to Bill's family, and the D.O. family. Thanks Bill for championing design in so many venues over the years, including D.O., at Yale, and AIGA—to mention just a few. You'll be missed.
Andrew Blauvelt
12.21.13 at 11:19

a grey, drenching rain down here, captures exactly how i feel about losing bill, a guiding light for so long. deep condolences jessica, and to all those who surrounded him.
marc_english
12.21.13 at 11:20

Shocked and deeply saddened to read this. Such a terrible loss for the profession.
Patrick Lynch
12.21.13 at 11:33

My condolences to William's family and his colleagues at D.O.
Christina Jackson
12.21.13 at 11:34

Such great sadness on this day. Bill you will dearly missed, and we send our love to Jessica and family. We posted some reflections and a fond picture over at Core77.
Allan Chochinov
12.21.13 at 11:35

Thank you Bill. My love and sympathies to everyone who knew you.
Christopher Simmons
12.21.13 at 11:38

This is a devastating loss. He was such a generous man. Sending thoughts and prayers to Bill's family.
Patrick Mitchell
12.21.13 at 11:43

Alan's piece at Core77 is beautiful and contains this sentence: "He paid attention in a way that was remarkable--when you worked with Bill it was always show time--and he inspired people around him to do their very best."

This is so true, and particularly true for me. Bill pushed me to be a better designer and a better person. Much of what I've accomplished in my career, and in my life, has been a non-so-subconscious attempt to please Bill, or at least to live up to his opinion of me. I feel I've lost not only a friend but a part of myself. I hope I can honor his memory going forward. Thank you, Bill.
Michael Bierut
12.21.13 at 11:46

How enormously, heartbreakingly sad. Bill was a crusader for the built environment without equal, and will be missed. My deepest sympathies to Jessica, friends, and family.
Sarah Williams Goldhagen
12.21.13 at 11:47

My heart is broken. Bill was an extraordinary person--full of genius, kindness, and generosity. He changed my life.

The world has lost a giant. We have lost our friend, our leader, our spirit.

Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm; Michael B: sending you love and my deepest, deepest condolences. To say he will be missed is beyond an understatement. The world is no longer the same.
debbie millman
12.21.13 at 12:00

My heart goes out to Jessica and family as well as all of Bill's friends. He inspired me as a designer and his passionate writing encouraged me to develop my own, as well as acknowledge that my political convictions are part of who I am and what I express. I appreciate his work on behalf of the industry in AIGA and was glad to get to meet him at AIGA Board Retreats in the 90s. Thanks Bill.
Michelle French
12.21.13 at 12:04

Sadness beyond words. How impossible, how heartbreaking to try thinking of Bill in the past tense. I want to say what a true celebrator he was, he who gave so much to so many, but get choked up on the "was."

Thank you, Bill, for everything – but most of all for being a world-builder who created a singular design community that enriched so many lives.

This world will not be the same without Bill, but it's a world forever filled with Bill's spirit.
Maria Popova
12.21.13 at 12:13

Devastated by your loss, grateful for gifts, Bill. When I think of you, the image of this senior gentleman of the design world gets conjured, along with the memory of the beautiful intensity that you brought to everything you touched.

I feel privileged for our friendship in the past six years, and for your generosity and dedication to the many initiatives that have championed the field of social impact design that I hold dear.

Your eloquence and presence at the LEAP symposium this fall was one such remarkable gift--thank you my dear friend.

my love to Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm.

mamatullo
12.21.13 at 12:22

My condolences. The world has lot a great design visionary.
Kevin Paolozzi
12.21.13 at 12:29

i recall bill coming into papress in the 1990s; you knew a force had arrived in the building. he was a tremendous patron and omnivorous intellect, and i will be forever grateful for his support, his vision, his friendship, and especially his sly humor.

a lot of people talk about what they're going to do. bill actually did things--books, websites, institutions. we can all be thankful for what he built, and know that his legacy is very, very real.
Mark Lamster
12.21.13 at 12:40

Bill and Jessica gave me my first opportunity as a writer and as a designer. He was a great editor. He shaped my approach to writing about design and in the process changed my understanding of the role Design can play, not just in culture but in civilization. Over the years our encounters became briefer and more spread out, but every time I spoke with Bill I was energized -- even provoked -- by his intensity and his integrity. He burned so brightly and sparked so much in me and in so many others. I found him to be very impatient with the obvious, the simple, the easy, but most of all with the unjust. He pushed me and it seems the whole world around him to be better than our own expectations. His life was tragically short but undeniably full. I am so grateful to have known him and so devastated by this loss. My thoughts and heart are with you Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
dmitrisiegel
12.21.13 at 12:41

This is tremendously sad news. Someone already mentioned the grey rain today? It’s been the same here in France - and now I know why.

Bill was a graceful writer and an insightful - important - publisher. I hope he knew just how many writers and designers his work, and Jessica's, inspired.

Bill was also man of unique warmth and integrity. That’s a rare thing.



I just noticed that it stopped raining. It must be all of us thinking warm thoughts about Bill.

My love too, to Jessica and his family.
John Thackara
12.21.13 at 12:42

Bill will continue to be a beacon in my life. My deepest condolences, and my love to Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm.
rebeca
12.21.13 at 12:47

We lost one of the greats today. Bill was closest thing to a mentor that I have ever found in my journey through this strange business.

True original.

Words fail.
Robert Fabricant
12.21.13 at 01:10

This is such deeply sad news. I only met Bill in person once; I had high expectations but was dazzled anyway. He struck me immediately as one of those rare people who combines singular intellectual rigor with a graceful kind of generosity. A man with things to say, and questions to ask, because he really wanted to hear them answered.

Thank you for everything, Bill.

My condolences to Jessica and the family.
Rob Walker
12.21.13 at 01:12

Dearest Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona, my family sends our love to yours. To borrow an old Quaker expression that seems doubly appropriate for today, the winter solstice, we are holding you in the light.
Pamela Hovland
12.21.13 at 01:13

Bill Drentell enlarged and reshaped the way we all think about graphic design.

He was also my friend. Both gifts are immeasurable.

Love to Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm.
paula scher
12.21.13 at 01:15

This is incredibly sad news to hear, I have always admired Bill and his work. Sending my thoughts, love and deepest condolences to Jessica and the family.
Veronica Corzo-Duchardt
12.21.13 at 01:19

We will miss our dear friend. The conversations Bill ignited and the ideas and people he connected will continue to shape our work and lives. We are so grateful for his friendship and legacy and so sad to say goodbye.

Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm, we hold you in our hearts.

Nathalie & Gaby

Nathalie Destandau
12.21.13 at 01:19

I first met Bill online and formed an opinion of him as intelligent, dry and fierce, but meeting him in person surprised me because he was also funny, mischievous and warm. Over the years when we found ourselves in the same place we would talk and jibe and laugh. Oddly, despite my recognition of him as an intellectual designer and influencial force, my memories of him are mostly partying and having fun. I will miss him in many ways, but particularly on the dance floor.

We have lost a monument of design and a truly lovely person.

With love and hugs to Jessica and the kids, and to all who were fortunate to know him so much better than I.
marian bantjes
12.21.13 at 01:28

In the dying days of I.D. magazine, Bill invited me to join him in a new social design initiative called Change Observer. It was like being handed a parachute and gently escorted from a burning plane. And where did I land? A place of civility, warmth, decency and fierce intelligence. Winterhouse was never just a magnificent home in Connecticut or broad-minded, big-hearted institution: it was and remains an ethos shaped by Bill and Jessica that has brushed and burnished countless lives. How many designers, students, scholars, writers and activists have been inspired by this pair? And how many of us looked at Bill's example and resolved to work harder and better? The question is rhetorical, but I'll answer it anyway. Legions.
Julie Lasky
12.21.13 at 02:00

So, so sad. Jessica, my thoughts are with you and your kids.
jkolko
12.21.13 at 02:11

Rest in peace, Bill. Your intellect, generosity, vision and intensity will forever inspire. Incredibly honored and grateful for your friendship and support. Deepest condolences to Jessica and family.
Mike Weikert
12.21.13 at 02:20

What a giant loss. Bill was always kind to me, answering dumb questions, helping with contacts and events, basically anything I ever asked. Though I didn't know him well, he always acted as if we were old friends and was consistently gracious and encouraging. He was someone you wanted to be more like. The creative community has been diminished by his passing.
Mike Hicks
12.21.13 at 02:31

There are no words. If you ever saw Bill's bookshelves you understood that his knowledge and curiosity could not be contained in a physical space. He was a Parthenon of insight and childlike wonder. For Bill the thirst for knowledge and understanding and his conviction that design should be the medium for civilization's intellectual advance was so vast that it was an architectural problem. How to contain something without limit? For all of us know, how to deal with a loss so great.

Personally, I really need to sketch out how different the world will be without Bill Drentell. How that all will work doesn't immediately spring to mind. Eternal love and support to Jessica. B&J were one of the great love stories of all time. Fiona and Malcolm have had a great adventure already, one that their dad, I'm certain, has told them is just getting started.
John Hockenberry
12.21.13 at 02:53

I met Bill in a meeting 13 years ago and was instantly impressed by his intelligence, creativity, and skill. It was dazzling. When I was fortunate enough to begin working with him, I learned he was also approachable and kind. I feel remarkably lucky to have called him both a mentor and a friend for the past dozen years. And overwhelmingly sad that there won't be a dozen more.

Jessica, Malcolm, Fiona, my love to you all.
Betsy Vardell
12.21.13 at 02:58

No words. My biggest condolences to Jessica, who first told me about Bill's condition last year at the AGI Congress in London. I was moved beyond words by Jessica's admirable strength as she spoke about the unspeakable. No words for what Bill has achieved and has given to every single one of us. Thank you Bill, shine on.
Astrid Stavro
12.21.13 at 02:59

Dear Jessica, so deeply saddened.

My heart is with you.
Peter Good
12.21.13 at 03:02

Blessed to have spent a few days with this legend at LEAP...thank you Bill for being such an inspiration to our design community around the world.
Karen Hofmann
12.21.13 at 03:15

Very sadden to receive this news -- too young.
Dan Lewis
12.21.13 at 03:23

Beautiful memories of watching birds circling at dusk with you from rooftops in India.

Much love and strong thoughts to Jessica, Malcolm & Fiona. X
Meena Kadri
12.21.13 at 03:24

Deepest condolences to Jessica and family. Thoughts are with you as you mourn a man of talent, passion and inspiration.
Judy Wert
12.21.13 at 03:26

Bill Drenttel set an example for what the practice of design could be and should be. He cared -- deeply -- about what he did. He combined an endless curiosity with impeccable typography and inspired writing, to which he added a keen understanding of the workings of business and politics. To me, his practice of design seemed a sort of ideal.

Bill amazed me many times; but it was his range, perhaps, that was most inspiring. One day, while consulting for Netscape, he was reviewing visual design proposals for a next generation browser + web service. Bill was providing feedback to a young designer—teaching really, at a detailed formal level—unexpectedly the CEO of AOL walked in (AOL had just purchased Netscape). Without missing a beat, Bill turned to Barry Schuler and began a conversation about the business challenges we faced. Bill's ability to work at many levels simultaneously was a marvel. He used it to make the world a better place.

I already miss deeply our conversations -- his generous counsel and good humor. I count myself lucky to have worked with Bill and to have had him as a friend. Condolences to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
Hugh Dubberly
12.21.13 at 03:51

Bill gave me his time and trust and shared his boundless knowledge, energy and enthusiasm with me. I am deeply grateful for that and equally saddened by his passing. He helped me understand why what we do really matters beyond the little circle of practitioners we inhabit. He was, as best I can tell, endlessly generous.

Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona: I hope all of these words soothe you in some way. It's evidence of the tremendous good he did in this world, and you can be extremely proud of him.
Don Whelan
12.21.13 at 03:54

My deepest condolences Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm.
You're in my thoughts.
sara jamshidi
12.21.13 at 04:06

sad. just so sad. a real loss.
no words work here.
very deepest condolences to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
Eric Baker
12.21.13 at 04:12

He was always a compass for me, so his absence seems unfathomable: but I'll continue to hold his intellect, audaciousness, humor and fierce loyalty to Jessica and Malcolm and Fiona in my heart. We have lost a truly great human being.
lorraine wild
12.21.13 at 04:19

what terrible news. very deepest condolences.
timothy odonnell
12.21.13 at 04:50

So sorry and so sad to read this news. My heart goes out to you, Jessica, and your and Bill’s whole family, and the family of Design Observer — which is very wide and deep. Bill contributed so much to this world.
Warren Lehrer
12.21.13 at 04:52

To say I'm shocked and saddened is an enormous understatement. Bill can not be gone. I want to say 'wait. I have one last thing to talk to you about. Tell me what you're thinking about XXX Bill?' I remember when Bill gleefully said, 'do you have an email address yet?' Such titillation in his voice! This new thing tickled him so. I remember when he met Jessica and the huge changes they would both would face in their lives. Leaving Drenttel Doyle. Moving to Connecticut.

We worked on a bunch of books together on design during this time, in the 90s. He was always eager to explore the new. But as much as I meant to, I didn't stay in touch very much and I can't say I have any intimate knowledge of his last years. Which is why I feel so incredibly sad and want to say 'wait. Bill. Please come back. I'm not done. Yet you have vanished.'

RIP Bill Drenttel. The design world is better off for your intelligent leadership. My condolences to Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm.
DK Holland
12.21.13 at 05:05

It is because of Bill and Jessica that I developed the confidence to even call myself a writer. Bill had a knack for bringing out the best work in those who surrounded him; his expectations were so high, we had no choice but to live up to them.

The number of careers and lives he's changed for the better is immeasurable. A thousand hugs to Jessica and the rest of the family.
Chappell Ellison
12.21.13 at 05:13

Bill was always there first, leading the way and putting the pieces together before anyone else. He set a standard of insight, curiosity and collegiality that will remain an inspiration to all of us - and will also provide a bit of comfort at this sad moment of incalculable loss.
Arthur Cohen
12.21.13 at 05:42

The shortest day of the year is not long enough to say how much I respected Bill. He made us all better - not only as designers, but as people. Rest well. My thoughts and hugs are with Jessica and family..
Brenda Sanderson
12.21.13 at 05:44

Thank you Bill for questioning and pushing us all higher than we thought possible. Your voice will be missed, but your legacy shall continue as we imagine your questions and your nudging. Our condolences to Jessica, Malcom and Fiona.
Bryonygp
12.21.13 at 05:47

Such a sad day. Thank you, Bill, for so much giving, leaving us with so much to learn from. I'm grateful for the time we shared, and thankful for the many ways you will always be present. Very warmest thoughts are with Jessica, Fiona, and Malcom, and the DO family.
Liz Danzico
12.21.13 at 06:16

My condolences to Jessica, Fiona and Malcom, the DO family and community.
Judith Bacal
12.21.13 at 06:23

I am so very sorry to hear this news. Bill added a vastness to the world of design and thought that, even in his absence, can never be taken away. He has left far far too soon. My deepest and most sincere condolences to Jessica and family.
BJanusiak
12.21.13 at 06:42

I am really sad and I want to express my endless gratitude for Bill’s intellectual generosity. My deepest condolences to Jessica and her family.
isabelmeirelles
12.21.13 at 06:51

I'm very sorry to hear this news. May he rest in peace, and may his family find peace, knowing he has impacted many. What a sad day for the design community.
Tanner Woodford
12.21.13 at 07:23

Thinking of you, dear Jessica.
I'm filled with memories of you and Bill together, including when you first met ... at a certain conference in Miami. Heartbroken for you.
And like others, I'm so grateful for the extraordinary intelligence Bill brought to the world. Truly a sad, sad day.
Chee Pearlman
12.21.13 at 07:25

This is heartbreaking to hear. Bill had such a generous spirit and was a thoughtful and inspirational ambassador of design. He influenced how those who are not within our field regard and value what we do. To those of us whose professional activity often swirls around within a relatively small bubble, Bill's influence in the greater world is a humbling thing to consider. He really made a lasting difference in his too-short life, and we have all benefited. Thank you, Bill. My thoughts go out to you, Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
Alexander Isley
12.21.13 at 07:44

Individually and together, as designers, we have all lost someone who has influenced our lives. Bill was a remarkable individual¬—intellectually curious and rigorous; articulate and widely read; emphatic in his observations; incisive and resolute in his ideas; and committed to designers and design as a means of changing the human experience.

Others have shared the journey he traveled to the point when each of us first encountered him. None of us could have been left with the impression he was the same person the last time we saw him that he was when we first saw him; nor were we. He was forever moving several steps ahead of us, forging new impressions of what needed to be said or understood to really grasp what was currently important in life (or that could be changed by design).

The beauty of his character, which we all know could feel very intense, was that he also focused intently on each of us and the challenges we face. In a manner that was both intellectual and personal, he influenced us and our way of thinking about whatever was of the moment without our necessarily realizing we had been changed.

He was an advocate of design at the most effective level: he demonstrated the value of the design mind by doing valuable things. He was a designer, yet he could speak with the confidence of a peer with those centered in business strategy; he could write, design and publish books; he was capable of serious research; and he became leading voice for the role of design in social change.

The most appropriate criticism I heard leveled against him was "He has too many ideas!"

As an advocate, he respected institutions as well as creating them, inventing means of doing what should come next for our profession, just before others understood the need.

He transformed AIGA, both as president, and as an eager and continuing partner in encouraging AIGA and our members to find new ways to make a difference. For me, he was the friend and counsel I turned to first when a possibility bordered on the audacious, simply for a reality check; or when I sought strategic context as we assembled clues from the experiences of thousands of designers.

I will miss him deeply. We will all miss him. And we extend our deepest sympathy, support and love to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Ric Grefé
12.21.13 at 07:50

I extend my deepest sympathy to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Robin Landa
12.21.13 at 08:25

You had Bill as a guest speaker in your class at NYU/ITP in the 90s. I remember being so struck by the spark and ease between the two of you. Peace to you and your kids, Jessica.
Threlkeld
12.21.13 at 08:47

His memory will be in everyone's memory.
Una gran pérdida.
Eugenio Vega
12.21.13 at 08:53

So sad to see the news today. Bill was a smart and thoughtful designer. My heartfelt condolences to Jessica and the kids. Rest in peace, Bill.
Alon
12.21.13 at 08:53

I met Bill in the period of his life when he had fully dedicated himself to promoting design as a force for good in the world. I was lucky enough to get a brief glimpse into his life and spent a memorable night in his study at Winterhouse drinking Scotch after a day of serving as a visiting mentor to the student-led Pizza Farm project. His legacy and generous spirit will live on with all those he touched. Rest in peace Bill. My best wishes and sympathies to his family and close friends.
Marc Alt
12.21.13 at 09:23

Bill was a profound influence on my life and the lives of so many. I will miss him immensely.

My heartfelt condolences to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Michael Mossoba
12.21.13 at 09:33

It was a true pleasure to hear Bill's presentation in Cape Town, SA about Design as a tool of civic engagement. The interview he gave me was thoughtful, inspiring and insightful.

I remember the DO party in 2009 at the AiGA Memphis conference that Bill and his team hosted. So much fun and joie de vivre in someone who took social engagement and design quite seriously.

Bill, Rest in Peace. My sincere condolences to Jessica and the family.
zharrison
12.21.13 at 09:49

Nini

We <3 Bill “!”
Carl W. Smith
12.21.13 at 10:02

Jessica,

Bless your dear Bill. And, precious soul, bless you too. Sitting in much grief with you, Jessica. May you find a path towards inner peace and celebration of a wonderful, inspired and meaningful life.

Holding you in heart,
Amy and Jeff
amydibello
12.21.13 at 10:15

I am deeply saddened by this immeasurable loss. One of the
pillars of our design foundation is now gone forever. Those with
the vision and intellect that Bill possessed are few and far
between. I have known, admired and respected Bill for as long as
I can remember. My heart aches for Jessica, Malcolm and
Fiona. As hard as we may try, this vacuum will never be filled.
Woody Pirtle
12.21.13 at 10:21

Just, Thank you.
jc
12.21.13 at 10:22

It was my privilege to spend time with Bill, Jessica, and their children during the last year and a half.

Bill and Stephen were the very first designers to show me kindness when I came to NYC in 1986. Their encouragement meant everything to me, and always will.

What an inspiration to watch Bill's life and career evolve so brilliantly over the next 27 years.

My last image of Bill in my mind, from two and a half months ago: in his kitchen in New Haven, a glass of wine in hand, his family nearby. He looked great. He was smiling.

He was waving goodbye.

C. K.
Chip Kidd
12.21.13 at 10:26

I am sitting here and mourning your loss, Bill. You ignited intense conversations about what design is, beyond mere artifact to something else unquantifiable. You questioned and provoked, but there was always a glint in thinking about what was possible, your optimism showed.

I followed your tenure as president of the AIGA back in 1996. I told you I wasn’t sure I was ready --but you reassured me and said that you had “cleaned up house”, the organization was on its way to a good financial footing and it was ready for me and my vision. You said it was my time and I am grateful for your trust.

Like all your friends who knew you, in Design and beyond, we contemplate a world without your guidance and wise counsel. Dear Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona, --Richard and I, together with our sons, Max and Rafe extend our sincere condolences and love to you during this time.

--Lucille

Lucille Tenazas
12.21.13 at 10:30

Thank you for this beautiful obituary -- a fitting tribute to a man so easy to respect and admire. I join the many who will miss him. He was a role model for me, as someone who was fluent in everything that matters in design: form, leadership, penmanship, collaboration, business acumen, and much more.

With deepest sympathy to Jessica, his children and those nearest to them.
John Caserta
12.21.13 at 10:35

Jessica,

My deepest sympathy to you and Malcolm and Fiona. I do hope you all will feel this collective embrace from your community. Look at these comments and see Bill's touch on so many lives and careers. With one phone call in 2007, he changed my life with a magnificent year long project.

The ripple effect of his time with us all will be long and enduring. He will be missed.

All our love.
John Dolan
12.22.13 at 12:28

This is so sad to hear. My deepest condolences to Jessica and family.
Oded Ezer
12.22.13 at 12:28

Bill's passing is such a loss in so many ways and on so many levels. For me, the word that describes Bill most is CONTRIBUTOR. Design is significantly richer for Bill's many exceptional, generous, intelligent, insightful and proactive contributions. Bill was also an exceptional partner. Bill's and Jessica's life collaboration has been so admirable. Jessica, our hearts are with you in your loss.
Katherine McCoy
12.22.13 at 01:20

I am saddened by the news about Bill while also deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to know and work with him. Among many thoughts today, Bill’s stories quickly come to mind. He would often share accounts tracking seemingly disconnected stanzas that somehow linked and came together with surprise and joy. Similarly, Bill’s professional journey and partnerships have revealed unexpected opportunities and insights as his curiosity, determination, and passion made connections and identified outcomes that matter.

My sincere condolences to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.

Gerry Greaney
12.22.13 at 01:47

Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona: I wish you all Long Life.
Janet Abrams
12.22.13 at 02:01

Anybody who writes about graphic design, thinks about it, or indeed practices it, owes Bill Drenttel a great debt of gratitude. For those of us who knew him, the debt is increased by his many kindnesses.
Adrian Shaughnessy
12.22.13 at 02:18

Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona - I'm so sorry to hear this news. I really enjoyed meeting you all in Rome a few years ago at the end of your world trip, and have carried the memory of your vitality as a family with me ever sense. I send my heartfelt condolences. Bill was a very special person - you didn't have to know him long to see that.
rkwittman
12.22.13 at 02:24

I’ve written many obituaries about people I respect and admire. The words come easily even when the emotions are heavy. But I find I am almost unable to write upon learning of the incredibly sad passing of my friend and colleague Bill Drenttel. It is simply not fair, in an age when people live past 90 for Bill to be taken at 60.

Bill had such passion for design and designers, books and writing, social good and cultural virtue. He was articulate, knowledgeable and persuasive, totally committed to causes and initiatives that benefited art and design. He put his love and money behind the Winterhouse Foundation, which enabled writers on design issues to evolve their craft. He was a businessman with an artist’s heart and soul. He had ideals and dreams but he was a pragmatist: Sustainability was his talent.

I met him, figuratively, decades ago, when he was the name of the advertising executive, Miles Drenttel, on “ThirtySomething.” At that time he was the business partner of Drenttel Doyle, but he was so much more. He was the creative searching for his outlet – his métier. I actually met him at the Greenwich Village Book Fair. He was selling books. I bought a copy of one with an Alvin Lustig cover. We talked for a while and I knew he was a kindred spirit.
A few years later, we met at an AIGA retreat in Hilton Head. After long conversations about our various loves (and hates), I urged him to run for AIGA president. I was editor of the AIGA Journal and he was chair of the publishing committee. It was Bill who said, why don’t we make it into a “real” magazine (not just a newsletter). If not for Bill it would not have happened. He had the gumption and talent to make what he proposed happen – when something was on his mind it became real.

We worked together on the Looking Closer series. Each of the editors brought their various interests to the fore – Bill’s were literary. He already had published contemporary authors through his own press, and with LC he integrated them into the design discourse.

I was with him when he met Jessica Helfand. Bill was recently divorced, when he found Jessica, as smart and sharp as the proverbial tack, they immediately fell in love. He told me so. He had no idea that they would become such an amazing design team, but it was their destiny.

Destiny is such a screwy concept. It suggests everything will occur on schedule according to a grand plan. It was right that Bill and Jessica form a partnership, make a family, have a business and be successful as creators, catalysts and influences. I hate the idea that it was destiny that Bill would cram it all into so few years and then it is legacy.

I wish his death did not come so soon. Its just simply and tragically unfair.



Steven Heller
12.22.13 at 03:11

So sorry Jessica, Bill was a real diamond. A lovely, smart warm, inclusive man with a wonderful, shining integrity. I feel honoured to have met him and thankful I know you. Tx
Tony Brook
12.22.13 at 06:25

Of course its a sad news for all of us.
ahat84
12.22.13 at 06:27

Bill Drenttel was a warm, inspiring man and a wonderful colleague. In the 1990s, we would occasionally meet for dinner when I was in New York and later I’d see him on his trips to London. In 2003, when he asked me to join him and Jessica as a partner in starting a new design blog I said yes immediately — we both agreed that Michael Bierut was the other person we should involve. I knew Design Observer would be an adventure and it was. In those early years, I was in touch with Bill all the time. We exchanged emails with thoughts on how DO should develop and he always responded with long carefully thought out replies. I loved his energy, commitment and concern. After a year, the founders met to review progress at Bill and Jessica’s home Winterhouse in Connecticut. Bill took great pleasure in showing me his magnificent library — he’d done the same thing during an early meeting in Manhattan. He was a bookish man, a literature lover. He had a delightful ease about him in all these meetings, yet he was clearly focused, even driven. It was his tireless organizational commitment behind the scenes that kept DO going.

In 2010, Bill invited me to return to DO as a contributor, along with several other regular writers. I owe him a huge amount for this. There can be no greater gift to a writer than a venue to write whatever you want whenever you feel like it. It was good to be in touch with him again on a regular basis and I have missed him greatly in the months of his illness. A few years ago, Bill came to see me where I live just outside London and we spent a lovely evening talking in the garden of a pub overlooking the River Thames before going for a meal. If not for the distance, I know I would have seen a lot more of him. I shall always remember these meetings, conversations and acts of kindness. I’m so glad to have known him.
Rick Poynor
12.22.13 at 06:48

Bill was my hero. An intellectual giant, caring and sincere. He always made me think more deeply, and still does today.

Warmest sympathies to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
Tony McDowell
12.22.13 at 10:05

So sorry. Condolences to Jessica Malcolm and Fiona.
A terrible loss for all of design. He did great things and even changed the world a bit for the better.
jon Piasecki
12.22.13 at 10:37

Always in motion, a comet, Bill came blasting into my world when I was at M&Co. We had a mutual friend, Henry, who swore that he would never introduce us to each other, because if he did, we would become fast friends and leave him in the dust. Woops. Bill was just back from years in Rome, world savvy, with shelves of exotic books, rooms of extravagant art, from antiquarian busts to enormous Joel Peter Witkin photos. He had an encyclopedic mind and a ravenous appetite for, well, starting things. Tibor tried to tempt Bill to join the orbit of M&Co., but Bill and I cooked up a different trajectory. And, following Bill's lead, start something we did. I will never forget my debt to Bill for taking a chance with me to imagine, and then try to reimagine a design studio. We had more fun than you can possibly imagine. Thank you, Bill, for starting something with me... Your spirit is still an essential part of our DNA. The arc of Bill's comet was high, his trajectory far. He burned bright, and left a luminous tail. Alas, traveling so far and so fast, he has disappeared from our view too soon, too soon, but the radiance of his journey, and his bright influence on my life I will never forget. Burn on, Bill. Love, Step
Stephen Doyle
12.22.13 at 11:06

My sympathies, dear Jessica.
Gail Anderson
12.22.13 at 11:24

Bill taught me a great deal in the short period we worked together on an identity project for our alma mater. And he made it fun.

My sincere condolences to Bill's family, his colleagues and the many others whose lives he touched.
Justin Harmon
12.22.13 at 11:42

I met Bill and Jessica when we invited them to lead DesignInquiry for a week in the early 2000's. They helped shape it by their presence, their intellect, experience, and deep care and questions regarding the profession and practice. But as much as this I remember our watching Fiona and Cora, Jack and Malcolm as they became fast friends for the week as we too talked of our busy and full loving lives.

Charles, Jack, Cora, and my condolences are with you Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona, please know the world is a better place for Bill, and through his relationships with you all (and we all!) his presence will continue to resonate.
margo halverson
12.22.13 at 11:52

When I remarked to a friend that I had been going to antique book sales for years searching vainly for a book that had meant a lot to me as a child, but that no one seemed to remember. She suggested I turn to Bill, who could, she said, locate any book, no matter how obscure. I knew him only slightly at the time and, arroganly assuming that no designer would be likely to help ignored her suggestion. Finally I found the book in a used book store in Kansas.

Later, after I got to know Bill well, I realized that she was right. He would have found the book, and probably owned it. Bill's familiarity with literature was mightily impressive and inseparable from the values that directed his life. Once, when he told me about a business decision he had made, I asked, "Are you too good to be true?"

He smiled "No," he said. "But Jessica is."
Ralph
12.22.13 at 01:42

Dear Jessica,
I just found out about Bill and I am in a state of shock. I think of Bill brilliant mind and I think of you, and your tremendous loss, and I think of Fiona who I love and Malcom.
I am terribly saddened by Bill loss and I want to express to all of you my love and sympathy.
Yours, Massimo
massimo vignelli
12.22.13 at 01:47

Bill will be missed by so many. He was a powerful force for all of us who encountered him and for our profession as a whole. Bill's influence has gone well beyond even these encounters to those who will never even meet him. I admired him greatly.

My sympathies Jessica to you and to your family.

hankrichardson
12.22.13 at 02:44

Supportive thoughts, condolences and the most sincere thanks possible for someone who only knew Bill from this remarkable website. Such an inspirational life in and of design, made richer through his generosity in sharing so broadly.
Burke614
12.22.13 at 03:27

This is such sad sad news. We lost a gentle giant in the design world, who is greatly missed but will never be forgotten. Bill, you left us way too soon. I am grateful that I got the chance to know you. Much love to Jessica and the family.
mariagiudice
12.22.13 at 08:24

Bill was an unquenchable spirit. Hanging out with at a conference in Kentucky I got to know his passion and as a bonus got to hang out with his son. Jessica, my thoughts and prayers are with you and the family. You all will be in my heart.
Stanley Hainsworth
12.22.13 at 09:17

Count me among the many friends who are bereft beyond measure at Bill's untimely death. My heart goes out to Jessica and Malcolm and Fiona. I met Bill more than thirty years ago, introduced by our mutual friend, David Rieff, with whom he'd become fast friends while at Princeton together in the 1970s. Bill, born in Minnesota, was raised from about the age of three in Bakersfield, California. Lean, handsome and with something of the laconic confidence, dry wit, and acute intelligence of Sam Shepard, whom he slightly resembled, Bill seemed to glide effortlessly through life. He was a design visionary interested in how form and function could be braided together in a world that might be better shaped to both give pleasure and to instruct. I first encountered Bill, in the early 1980s, when he was living in Rome, seeking on behalf of Saatchi and Saatchi to convince Italian peasant women to buy Pampers. It was a forlorn mission. The women didn't see the point of buying disposable (and costly) diapers when all one had to do to reuse cloth nappies was simply, if laboriously, to wash them out. It was perhaps they only task at which Bill would fail. He would go on to design magazines (The New Republic, Spy), book jackets for, among others, Carlos Fuentes, Susan Sontag, and Thomas Bernhard, and websites, including his own astonishing www.designobserver.com. His eye was unerring; his sense of proportion unrivalled; his moral and aesthetic compass always pointing true north. He was blessed with natural good taste, whether in the ties he chose, the authors he championed, or the many friends he drew to his side. He had a calm and deliberate manner and inhabited his skin with admirable ease. He was steady without any diminution of passionate engagement. His curiosities were eclectic. He had the heart of a tenor. I cannot believe that kind heart is now and forever stilled.
Steve Wasserman
12.22.13 at 10:22

This is a very sad news. I met and spent some time with bill at a continuum workshop at Rockefeller Center Bellagio,Italy. Among many things we discussed the role that communication and sharing of ideas played in Design. Sme of those things stuck in mind and played out when i brought out POOL Magazine. Will Miss you Bill.
Sudhir Sharma / indi
12.22.13 at 11:49

On the loss of a friend, someone once told me “when you lose someone you love, you gain an angel you know.” Some people we encounter in our lives, leave indelible footprints on our hearts; and we are never the same after that. On the day of the winter solstice, one of the greatest minds of contemporary design left his mortal body to become that angel who shines a light on all of us, same as he did while among us. Bill Drenttel was a “bridge” between disciplines, exchanging ideas among the most disparate groups with eloquence and passion, always pushing farther and bringing people along in the journey towards social good.

I was fortunate to meet Bill and Jessica in 2009, during the opening of The Polling Place Photo Project at the Hartford Art School. I was awestruck by their remarkable personalities and quick-witted humor. Over the following years, I encountered Bill at conferences and he was always an exemplary mentor to look out to, for students as well as more seasoned designers. I am eternally thankful for the opportunity he provided me to be part of a group of educators who strive for making design an agent of social change. Also for the chance to learn more from him in the past three years. I knew last August that Bill’s indomitable spirit wanted to make Winterhouse Symposium a memorable one. It was for all of us who had one more chance to spend time with him for three days. As a visionary, Bill was restless; so I bet in this next phase, his spirit will continue making connections in the heavens.

I am sending a warm embrace for Jessica, and my heartfelt condolences to Malcolm and Fiona. The memory of Bill will always be in the hearts of everyone lucky to have met him, and in the legacy of his vision for a better world.
Natacha Poggio
12.23.13 at 12:31

I knew Bill prior to the Aspen Design Summit in 2009, but that was where our friendship and collaboration was truly cemented. Bill’s years as a design leader are peppered with events and convenings like that one. Filled with purpose and hope and friendship and serious thought and hard work (aka: the things that characterized Bill), those three days in that rarified mountain air were pivotal to my life as a designer. I’m certain that many readers of Design Observer and friends of Bill will remember their own pivotal experience(s) curated by him. One of his many gifts was to effortlessly connect people and inspire them to do great things together.

The relationships, connections, ideas and projects that have been triggered by the ’09 Aspen Design Summit alone are an astounding tribute to Bill. I have no doubt that those of us who found each other through Bill will take his tragic death as renewed inspiration to carry forward his deep dedication to design-driven social justice.

I’m heartbroken by his loss and my deepest sympathy goes out to Jessica and their children.
Doug Powell
12.23.13 at 12:41

All the way back in France, out of the loop, I only heard the news this morning. I suddenly feel burdened with a mission: mourn the loss quietly, secretly, knowingly — considering that none of my French friends or colleagues have any idea who Bill was.

The loneliness I feel is tempered by the realization that I have now a job to do: strive to be the sort of intellectual who, like Bill, is not intellectual. It is a tall order in France, where people with a mind cultivate a sort of arrogance that is truly unbecoming. Bill was a gracious thinker. What a role model for me. I know now what I have to do.


Véronique Vienne
12.23.13 at 05:40

Bill masterfully taught me how to talk about, navigate, inspect, and represent design in business. Every meeting, every design review, I learned from his thoughtful and respectful approach. A mentor, a friend, and one of my heroes.

Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona, my deepest sympathy.
Steven Dean
12.23.13 at 07:14

I've been thinking about Bill a lot in the past couple of days and two weirdly indistinct memories -- sensations really -- keep popping up.

One is that, back in the old days, meaning the Drenttel Doyle era, I would occasionally run into Bill at parties. And suddenly the conversation would shift from the easy patter of the design world to something more serious and intense. I can't remember the content of these conversations, just how they felt: walking into the ocean when you suddenly step from the shallow water to the place where your feet no longer touch bottom.

The other is that I once visited Bill and Jessica at Winterhouse, maybe before their renovation of the place was complete. I don't remember the reason for the visit or when it occurred. My best guess is that I was on a scouting trip early in the life of Dwell. What I recall thinking was what an extraordinarily wonderful life B & J were creating for themselves, their kids, and their colleagues. Later, we published their workspace/library in Dwell -- I think Julie Lasky wrote the article -- as the exemplary home office. I was glad to have it in the magazine, but I didn't think it was fair, even as aspirational piece. It wasn't really a home office; it was more like Shangri La. (And, no, I'm not referring to the hotel chain.)

Bill was someone I respected and admired. I'm deeply sorry that he's gone.
Karrie Jacobs
12.23.13 at 08:15

I am so sorry for your loss, Jessica. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Carol Wahler
12.23.13 at 09:26

Jessica, a big hug to you and your kids.
matteobologna
12.23.13 at 10:26

I was so very sorry to hear of Bill's death. My sympthies to Jessica and the family. It is a great loss.
Lee
12.23.13 at 10:27

Bill made me appreciate thinking about design. As so many others have mentioned he will be sorely missed.
Michael Surtees
12.23.13 at 10:28

My deepest condolences to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona, and to Jessica's father, Bill Helfand, a treasure of a man I've had the great pleasure of meeting several times. I'm grateful to Steven Heller for posting on The Daily Heller this hardest imaginable news and for so beautifully honoring Bill's brilliance and his magnificent spirit.
Laura Lindgren
12.23.13 at 10:34

We are devastated that Bill Drenttel has passed away. He was exceptional in his ability to reach out, and unique in his capacity for dialogue. We shared many interests in the world, and while we shared some differences in considering of their implications, Bill was one of the rare people in design who saw such difference as an opportunity. During our debates, he was supportive and competitive in equal measure. We thank him for everything.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Jessica, Fiona, and Malcolm.
Metahaven
12.23.13 at 10:38

What terribly sad news. Bill's generosity reached far, and his influence was deep. Heartfelt condolences to his family and his colleagues at D.O.
Jill Shimabukuro
12.23.13 at 11:13

As Steven Heller wrote: It’s just simply and tragically unfair.
espiekermann
12.23.13 at 11:25

Such sad news. So sorry for your loss Jessica. Bill was the kind of mentor who made you feel good things were possible. I loved working with Bill at Cooper-Hewitt. He made everyone feel like part of the team — he provided genuine support and always brought a sense of humor with his passion. He was such an inspiration and will be deeply missed.
Jen Roos
12.23.13 at 12:10

Deepest condolences to his wife and family.
Susan Mayer
12.23.13 at 12:12

"...There are people whose external reality is generous because it is transparent, because you can read everything, accept everything, understand everything about them: People who carry their own sun with them...” —Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes wrote about the exceptional people who carry their own sun with them, it seems appropriate to borrow these words now to express the generous spirit of Bill. We met briefly, but that was enough to understand his generosity, intelligence and grace.

My sincere condolences to Jessica, his children and the D.O. family.
Rafael Esquer
12.23.13 at 12:18

What a tribute to Mr. Drenttel that many amazing and influential people speak so kindly and memorably about him. It's obvious his work crossed many spectrums of design and culture.

While we mourn what might have been down the road, my thoughts are also with his family and their loss of his presence.
JosephWilliams
12.23.13 at 12:26

These are beautiful, powerful remembrances of someone truly extraordinary. I would also like to extend my heartfelt condolences to Jessica and all his family and loved ones, and wish them peace and strength in dealing with this immeasurable loss now and in the days to come.

On a personal note, I'm grateful that I got the chance to work with Bill on the Winterhouse Writing Awards, and only wish the program could have reached the potential he imagined for it. I'm also glad to have acquired some of Bill & Jessica's delicious Winterhouse maple syrup one year, which I bought at the AIGA gala auction. I felt lucky then, but feel even luckier now because I got to experience these sides of him while he was with us.
Sue Apfelbaum
12.23.13 at 12:39

I was so sad to hear about William's passing. While I'd never had the opportunity to meet him, I was a fan from the internet shadows having been introduced to the work of Winterhouse through my grad school studies. My deepest condolences go out to Jessica and their family.
Erin Lynch
12.23.13 at 12:50

Bill and I had met only briefly.
My impression of and respect for Bill came later
when he and Jessica established Design Observer.
From its contributors and content I suspected
that Bill and I were kindred spirits.
That suspicion was confirmed when he issued a
publication devoted to the work of Imre Reiner.

Jessica, I hope you will have the strength and support
to continue Design Observer.

George Tscherny
George Tscherny
12.23.13 at 01:20

Bill Drenttel was an inspiration--first, as an articulate, persuasive and deeply-intelligent mover/shaker at Drenttel Doyle Partners and then as, well, an articulate, persuasive and deeply-intelligent mover/shaker at Winterhouse.

His charisma and thoughts from AIGA conferences and writings have stayed with me for years--not only because of his ideas but also because of his talent as a partner as well as a polymath. I knew Bill only from quick introductions and his many-faceted work, but that didn't decrease his impact.

Rigorous, analytical, and game-changing, Bill and Jessica were also glamourous. Brilliance casts a light. Perpetual light.

Heartfelt condolences to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Beth Tondreau
12.23.13 at 01:37

I met Bill through Stephen and was instantaneously envious of their compelling partnership — how could there be another Bill out there? There couldn't and wasn't. Thereafter whenever I saw his name it was attached to something interesting, something worth knowing. He was one of those people I hoped to get to know some time in the future. Maybe our paths would intersect one day? And then this happens, a reminder, as if we need it, that life is short.
My thoughts to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Lucy Sisman
12.23.13 at 02:00

I met Bill just this last year. But in three days time, it was clear to me that he was a gentle man and a wise one. Thanks, Sappi, for giving me the opportunity to know Bill, however briefly.
Michael Lejeune
12.23.13 at 02:33

Huge loss for the design community.
Maya Kopytman
12.23.13 at 03:19

Bill was an inspiration to me and so many in the design community. It was an honor to have known him, if only to exchange a few thoughts at an AIGA conference. His contribution to our profession was that of intelligence and integrity. He will be sorely missed by so many.

Jessica, my thoughts and prayers are with you, Malcolm and Fiona.
Steve Williams
12.23.13 at 03:28

I saw Bill and Jessica present as part of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Yale’s MFA Graphic Design program. I was inspired and intrigued and I deeply admired their practice. Later in the year I sent them a note saying so, and, a few days later, Bill called me up about an internship. His questions were probing. His passion was infectious. His wisdom was great. Before I really knew it, I was on a plane bound for Connecticut to do an internship at Winterhouse. Soon after that, I discovered what so many have already noted about Bill: his generous spirit.

Bill helped me find a place to live. He gave me books to read — he somehow got me to read Wittgenstein so we could debate his points on color theory together. He and Jessica made some fantastic dinners for our late nights in the studio. They were incredibly generous with their home. Sometimes I played their piano on my lunch break. Once, Bill loaned me his car to drive to New Haven. Bill and Jessica had a BBQ for my parents when they came to visit that summer. Bill loved spy stories and one night we knocked off work early one night to see Spy Game. He enjoyed it, but, ever the perfectionist, he suggested a few improvements — I agreed with every one. I remember all of this like it was yesterday. I knew such kindness was rare then; I know even better how rare it is now.

He was a thoughtful teacher, especially in the classroom of life. He took me to book barns around Winterhouse and showed me what he looked for. His library was such a remarkable, living resource for the studio’s work. We were working on a newspaper project and he dropped a pile of books from the library on my desk about newspaper design methods and history and asked me to look through them. At first I thought, Where did he get all these books on such an obscure subject? But everything made Bill curious. On our way to the first presentation, Bill asked me what I’d learned from his improvised syllabus. I rambled a bit, and tried to answer his many thoughtful questions. When we arrived at the meeting, Bill had synthesized them all into an precise, compelling presentation, far wiser than anything I had told him. In that moment, he showed me that the best teacher is always a student — it is a lesson I have never forgotten.

When Kevin and I started Giampietro+Smith, Bill offered to be the chairman of our board for the first few years. I marveled at how he could manage it among the million other things he did, but he seemed to love it, and his energy gave us confidence, especially at the beginning. So often he was much more than a great creative director — he was a champion for what design could be, for what people could be. He believed in people’s best selves and settled for nothing less.

Bill always encouraged me to write. My first published piece, about default systems in graphic design, came from a conversation I had with him. He always advocated for my writing and encouraged me to contribute to Design Observer and Looking Closer and more. He believed in the potential for an expanded design discourse and dedicated his life to pushing the boundaries of what that meant with almost everything he did.

I will always cherish my time with Bill. Much love and heartfelt thoughts to Jessica, Malcolm, Fiona, and friends in this difficult time.
rob_giampietro
12.23.13 at 03:46

I believe his time was the golden age of design in publishing, marketing, etc. I am proud to have been a part of that time-- as his work, his life-- mentored my love for design, publishing, exploring-- bringing life to a long lost craft---. To all in this discipline. as a tribute to his life's work and how he touched us all---be true to yourself, explore the endless... and make your own legacy.

The spirit-- never dies.
mikefromsf
12.23.13 at 04:16

Condolences to Jessica and their family. What a loss for the design world.
NikitaProkhorov
12.23.13 at 04:38

We have lost a great one, and way to early. Jessica my heartfelt sympathies to you, Malcom and Fiona.
andrewcantor
12.23.13 at 06:06

I only met Bill a couple of years ago but came to know him as a brilliant and generous design giant. Thanks Bill for everything you gave us.
Andrew Shea
12.23.13 at 06:17

Bill was forceful and uncompromising, but at the same time open and always there. I don't know how he did it. I don't know how he could so forcefully lead and even expand the profession as a whole, and at the same time stay within arm's reach of the thousands of people who had met him and needed to seek his closeness for guidance from time to time.
We knew he was a gift, and dear Jessica and the kids surely take solace in that every day. But that's not enough to stem the deep feeling of immense loss. Everybody, everybody, everybody is hurting.
jkittay
12.23.13 at 09:21

I loved that man.
John Bielenberg
12.23.13 at 09:24

Nothing is more painful than that of a life lost way too early. Bill's influence on the design community was destined to outlive him though that does not ease the pain of losing him so soon.

My deepest condolences to Jessica and the kids, his friends and co-conspirators at DO and to all of us, as designers, who have lost a force in our midst. May be rest in peace.
robdesign
12.23.13 at 09:42

With respect, I offer this touching dedication to the novel "The Brutal Telling" by author Louise Penny: "And, for Maggie, who finally gave all her heart away."

To want more is human. To expect more is unfair. Bill gave the world everything he had. We were fortunate to be the recipients of his gifts.

My condolences to his family and closest friends. The Bill YOU ALL shared was a gift to all of us. His grace, intellect, passion, compassion and love for the world were in evident every time I had the fortune to meet him.

Thank you, Bill. You gave it all away.
Matthew Porter
12.23.13 at 11:13

Oh Dear Jessica and your children, Malcom and Fiona, may you find peace in this most difficult time.
Anne Twomey
12.23.13 at 11:44

My deepest condolences to Jessica and family. The world has lost a great design influence and visionary.
Karl Heine
12.24.13 at 12:33

My personal and professional growth as a designer has been shaped by Bill Drenttel. I have read columns and articles and books that he has shaped and recommended and edited. As designers we struggle to make good culture, and Bill has paved the path. His vision has shaped us, he points our way forward. And I am grateful. The loss is enormous, but his legacy stands.
gregb
12.24.13 at 02:48

As evidenced in all the above messages of shock, surprise and just plain sadness over the loss of such a special spirit, Bill touched so many people and influenced so many lives. My heart goes out to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona, for their loss must be intolerable.
Elizabeth Resnick
12.24.13 at 09:16

My Sincerest Condolences,

He'll be missed. What a shock.

Very Respectfully,
Joe Moran
12.24.13 at 09:31

Star Bright.
jilly simons
12.24.13 at 10:58

When I was first thinking about setting up shop, I remember speaking to Bill about it. This conversation was over 16 years ago, and I remember that day like it was yesterday.

I will be forever grateful for all his encouragement, his intelligence, his contribution to our profession.

Rocco
Rocco Piscatello
12.24.13 at 11:47

In 1995 Bill and Stephen came to the University of the Arts to speak and show their work. After a few years of in a slow-cooker of Swiss design, the work of Drentell Doyle Partners was, to me, life-changing. On a lark, I immediately applied for an internship, and ended-up canceling a European trip in the process. It was the best thing I had ever done. To be in the DDP studio in the summer of 1995 was pure inspiration — for reasons to long to list. A design firm at the top of their game would be enough for most to strive for. What I was unable to observe from my limited vantage point was how much more Bill still had in him to give the world of design. Thank you, Bill.
Marc S Levitt
12.24.13 at 01:55

Once, on the last leg of an around-the-world journey with his family, Bill emailed me from Capetown. It was his first visit to Africa, and he wanted to tell me that he was thinking of me/thought of me when he thought about Africa.

It was a wonderful gesture, but totally normal coming from the man eulogized here.
david stairs
12.24.13 at 02:00

In summer of 1994 Bill asked me to design a window display for the [then] new AIGA headquarters. We briefly met once or twice but I was struck by Bill’s brilliant mind. Since then, from a distance, I followed his trajectory with interest, notably his journey with his family through India. My sincere condolences to Jessica, Malcolm, and Fiona.
Willi Kunz
12.24.13 at 06:03

Thank you William for linking us up with some of the best minds and thinkers through design observer. It means a lot to individual like us sitting in the remote corner of the Himalayas trying talking and doing design. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the design observer team. Farewell!!
Sonam Tashi
12.25.13 at 06:33

So much is so much better for his having been here.
Gunnar Swanson
12.25.13 at 09:33

This is so shocking. May Bill rest in peace.
Manisha
12.26.13 at 03:17

So sad to see this news.

Bill was a generous mentor to me, offering advice and genuine insight to help guide my career. Just the fact that he would take my call while we were starting out, a small unknown studio, speaks to Bill's overall commitment to nurturing talent within our field in general.

My condolences to Jessica and his children-- he will be missed by our community.
Jake Barton
12.26.13 at 09:35

I can picture William walking up to his desk, looking at the Design Observer site, turning to us all with a smile and exclaiming "we got over 150 comments to our post!"
eileen@winterhouse
12.26.13 at 09:37

I'm terribly embarrassed that I'm only hearing now -- what horrible news. Bill was a friend and a hero and I'll miss him terribly. All my best to his entire family.
Khoi Vinh
12.27.13 at 09:31

"May his memory be as a blessing" is the condolence pronounced by Jewish mourners. Considering all that William Drenttel has given us as a thinker, writer, and communal leader, this state of grace has long been assured.

May it always be so for Jessica and his children, whose memories are far more valuable and even more blessed.
Scott-Martin Kosofsky
12.27.13 at 10:41

My sincerest condolences.
David Cabianca
12.29.13 at 02:57

Five years ago, when I was appointed editor of Places, one of the first things I did was to call Bill Drenttel to get his advice on how to transform a seasonal print publication into a fully digital journal.

I didn't really know Bill then, and I expected a brief conversation with maybe a few leads, but we talked for more than an hour and one of the many happy results has been an exciting and productive partnership between Design Observer and Places.

Working with Bill has been a pleasure and privilege; not only because he was extraordinarily talented and fiercely intelligent but also because he was so warm, generous and compassionate.

Heartfelt sympathy to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.
Nancy Levinson
12.30.13 at 04:10

For me, Bill will live on in the wonderful and thoughtful publications that he produced. I was the lucky recipient of a number of them, and they sit on my bookshelf like little treasures. Now I will pick them up and think of Bill and what a very kind, supportive, and intelligent person he was.
Rudy VanderLans
12.30.13 at 05:08

My heart goes out to Jessica, Malcolm and Fiona.

I was lucky to work onsite at Winterhouse with Bill and Jessica on the creation CIO Insight magazine. The studio was magical and secluded--a place to revel in and be active in the design process, creating a publication without any outside interruptions.

I will always remember my time there--when Bill & Jessica opened their studio, their home and their minds to me.

We will miss his brilliance and generosity.
nicole white
12.31.13 at 11:59

This design world became so much more . . .
Because he was here.

Deepest sympathy to dear Jessica and your children.
moira cullen
12.31.13 at 01:22

Bill was an extraordinary person, designer and writer.
And he made it look so easy. An inspiration. We will all miss him.
RitaSue Siegel
12.31.13 at 03:15

Fresh off the boat from college, I worked as Bill's admin at Drenttel Doyle Partners. That was 23-years ago. Under the watchful eyes of Bill, Tom and Stephen, I mastered the art of writing proposals (and rewriting them over and over again), became an expert in shifting gears as quickly as Bill churned out new ideas, and gained the understanding of what truly beautiful and effective design is all about.
Though I didn't know it at the time, Bill's training was the catalyst that sparked the launch of my own business in 2000. I thank Bill for being such a wonderful teacher and inspiration. Reading about Bill's career today, I am in awe of the many lives he touched. Thank you, Bill. I send my love to his family.
Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
12.31.13 at 06:39

I'm one of the many people who Bill and Jessica's orbit helped shape and define. I will sorely miss Bill's intense energy and intellect, and the ambitious and rigorous standards he set.

Jessica, I am thinking of you and your family, and send you much love.
Cheryl Towler Weese
01.02.14 at 01:51

Like many, I was fortunate enough to know Bill Drenttel as a friend and peer. He played such a vital part in advancing all that is important, essential and good about design. That is why it is so difficult to think of our community, of this profession, without him. I will dearly miss him.

It will be hard for any one of us to ever match the full extent of Bill's intelligence, generosity and dedication to design. We know the time and concern he put into advancing leadership initiatives, our causes, and our needs. We know the countless hours he spent behind the scenes where so much of the hard work is done, where there is so little that makes headlines and so much that makes a difference. Bill could take issue without taking offense, and he was always a gentleman. If that's an example of design at its best, let us hope that it always has a place in our future.

Some of us will remember Bill's dry --- often self-deprecating --- sense of humor, which proved that a person of serious purpose need never take himself too seriously. But as we honor Bill's memory, let's not forget the single quality that made him unique, the quality that made him powerful, made him beloved: his character as a great father and husband. I am certain that Jessica, Fiona and Malcolm will draw strength from his remarkable legacy of kindness and generosity.

The spirit of Bill's character is a powerful representation for what this season should be about. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the family.
Dana Arnett
01.02.14 at 04:11

Such sad news, I have admired Bill's work for a long time and was hoping to meet you both last year. I am deeply sad and moved by these posts.

Dear Jessica, Bill will be dearly remembered
my love to you and your beloved children
judith asher
01.02.14 at 05:36

I can't stop thinking about this tragic loss.

Over the years a number of legendary designers I've known and respected have passed away. However, Bill's contributions to the graphic design profession were especially unique, and the void that his absence leaves is profound.

Jessica, my prayers are with you and your children.
Charles S. Anderson
01.07.14 at 04:04

Reading through the previous comments is a testament to how many lives Bill touched and transformed.

He was catalyst, a force that brought people and ideas together, zapped them with energy, and then provided the space for them to flourish. The perfect example being this website where so many of us have tested out ideas, exchanged knowledge, and have been given the rare opportunity to explore our passions.

Bill was generous, intellectually fierce and driven: he was a visionary. He was also good fun. I recall an evening of drinks at a bar on a rainy evening in New York. He had spent the day hustling between meetings in order to drum up sponsorship for the Design Observer. It was supposed to be a quick drink but one scotch led to a quite a few. We talked about Paul Auster and Chris Marker, about his daughter Fiona’s drawing exchange with Massimo Vignelli, about his ambitions for this website. He combined the enthusiasm of a collage student, the sharpness of a CEO, and the warmth of an old buddy. It was the first time we had met one-to-one. I eventually ventured a few writing ideas. He encouraged me, and I was grateful.

It was still raining when we stepped outside. We shook hands in the doorway; we might have embraced. He furtively pulled out a cigarette, lit up, strode across the sidewalk, stood under a tree and called his wife, Jessica, on his cell phone. The collar of his jacket was flipped up rakishly. A car was angling out out of a parking space and for a moment the headlights lit him up like they were klieg lights. I remember thinking: I’d do anything for that guy.

He gave so much, both to the people he met and more generally to the design profession. Collectively, I hope we can continue his distinguished and powerful legacy.
Adam Harrison Levy
01.09.14 at 11:34

I once saw Bill speak at A Better World by Design conference.
I immediately thought to myself, what a wonderful person and mentor. I am proud to be part of the world of design that Bill has helped to shape.
Jeffrey Williamson
01.09.14 at 01:25

My deepest condolences.
Tap Kruavanichkit
01.19.14 at 02:24



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Design Observer is edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Julie Lasky and Nancy Levinson. William Drenttel is Editorial Director and Publisher.
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