Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (6) Posted 12.28.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rick Poynor

The Writings of William Drenttel



William Drenttel in the studio at Winterhouse. Image taken from Winterhouse: A Video by Andrew Sloat

I got to know Bill Drenttel a little by working with him on Design Observer, but many of the details I learned about his life, enthusiasms and career in design came from his essays for the site.

Bill was always modest and self-deprecating about these posts. In the early days, he wrote regularly for DO, though there was sometimes a sense, from the observations he made privately, that the writing was a struggle. I enjoyed his essays greatly and the same went for the often lengthy comments he added to his own and other writers’ posts. Bill was thoughtful, engaged, knowledgeable far beyond design, and deeply passionate about what he believed. He loved good writing and I found we had some favorite authors in common: the critic Susan Sontag (see his lovely tribute below) and the novelists Ian McEwan — an intriguing British surprise — and Paul Auster. Bill once made my evening by introducing me to Auster, who happened to be sitting nearby in a restaurant. It was a very Bill kind of moment, both networked and generous.

The 12 posts I have selected represent only a fraction of Bill’s writing for DO. They are a reminder of what is salted away in the archive and I hope they will inspire readers new and old to dip in. They cover his literary and intellectual interests, his education, his working life, his civic commitment, his bibliophilia, his curiosity, his sense of outrage (I once inadvertently found myself caught in his crosshairs — see “Whose Flag?”) and also, intimately bound to this militancy, his deeply held political convictions, which infuriated some DO visitors, not that this was ever going to stop him. Bill was a born campaigner, a social connector who needed to make things happen, and after 2008 most of his posts were written to publicize and support projects, awards and symposia initiated by Bill and Jessica at Winterhouse. I have to admit that I missed Bill the essayist. The earlier riffing on a theme took a back seat to organizational challenges, the furtherance of the causes he cared for, and the never-ending task of maintaining DO. These are hugely impressive achievements. Still, a lot of the man Bill was can be found, remembered and enjoyed in his essays.

The posts are listed in the order in which they were written. Those from DO’s early years lack images, which were lost during a site upgrade. I don’t think these lacunae harm the essays linked here, but some that I might otherwise have included were too dependent on images to work properly without them. I hope the pictures can be reinstated at some point.    


Defamiliarization: A Personal History
How do we speak about graphic design? What is our critical vocabulary? I'm not proposing an answer to these questions here, yet on a number of occasions I have found myself returning to this theory, wondering if, in fact, there is something in the discipline of defamiliarization that might occasionally serve us well in design criticism.
Read more

My Country Is Not A Brand
Content should not be an abstraction for designers, but rather something to be evaluated in specific and differentiated terms. It is in its specificity that designers need to begin making distinctions — distinctions which are not merely programmatic or pragmatic, but which carry with them implicit moral dimensions.
Read more

In Remembrance of Susan Sontag
She listened in the same way that she read: acutely and closely. There was little patience for a weak argument. She assumed, often wrongly, that you possessed a general level of knowledge that would challenge even most college-educated professionals. She assumed you knew a lot and that you were interested in everything precisely because she was so interested in everything.
Read more

Chris Marker: La Jetée
In 28 short minutes, and a few hundred still images, La Jetée competes in my mind with the most dramatic three-part, six-hour science fiction epic that Hollywood can serve up.
Read more 

Small Town Meetings
We live in Falls Village, Connecticut, the third smallest town in Connecticut with a population of 1,288. Some months ago, I attended a local zoning commission meeting to argue for a more modern approach to "home office" regulations. The previous regulations were vague and basically made our design business illegal, since we have more than family members working in our studio.
Read more

What Ever Happened to Half.com, Oregon?
Back in 1999, in its Netflix-like heyday, Half.com was hot. And then it did something quite remarkable. As a publicity stunt, it bought a town — somewhere in Oregon — and renamed it. This news made the wire services, The New York Times and Wired magazine. So what ever happened to Half.com, Oregon, the first dotcom city in the world?
Read more

One Man’s Literary Compass
I have seen many great rare book libraries, especially among members of The Grolier Club. But the libraries I most enjoy are working libraries, where the books have been used and cited and annotated — first editions marred with underlining, notes throughout their pages.
Read more  

The Presidential Rash
Last August, George kept saying NO. NO withdrawal from Iraq. NO to Nancy Pelosi. NO to Patrick Fitzgerald. He had to say NO a couple of times to Dick, just to remind him who was in charge. He even said NO to Laura on the evening of August 13, 2006. So who would be surprised that he woke up with the International NO Symbol branded on his leg?
Read more

Stephen Doyle: A Few Words
There are other practitioners of this art but Stephen Doyle has always seemed to me to be the most obsessed with making individual words meaningful, even transcendent, in a graphic form. If Op-Ed art is the new public form, Stephen has a calling; he is the master of the word made meaningful.
Read more 

I Was A Mad Man
And yes: the pitch was everything. I used to fly into two or three cities a week and give presentations which I only received an hour before at the airport. I'd be handed a reel and a dozen boards, an account executive or two, and together — with at least one "creative" in tow — our mission was to go sell whatever was in the bag.
Read more

Whose Flag?
Recently, I received a poster on a topic I care about, issued by an organization I respect. It's a call-for-entries for a flag design competition being hosted by Adbusters, on the topic of global citizenship. The jury consists of seven judges, four of whom are contributors to Design Observer, and all of whom are capable critics, respected in the field. The seven person jury, however, consists entirely of white men.
Read more

A Design-Oriented National Endowment for the Arts
Imagine a new Federal Artists Program under the NEA that supported collaboration between designers, artists and architects . . . The goal should simply be better federally-supported projects: not only spaces, buildings, bridges, murals, sculptures and monuments. But also tax forms, postage stamps, ballots, voting machines, government websites — and wind mill farms, car designs and highway signage systems.
Read more

Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Battle Hymn of the Tiger Cub


MoMA's Modern Women


The Irrational Exuberance of Rem Koolhaas


On My Shelf: Stefan Lorant's Lilliput


News/Print



RSS Subscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (6)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Thank you Rick.
debbie millman
12.28.13 at 12:02

I only met Bill once, when he saw on Facebook that I was going to be in Great Barrington and he invited me over for a drink. What a shock to see his photo on the Small Towns post and to think he is gone. I hope thought will be given as to how he will live on at Design Observer.
john massengale
12.28.13 at 05:13

Thanks to Betsy Vardell at Design Observer for restoring the images missing from some of Bill's earlier posts.
Rick Poynor
12.29.13 at 07:42

Thanks Rick and Betsy for a perfect way to remember Bill, the author, and especially in front of his screen.
Steven Heller
12.30.13 at 04:42

This collection is a good start - but i bet there are more . . . and a book too!
Tucker Viemeister
01.02.14 at 01:02

Thank you for this beautiful tribute. Perfect photo of Bill in the Winterhouse studio space that we designed together. This is exactly how I imagine him ... at his desk and in his beloved library.
Michael Morris
01.14.14 at 07:14



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Rick Poynor

Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
MG Publications, 2010

Jan van Toorn: Critical Practice
010 Publishers, 2008

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World
Birkhäuser Architecture, 2007

Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture
Princeton Architectural Press, 2006

Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design Since the Sixties
Yale University Press, 2005

More books by contributors >>