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Design History


04.08.14: Alexandra Lange

Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).
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04.02.14: Bryn Smith

De Vinne at the Grolier Club in New York
A review of the Grolier Club’s quiet, yet noteworthy exhibition, “The Dean of American Printers: Theodore Low De Vinne and The Art Preservative of All Arts”.
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03.23.14: John Foster

The World of Tomorrow in 1939
Seventy five years ago this April, the 1939 New York World’s Fair (“Building the World of Tomorrow”) opened to the public in Flushing Meadows, NY.
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03.06.14: Alexandra Lange

Not Afraid of Noise: Mexico City Stories
A photographic tour of Mexico City, house by house, wall by wall.
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02.11.14: Alexandra Lange

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.
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02.02.14: John Foster

Nineteenth Century Menu Covers
A gallery of 19th Century Menu Covers curated by John Foster.
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02.01.14: Alexandra Lange

Criticism = Love
Why you have to love design to be a critic.
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01.16.14: Tarpley Hitt

Speaking Typography: Letter as Image as Sound
Just as a poet weaves the intent of his poem into its sound and craft, so did Lissitzky, as designer, hope to marry intent with the typography and the design of the book itself. But did he?
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01.14.14: Alexandra Lange

Playing With Design: Fredun Shapur
Add Fredun Shapur to the pantheon of modern designers making winning and sculptural objects for children.
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01.02.14: Owen Edwards

For Better or Worse, This Design Endures
Owen Edwards on the enduring qualities of the AK-47.
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12.30.13: Alexandra Lange

Year of the Women
A year-end wrap-up of my favorite stories. The common theme? Women and the making of design.
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11.08.13: Alexandra Lange

L.A. Loves Deborah Sussman
A Kickstarter for an upcming exhibition on the wotk of Deborah Sussman in Los Angeles.
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10.24.13: Chris Pullman

Remembering Alvin Eisenman
Alvin Eisenman received the AIGA Medal in October, 1991. Chris Pullman, a student in Eisenman's class of 1966 — and a member of the faculty ever since — gave these remarks at the event.
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10.14.13: Alexandra Lange

MoMA's Modern Women
The Museum of Modern Art's new installation, "Designing Modern Women," could have made a bolder statement about the transformative role of women in 20th century design and architecture.
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10.03.13: Alexandra Lange

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, Freelancer
One of the incidental pleasures of Judith Major’s new book on pioneering architecture critic Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer is the glimpse it gives into the life of a cultural journalist at the turn of the past century.
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09.24.13: Alexandra Lange

Learning New Tricks
Harvard doesn't have any design courses, but I've found new friends in "material culture." What it's like for a critic to go back to school.
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09.07.13: Rick Poynor

Bohumil Stepan's Gallery of Erotic Humor
Mapp Editions has released a digital version of Bohumil Stepan’s Galerie (1968), a surreal collection of collages and drawings about the relationship between the sexes.
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08.30.13: Alexandra Lange

A World of Paste and Paper
Today's obsession with digital renderings sparked two exhibitions that suggest a handmade, but far from quaint, corrective.
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07.29.13: Rick Poynor

Soft Machine's Dysfunctional Mechanism
An alternative cover for the French release of The Soft Machine’s first album alludes to the history of the machine in 20th-century art.
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07.23.13: Alexandra Lange

Nevermind the Masterpiece
What's your "Masterpiece of Everyday New York"? A broken umbrella? A shirtwaist? Discarded gum?
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07.08.13: Alexandra Lange

How To Unforget
The straightforward logic of "A Handbook of California Design" makes it the first step in unforgetting two generations of makers.
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07.01.13: Alexandra Lange

An ABC of the ABCs
Were you a child? Did you read books? Then the NYPL's "ABC of It" serves as a portal back in time.
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06.30.13: John Foster

An Archive of Czech Film Posters
Accidental Mysteries for June 30, 2013 showcases an archive of Czech film posters.
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06.21.13: Alexandra Lange

Every Little Thing
Cranbrook: A campus where the designers have thought of everything.
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06.04.13: Alexandra Lange

Praise the Partner(s)
Salute Denise Scott Brown because she deserves it, but let's not forget the other partners.
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06.02.13: John Foster

A Philatelist’s Dream
This week's Accidental Maysteries focuses on a Philatelist’s dream.
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05.28.13: Alexandra Lange

The Fork and the World: Design 101
If you had to explain design to the uninitiated, where would you start?
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05.26.13: John Foster

Chinese Propaganda Posters
Accidental Mysteries for May 26, 2013 focuses on vintage Chinese propaganda posters.
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05.18.13: Alexandra Lange

Dream Weaver
On a retrospective of the work of midcentury sculptor Ruth Asawa at Christie's, her first solo show in New York in 50 years.
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05.15.13: Rick Poynor

The Conceptual Posters of Boris Bucan
Boris Bućan’s little known early posters, produced in Zagreb, were reductive, sharply defined, cerebral and enigmatic.
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05.14.13: Alexandra Lange

Anxiety, Culture and Commerce
Is the museum store a distraction or an enticement?
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05.05.13: John Foster

Enjoying TypeToy
This week's Accidental Mysteries highlights the blog TypeToy — an online collection of mid-century design and typography created by Aaron Eiland.
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04.27.13: Rick Poynor

On the Trail of The Eater of Darkness
The Eater of Darkness is a collision of science fiction, murder mystery, Surrealism and experimental typography.
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04.24.13: Alexandra Lange

Beyond Gorgeous
Is prettiness a distraction? Yes, when it comes to taking Alexander Girard seriously.
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04.21.13: John Foster

The Deep Roots of Modernism
Accidental Mysteries for April 21, 2013 focuses on the Deep Roots of Modernism.
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04.03.13: Alexandra Lange

Portlandia + Timelessness
No better place to consider what looks timeless now than downtown Portland.
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03.10.13: Rick Poynor

Utopian Image: Politics and Posters
By celebrating political posters for their design do we collude with the established order they seek to challenge?
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03.07.13: Alexandra Lange

After the Museum: The Tumblr
To create metamuseum.tumblr.com, a multi-museum, multi-curator Tumblr @MADMuseum, I saw it as a kind of curatorial game: Show Me What You’ve Got.
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03.05.13: Mark Lamster

Inventing the Modern Library
A new exhibition of Henri Labrouste, the French architect who invented the modern library.
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02.15.13: Rick Poynor

A Dictionary of Surrealism and the Graphic Image
An alphabetical guide to graphic designers influenced by Surrealism and to some key Surrealist concepts.
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01.15.13: Rick Poynor

Socialism and Modernity: A Hidden History
A new book documents the unfamiliar history of socialism and modernity in graphic design from former Yugoslavia.
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01.08.13: Alexandra Lange

Kicked A Building Lately?
That question, the title of the 1976 collection of Ada Louise Huxtable’s work for the New York Times, embodies her approach to criticism.
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01.07.13: Alexandra Lange

George Nelson in Two Dimensions
Ignore the Coconuts and Marshmallows, admire George Nelson's modular graphics.
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12.19.12: Alexandra Lange

Bad Taste True Confessions: Erté
True confessions about my own bad taste. I loved Erté. Did you?
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12.03.12: Alexandra Lange

Reintroducing the Tilletts
If you are interested in textile design, mid-century style, or creative partnerships, I would urge you to go visit “The World of D.D. and Leslie Tillett” at the Museum of the City of New York.
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11.27.12: Mark Lamster

The Other Ezra Stoller
No achitect is unfamiliar with Ezra Stoller, the pioneering photographer whose clinical eye defined modernism and shaped our vision of the built world for much of the twentieth century.
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11.12.12: Leonard Koren

Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing
An except from Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing by Leonard Koren.
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11.07.12: Alexandra Lange

“I Have Seen the Future”: Designer as Showman
The exhibition ldquo;I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America,” hits all the high spots of industrial design within a single man’s oeuvre.
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10.31.12: Alexandra Lange

Dot Supreme
On the enduring power of the simplest shape, from corporations to children’s books.
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10.19.12: Louise Sandhaus

Merle Armitage: Daddy of a Sunbaked Modernism
Louise Sandhaus's profile of book designer Merle Armitage.
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10.14.12: Alexandra Lange

Shopping With Sandro, and Other Tumblr Delights
Digitizing the Miller House Collection, and other museum and corporate visual archives on Tumblr.
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10.08.12: Alexandra Lange

Having Fun at the Museum
Blocks, rocket ships, playgrounds and balls: the hidden meaning of playthings at the Museum of Modern Art.
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09.27.12: Alexandra Lange

Let's Talk About Women in Architecture
A panel on Women in Design, and questions about whether such panels should exist.
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08.28.12: Alexandra Lange

Art Matters to Architecture
In Indianapolis, a restored Milton Glaser mural allows us to see its Brutalist home as its architect intended: with color!
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08.09.12: Rick Poynor

Sending Signals about Political Graphics
Issue two of Signal, a journal about the visual languages used around the world to support political protest.
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07.30.12: Rick Poynor

Pierre Faucheux and Le Livre de Poche
A masterclass in book cover design: Pierre Faucheux’s work for the French paperback publisher Livre de poche.
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06.18.12: Rick Poynor

Updating the Maps of Graphic Design History
Graphic Design: History in the Writing is a heartening sign that graphic design history is attracting a new generation.
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06.15.12: Alexandra Lange

The Charismatic Megafauna of Design
Identifying the "charismatic megafauna" of design and the critical uses of their popularity.
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06.07.12: Rick Poynor

On My Shelf: A History of the Machine
Erik Nitsche’s New Illustrated Library of Science and Invention is a landmark of modern, low-cost, mass-market, educational book design.
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06.04.12: Michael Bierut

I Love the 80s
Miami Vice: the quintessential postmodern design artifact, in all its glory and all its disgrace.
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05.23.12: Rick Poynor

Jan van Toorn: The World in a Calendar
Jan van Toorn’s provocative 1972/73 calendar for the printer Mart.Spruijt has been reprinted by a Dutch design company.
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05.11.12: Alexandra Lange

The Mother of Us All
Reyner Banham on Esther McCoy: "She speaks as she finds, with sympathy and honesty, and relevantly to the matter at hand." Could there be a better definition of the role of the critic?
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04.17.12: Alexandra Lange

Carlo Scarpa, Quilter
Olivetti and Doges: How Carlo Scarpa updated the Venetian treasure chest.
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04.06.12: Rick Poynor

The Enduring Influence of Richard Hollis
An exhibition of Richard Hollis’s work provides the first public opportunity to assess the entire shape of his output.
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04.05.12: Alexandra Lange

Frank Lloyd Wright + Katniss Everdeen
On photographing architecture as sculpture and telling stories via architecture.
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03.31.12: Jessica Helfand

Ezra Winter Project: Chapter Three
In his first post-Academy professional pursuit, Ezra Winter is hired to design camouflage for the United States Shipping Board, using a reductive visual vocabulary of bold stripes and patches of solid color that is far closer to the language of Klee and Kandinsky than of the Renaissance masters he loves.
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03.26.12: Alexandra Lange

'Deco Japan' + Designing Women
The Japan Society's new exhibition "Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920-1945" displays the surprising globalism of this little-known period in Japanese design, when pent-up post-1923-earthquake desires for new goods and new traditions met up with a new openness to Western arts and the rise of industrialization
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03.02.12: Rick Poynor

Motif Magazine: The World Made Visible
Motif magazine, founded in 1958, anticipated a new way of seeing, documenting and appreciating the “visible world.”
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02.13.12: Alexandra Lange

Round Thermostats and Crystal Lanterns, Revisited
Old designs, new tricks: updates on lawsuits filed against the new Nest thermometer, and on behalf of midcentury masterpiece Manufacturers Hanover.
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01.17.12: Alexandra Lange

A Memorial to (Random Access) Memory
What does "RAMAC Park" mean to you?
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01.05.12: James Biber

Vestige(s) of Empire
Comparing the repurposing of two monuments to lost Empire: London's Commonwealth Institute and Berlin's Palast der Republik.
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01.01.12: Rick Poynor

On My Shelf: Jean-Luc Godard Anthologized
Lawrence Ratzkin’s cover design for an early anthology about Jean-Luc Godard is almost an anti-cover.
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12.22.11: Alexandra Lange

Girard the Magnificent
Is it enough to be gorgeous? If so, Todd Oldham and Keira Coffee's 15-pound Alexander Girard wins Book of the Year.
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12.14.11: Alexandra Lange

Reinventing the Thermostat
What the designer of the new Nest thermostat didn't learn from Henry Dreyfuss.
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12.12.11: Eugenia Bell

Eliot Noyes
Eliot Noyes' under-recognized reputation deserves appreciation.
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12.07.11: Alexandra Lange

When Modernists Get Crafty
The Museum of Arts and Design's Crafting Modernism makes a good case for bringing back macrame.
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12.01.11: Alexandra Lange

Cooking with the Eameses
A new book chronicles one family's life with nine pieces of Eames.
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11.22.11: Alexandra Lange

Decorating Brutalism: The Interiors of Kevin Roche
How do you decorate a brutalist building? For architect Kevin Roche, the answer was brown, mirrors, and trees.
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10.27.11: Owen Edwards

A Demanding Man: Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was more like a great architect than a corporate CEO. Yet, there are those who ask, "Isn't the ultimate measure of a human being the way they treat other people?" In the case of Steve Jobs, this requires some reflection.
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10.19.11: Alexandra Lange

TWA: Still Kicking
Not a disappointment: a first thrilling visit to Eero Saarinen's legendary flight center.
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10.16.11: Rick Poynor

Did We Ever Stop Being Postmodern?
Like it or not, argues the V&A's exhibition about postmodernism and design, we are all postmodern now.
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09.22.11: Rick Poynor

Jan Svankmajer and the Graphic Uncanny
Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design opens at the Kunstal in Rotterdam on September 24.
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09.13.11: Alexandra Lange

Thinking in Tumblr
Don't write a book, make a Tumblr.
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08.10.11: Alexandra Lange

Reading in Public
A new book club with an unusual topic: architecture and design.
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07.27.11: Rick Poynor

Andrzej Klimowski: Transmitting the Image
Andrzej Klimowski, author of a new book, On Illustration, has used the medium to create a compelling alternative reality.
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07.15.11: Alexandra Lange

Making Dieter Rams
Why is Braun still the best?
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07.13.11: Rick Poynor

The House That Design Journalism Built
Printed design magazines continue to fail and close. Where does that leave design writing and criticism?
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06.28.11: Alexandra Lange

Welcome to the Hall of Femmes
How should we celebrate women in design, past, present, future?
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06.28.11: Rick Poynor

Speculative Fiction, Speculative Design
The cover of England Swings SF is one of those prescient imaginative leaps that vaulted so far it disappeared from the historical record.
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06.15.11: Alexandra Lange

Let's Go! World's Fairs of the 1930s
"Designing Tomorrow" at the National Building Museum showcases the optimisim, futurism and dreamy design ideas of the 1930s.
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05.10.11: Julie Lasky

Chandigarh to Create Inventory of Corbu/Jeanneret Furniture
A committee convened by the government of Chandigarh, India, is assessing the value of site-specific furniture pieces designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret a half-century ago.
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05.10.11: Rick Poynor

Books Every Graphic Designer Should Read
The Designers & Books website has published my list of 20 indispensable books about graphic design.
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05.07.11: Rick Poynor

Paul Stiff, the Reader's Champion
For the late Paul Stiff, design educator, writer, editor and skeptic, typography must never neglect to serve the reader.
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05.02.11: Steven Heller

Paul Rand, Painter
Paul Rand had more in common with Paul Klee than a four letter first and last name. He too, painted.
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04.29.11: Alexandra Lange

In T: High Fiber
"Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010" opens new territory in midcentury design – upholstery – and shows us more than a few new female designers.

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04.25.11: Ernest Beck

Hard Times for Hard Copy
Why AIGA almost scuttled its most venerable design competition: 50 Books/50 Cover.
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04.11.11: Alexandra Lange

Making the Modern House Home
The Miller House, designed by Saarinen, Roche, Girard and Kiley, has been largely out of sight to the design world since its publication in House & Garden in 1959. Until now that is...
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04.07.11: Rick Poynor

Starowieyski's Graphic Universe of Excess
In Franciszek Starowieyski’s posters, desire, sexuality, monstrosity, madness and death conjoin in some of the most outrageous images found in graphic design.
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04.01.11: Rick Poynor

Wim Crouwel: The Ghost in the Machine
Far from suppressing his own creative personality in the way he advised, Wim Crouwel was expressing it to the full.
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03.25.11: Rick Poynor

An Unknown Master of Poster Design
Karel Teissig might just be the best poster designer you have never heard of.
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02.28.11: Alexandra Lange

Something Old, Something Green
The Ball jar: could this be our classless package?
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02.17.11: Steven Heller

Hitler’s Poster Handbook
Hitler’s Poster Handbook: a follow-up to “The Master Race’s Graphic Masterpiece.”
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01.27.11: Alexandra Lange

Objects Fall From the Sky
What's more important: crediting a designer or the designer credited?
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01.23.11: Chappell Ellison

Ultraflo: Plumbing of the Future
Once upon a time, Ultraflo was the plumbing of the future.
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01.20.11: Mark Lamster

Gerd Arntz: Design Icon
Gerd Arntz: A design icon who designed icons.
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01.17.11: Alexandra Lange

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Eameses?
Alexandra Lange reviews the book The Story of Eames Furniture, by Marilyn Neuhart with John Neuhart (Gestalten, 2010).
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01.14.11: Rick Poynor

In Praise of the East European Film Poster
Czech film posters of the 1960s are some of the most extraordinary graphic creations ever put on paper.
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12.07.10: Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen

Designer as Author
In 1954, Alvin Lustig gave a lecture titled “What Is a Designer?” at the Advertising Typographers Association of America. It was his first speech after he lost his eyesight.
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12.06.10: Alexandra Lange

Little Boxes
AMAC Plastic Boxes are back at the Container Store: a rainbow classic sold at Design Research, part of the MoMA design collection, and starting at $0.39.
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12.02.10: Alexandra Lange

Networks Before the Internet
A new exhibit at the Noguchi Museum shows how small and intertwined were the worlds of mid-century art, design and architecture.
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11.05.10: Rick Poynor

Design Writing from Down Under
A new issue of The National Grid arrives in the mail. You’ve never seen it? You are missing a treat.
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09.29.10: Alexandra Lange

This is A Thrill...
Design Research reviewed in the New York Times.
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09.28.10: Alexandra Lange

Yummy!
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition Appetite, curated by Alexander Tochilovsky at the Herb Lubalin Center at Cooper Union, not least because it was bite-sized.
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09.21.10: Alexandra Lange

The Still-Expanding Airport
In 1958, after some failed attempts by the Saarinen office to make a stop-motion film of their model for Dulles Airport, Eero Saarinen called upon his old friend Charles Eames to help him out.
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09.20.10: Joshua Glenn

The "X" Factor
A slideshow features fifteen of Joshua Glenn's favorite Cold War-era "X" paperbacks.
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09.17.10: Steven Heller

Heller on Heller
Vignelli Celebration: Steven Heller talks about the redemptive qualities of having the same name as Vignelli's Hellerware.
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09.16.10: Jessica Helfand

The Kindness of Strangers
Vignelli Celebration: If charity begins at home, how can we proclaim new and progressive agendas of social change without examining ourselves, our students, our profession?
READ MORE

09.15.10: Michael Bierut

Dot Zero
A look inside little-known design publication Dot Zero, the house organ of pioneering design consultancy Unimark, featuring a slide show and an interview with its designer, Massimo Vignelli.
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09.15.10: Steven Heller

Vignelli’s Herald (or Heralding Vignelli)
Vignelli Celebration: Steven Heller remembers the Herald.
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09.14.10: Michael Bierut

Mr. Vignelli's Map
Vignelli Celebration: Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York City subway map is a beautiful example of information design that was ultimately rejected by its users.
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09.13.10: Michael Bierut

Lella Vignelli
In my ten years at Vignelli Associates, I came to understand the relationship between the two brilliant designers who ran the office. Massimo would tend to play the role of idea generator. Lella served as the critic, editing the ideas and shaping the best ones to fit the solution.
READ MORE

09.13.10: Debbie Millman

Interview with Massimo Vignelli
Vignelli Celebration: Debbie Millman interviews Massimo Vignelli.
READ MORE

09.12.10: AIGA

Lella and Massimo Vignelli: The 1982 AIGA Medal
Vignelli Celebration: In 1982 Massimo and Lella received the AIGA Medal for their many contributions to the design world, here is an article which originally appeared in the 1983 issue of AIGA Graphic Design USA 4.
READ MORE

09.12.10: The Editors

Lella and Massimo Vignelli: A Celebration
Vignelli Celebration: The opening and dedication of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, set to open September 16, 2010 at Rochester Institute of Technology.
READ MORE

09.10.10: Alexandra Lange

Make It Bigger
Anthropologie, the latest tenant of the Design Research Headquarters, simply doesn't get it.
READ MORE

08.23.10: Jessica Helfand

In the Palm of Your Hand: Dexterity Puzzles
A selection of rare dexterity puzzles from the personal collection of Jessica Helfand.
READ MORE

08.21.10: Alexandra Lange

D/R, Back in the Boston Globe
Robert Campbell, the Boston Globe’s architecture critic, takes a look at Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes and declares that Cambridge lived the modern life first.
READ MORE

08.16.10: Alexandra Lange

On DO: When Shopping Was Sociable
What do Design Research, the Apple stores and the Brooklyn Flea have in common?
READ MORE

08.15.10: Alexandra Lange

When Shopping Was Sociable
Design Research and Apple, a comparison of the two stores that have brought design to the masses.
READ MORE

07.26.10: Alexandra Lange

Culture War Begins at Home
I got this polite but slightly alarming email in response to my Opinionator piece "Easier Living, By Design," on the influence of Mary and Russel Wright.
READ MORE

07.24.10: Alexandra Lange

NYT Opinionator: Easier Living Through Design
The easier living the Wrights described — both in the book and their lines of domestic products — was revolutionary.
READ MORE

06.28.10: Alexandra Lange

Bag Ladies
John Ptak explores the history of the handbag after seeing a photo of 1920 woman, who couldn’t seem to put one down.
READ MORE

06.14.10: Alexandra Lange

Make Me A Mini Monograph
The thing I found most depressing was the sense I got that one could only write a book about designers that were already famous.
READ MORE

06.10.10: Alexandra Lange

Pomo Time Machine
I’m writing more about Warren Platner, my favorite terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible architect.
READ MORE

06.04.10: Alexandra Lange

Marigold, Goldenrod, Egg Yolk
I think of this color yellow as being so 1960, like Kodak Carousel boxes, made famous all over again by Mad Men.
READ MORE

04.08.10: Alexandra Lange

On Knowing Where The End Is
I showed my NYU architecture criticism class the recent documentary on Julius Shulman, Visual Acoustics, last week.
READ MORE

03.05.10: Alexandra Lange

Mad Swatches
One of the aspects of Alexander Girard’s career that is most newsworthy, is the restoration and reopening of the J. Irwin and Xenia Miller House.
READ MORE

02.06.10: Alexandra Lange

On The Moment: Plastic Fantastic
“Bakelite in Yonkers: Pioneering the Age of Plastics,” an exhibition at the Hudson River Museum, showcases 300 objects from the 1910s to the early 21st century.
READ MORE

01.25.10: Alexandra Lange

Suburban Design
Lester Beall, was always my favorite of the cadre of mid-century corporate identity designers for the color, energy and sheer American-ness of his design.
READ MORE

01.20.10: Alexandra Lange

Hands-On: The Gropius Touch
I couldn’t believe no one else had noticed that Ati Gropius Johansen was coming to the MoMA, and it seemed like a piece of history.
READ MORE

01.12.10: Michael Bierut

Designing the Unthinkable
For more than fifty years, there have been arguments against nuclear proliferation. The Doomsday Clock translates all the arguments to a simple visual analogy.
READ MORE

01.07.10: Alexandra Lange

On DO: Skating on the Edge of Taste
The American Restaurant in Kansas City, designed by Warren Platner, is subject of a long essay on that architect and interior designer’s career.
READ MORE

01.06.10: Mark Lamster

Ralph Rapson: Forgotten Hero of Design Merch
If you're familiar with Cambridge, or just Harvard Square, you probably know Ben Thompson's wonderful Design Research building, now celebrating its 40th anniversary.
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12.14.09: Steven Heller

Harsh Words from T.M. Cleland
Design criticism may be comparatively new, but critical designers are not.
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12.02.09: Alexandra Lange

DWR = D/R?
Like D/R in the late 1970s, DWR is suffering from over-expansion, loss of specialness, and the lack of a leader with personal design vision.
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11.25.09: Alexandra Lange

This Is Just To Say
From the Florence Knoll Bassett papers: congratulations on their marriage from Ray and Charles.
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11.12.09: Alexandra Lange

Love & Architecture
My somewhat racy, somewhat serious take on one of the first architecture power couples, Aline and Eero Saarinen
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11.04.09: Alexandra Lange

Back to School
If you stand in a certain spot in the second room of the MoMA’s new exhibition Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity you can see Marcel Breuer becoming modern.
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11.02.09: Alexandra Lange

Bauhaus + Betsy
New York Magazine covers two of my favorite topics: the Bauhaus and Betsy-Tacy books.
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10.28.09: Alexandra Lange

D/R Love
There is much online excitement about the D/R exhibition, opening tomorrow.
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10.27.09: Jessica Helfand

All Things Matter
His name was Herbert Matter, a man even the ornery Paul Rand described as possibly the least pompous person on the planet. When I was a junior in college, he taught me how to make a Photogram. He was 74 years old.
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10.22.09: Alexandra Lange

Love & Architecture
When Aline met Eero in January 1953, she was the associate art editor and critic for the New York Times. A little over a year later she would become Aline B. Saarinen.
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10.19.09: Mark Lamster

Peter Paul Rubens: Graphic Designer
In his day, Rubens was also revered as a diplomat, an architect, a classical scholar, and even a graphic designer.
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10.14.09: Steven Heller

Ramparts: Agent of Change
Ramparts magazine has been dead for almost two decades, but to look back at it, it stands out as one to remember.
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09.28.09: Alexandra Lange

D/R Rising
Jane Thompson, Ben Thompson’s widow and former partner, has organized an installation with a number of former D/R employees.
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09.26.09: Alexandra Lange

Lost Research
My nostalgia for box numbers and call slips was provoked by the news in yesterday’s Times that years of files from industrial designer Gilbert Rohde’s office were found in an unpaid storage unit,
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09.21.09: Alexandra Lange

Nothing Runs Like A...
A note about Deere & Company’s foray into the consumer market.
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07.29.09: Ars Libri Ltd

Hungarian Rhapsody
This collection is the record of the immensely productive life of György Kepes.
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07.29.09: Steven Heller

A Good Trademark: A Historical Perspective
Textile Brand Names Dictionary, included were more than 4,000 names of fibers, yarns, fabrics, and garments registered with the United States Patent Office between 1934 and 1947.
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05.28.09: Angela Riechers

Hot Ticket
To see a play or movie, or ride the Twentieth Century Limited, you needed a ticket, and the development of ticket-dispensing machines paralleled the growth of popular culture.

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05.12.09: Steven Heller

How Much Is That Artifact in the Window?
Many of us have bought design objects for pleasure and / or scholarship. We’ve paid varying amounts — high and low. But what or who determines the value of a design artifact?
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04.15.09: Lorraine Wild

Will Burtin: Design and Science
Will Burtin’s story is presented in Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin. Like all of the emigré “pioneers,” Burtin brought an amazing amount of talent and energy (along with plain old ambition) to his modernist approach.
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04.08.09: Mark Lamster

Thomas Jefferson: (Henpecked) Jewish President
That Thomas Jefferson had an African-American lover is by now common knowledge. Few, however, realize he had a Jewish grandmother, a fact too often neglected by chauvinistic historians.
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03.03.09: Gabrielle Esperdy

Less Is More Again — A Manifesto
We have amazing electronic tools at our disposal; culture has modernized at staggering, computer processed speeds. But the tools are abused and cultural change is stupefying. Things are over-designed because new tools must be exploited; here, design says “look what I can do!”
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03.02.09: Alexandra Lange

Standard Operating Procedure
From the earliest days of the High Line hoopla, the park’s future was literally entwined with that of Andre Balazs’s first ground-up hotel, the Standard New York. The reason the Standard is so good is that it is a 21st Century mash-up of one of Marcel Breuer’s most destructive ideas and one of Morris Lapidus’s best tweaks of the U.N. model of modernism.
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01.05.09: Virginia Smith

Two Dutch Logos
There are so many graphic designers in The Hague that it was a surprise when the city commissioned its logo from Anton Corbijn, a music video and film director.
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11.03.08: Andrew Blauvelt

Towards Relational Design
Is there any overarching philosophy or connective thread that joins so many of today’s most interesting and increasingly diverse designs from the fields of architecture, graphic, and product design? I believe we are in the a third major phase in modern design history, moving towards an era dominated by relationally-based design activities.
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10.02.08: Jessica Helfand

The Posters of Padua
In the sixteenth century the University of Padua initiated a custom that has prevailed to the present day — a custom which boasts, as it turns out, a very prominent design component.
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10.01.08: Steven Heller

Charles Peignot: Man Behind the Faces
This is but one example of Charles Peignot’s influence on type and typography, which made his professional life so important to the history of design...
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09.02.08: Thomas de Monchaux

Remembering Yves St. Laurent
So what can we learn from the presence of fashion within design, and of design within fashion? For example, and more precisely, what can we learn from the work of Yves St. Laurent, the iconic French fashion designer who passed away this Summer?
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08.28.08: Alice Twemlow

A Look Back at Aspen, 1970
The 1970 International Design Conference at Aspen provided the setting for a collision between two very different conceptions of design. The IDCA board members who organized the conference and a number of art and environmental action groups, many of which where from Berkeley, California and had made the 1,000-odd mile journey to Colorado in chartered buses.
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08.11.08: Glen Cummings

Athos Bulcão, The Artist of Brasilia
Athos Bulcão was a public artist, interior designer, muralist, furniture and graphic designer who collaborated with Oscar Niemeyer and others to define Brasilia — one of the 20th century’s most radical and controversially received urban experiments. Bulcão died on July 31 at the age of 90, and left behind an astonishing body of work.
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08.07.08: Jessica Helfand

First In A Series: Cartophily
Mostly unified by their one-to-two format, cigarette cards revealed countless variation in topic and scope, style and personality, seriousness of purpose and goofball whimsy. If the ardent collector defines the amalgamation of disparate items by retaining a fundamental organizing principle, then what is it, exactly, that guides the maker? And enthralls the viewer?
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07.02.08: Steven Heller

Vanity Fair Type: 1930 Style

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06.16.08: Ettore Sottsass

When I Was a Very Small Boy
Ettore Sottsass: "Everything we did was entirely absorbed in the act of doing it, in wanting to do it, and everything we did stayed ultimately inside a single extraordinary sphere of life. The design was life itself, it was the day from dawn till dusk, it was the waiting during the night..."
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06.16.08: Rick Poynor, Adrian Shaughnessy

We Found It at the Movies: Part I
Rick Poynor: Looking back, it’s surprising how long we’d known each other before it emerged that we shared an obsession for film. 
Adrian Shaughnessy: Your obsession with film came as a surprise. Before lending you the Herzog box set I had you tagged as a visual arts man, not a cineaste.

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06.16.08: Rick Poynor, Adrian Shaughnessy

We Found It at the Movies: Part II
The second installment of Rick Poynor and Adrian Shaughnessy’s conversation about film. Can genre movies express a personal vision? Are films blurring into other media? And what’s the state of film culture today?
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06.05.08: Steven Heller

Branding Youth in the Totalitarian State
Youth may be wasted on the young, but under the totalitarian state they were not forgotten. For the state to prosper, youth was turned into a sub-brand that both followed and perpetuated the dominant ideology. Graphics played a huge role in making this happen in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union.
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06.02.08: Denise Gonzales Crisp, Rick Poynor

A Critical View of Graphic Design History
Now comes yet another historical survey, Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish. Denise Gonzales Crisp and Rick Poynor have been marking pages, making notes and exchanging views...
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05.22.08: Steven Heller

O.H.W. Hadank
Paul Rand held Hadank in the highest esteem because he practiced modernist formal principles even though he did not follow its dogma or style. And most important, as Rand said “Hadank was then and always an original. A profile of O.H.W. Hadank by Steven Heller...
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05.13.08: Michael Bierut

Fitting
Charles Brannock only invented one thing in his life: that metal thing in shoe stores that the salesman uses to measure your feet. Is it the most perfect invention of the 20th century?
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05.03.08: Jessica Helfand

National Scrapbooking Day
"Scrapbooks (like these) remind us that creating an album from saved matter does not necessarily provide an accurate self-portrait..." An essay by Jessica Helfand from her new book on the occasion of National Scrapbooking Day.
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04.22.08: Adam Harrison Levy

The Passion of George Lois
How adman George Lois chronicled the sixties with his cover designs for Esquire magazine, with a peek behind the scenes at the legendary famous Muhammad-Ali-as-St. Sebastian photoshoot.
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04.10.08: Steven Heller

Underground Mainstream
Today, designers for mainstream advertising companies, weaned on alternative approaches, have folded the underground into the mainstream and called it cool.
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02.14.08: Jessica Helfand

Animal Magnetism
Magazines are the sole industry in which you cannot help but judge a book by its cover.
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01.24.08: Steven Heller

Wilhelm Deffke: Modern Mark Maker
The modern corporate logo was born in Germany shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, the direct descendent of burgher crests, coats of arms, trade and factory marks. One of the most prolific of these mark makers is barely recognized in design histories today, except for the occasional footnote. His name is Wilhelm F. Deffke...
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01.03.08: Jessica Helfand

Remembering Paul Rand
This essay, a rememberance of Paul Rand, is taken from Michael Kroeger's book, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, which will be published on January 3 by Princeton Architectural Press.
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11.11.07: Michael Bierut

How To Be Ugly
Whether reactionary spasm or irrevocable paradigm shift, the new trend is making design that looks ugly. The trick is to surround it with enough attitude so it will be properly perceived not as the product of everyday incompetence, but rather as evidence of one's attunement with the zeitgeist.
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10.16.07: Jessica Helfand

Science and Design: The Next Wave
Scientists probe and manipulate and channel and divide; they split and fuse and spike and engineer; but most of all, they look. As a designer, to spend any time with scientists is to become at once profoundly aware of our similarities and devastated by that which divides us.
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09.18.07: Dmitri Siegel

Designers and Dilettantes
Dmitri Siegel discusses graphic design authorship and the impending release of Elliott Earls' new film, The Sarany Motel.
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08.16.07: Michael Bierut

Flat, Simple and Funny: The World of Charley Harper
A tribute to the late designer Charley Harper, "the only wildlife artist who has never been compared to Audubon and never will be."
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08.14.07: Adrian Shaughnessy

Tony Wilson: The Postmodern Mythmaker
Tony Wilson, founder of Factory records, died August 10. Wilson had many claims to fame: he was a successful television presenter; a music industry impresario of flawed and maverick genius; and he was one of the shrewdest patrons of graphic design there has ever been.
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07.30.07: Adrian Shaughnessy

Barnbrook Bible: A Graphic Autobiography
Jonathan Barnbrook's new book, Barnbrook Bible, ranks amongst the most ambitious personal projects undertaken by any graphic designer...
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07.25.07: Michael Bierut

Donal McLaughlin's Little Button
In 1945, architect-turned-graphic-designer Donal McLaughlin designed a lapel pin for a conference in 1945 that became one of the most widely seen symbols in the world: the emblem for the United Nations. Tomorrow is his 100th birthday.
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07.21.07: Steven Heller

Leon Friend: One Teacher, Many Apostles
Leon Friend (born in Warsaw in 1902) was a career art teacher at the Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York, with a special passion for what he called graphic design. This is his story and his influence.
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07.03.07: William Drenttel

One Man's Literary Compass
It was in 1966 when I returned to San Francisco to re-establish The Greenwood Press. The first thing I did was to build these bookshelves with my young architect friends. These photographs by Dennis Letbetter, forty years later, have captured so beautifully the soul and spirit of Greenwood's library.
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07.02.07: Steven Heller

Silas H. Rhodes, Founder of SVA
Silas H. Rhodes, chairman of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, died last Thursday at 91. He was a progressive educator who established a uniquely collaborative learning environment that delicately balanced creative independence with academic rigor.
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06.22.07: John Corbett

Sun Ra, Street Priest and Father of D.I.Y. Jazz
Before the 1950s, artist-owned record companies were unheard of, but Sun Ra pioneered the idea along with a couple of other musicians and composers. Sun Ra and Alton Abraham helped define the do-it-yourself ethic that came to be a central part of the American independent music industry, designing and in some cases manufacturing the covers themselves. In the process, they maintained a previously unimaginable degree of control over the look and content of their jazz releases.
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04.15.07: Steven Heller

The Nazi Triangle
Somewhere in the bowels of the Third Reich's bureaucracy a designer who belonged to the graphics "culture chamber," the representative, official body that sanctioned Nazi designers, produced the basic templates for these camp materials and then turned them over to skilled inmates to produce.
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03.29.07: Dmitri Siegel

The New New Typography
French design duo Vier5 make new typography. The author raises questions about modernism and typography.
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02.26.07: Steven Heller

The Other Monocle
Let's look back to another, virtually forgotten but decidedly important, magazine with the very same name — one that published under the motto, "In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king." Monocle.
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02.19.07: Jessica Helfand

The Illusion of Certainty
Artist Allan McCollum aspires to an unprecedented scale with this "Shapes" project: his goal is to make enough shapes, assuming a population of approximately 9.1 billion by the year 2050, so that everyone on the planet can have one. Shapes aside, what's truly fascinating is the idea of the system: what is it about them that we hate to love and love to hate?
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01.09.07: Lorraine Wild

Sister Corita: The Juiciest Tomato
In Daniel Berrigan's words, Sister Corita is a "witch of invention." And there is no doubt that at least in those tumultuous years of the 1960s, her powers of invention seemed supernatural, if not divine... Corita's work stands for its sheer graphic invention, the riot of letterforms and color, and the immediacy of its connection to her time and place.
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12.15.06: Jessica Helfand

The Not-So-Golden Age of Zero Tolerance
When I was a student, the assignments and their expected outcomes were intentionally conceived as chore-like, specific and frankly, narrow. This was the age of zero tolerance: deviation from a designated format was neither an approved approach nor an acceptable method. Today, the opposite is more likely to be true: a student who does not expand his or her approach to a project is strongly encouraged to do so.
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11.17.06: Jessica Helfand

Into the Pink
Co-opting a color and making it your own.
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11.08.06: Jessica Helfand

What Makes A Good Poster?
From Nineteenth Century broadsides to Paula Scher's posters for The Public Theatre, the history of the poster is the history of modern civilization. So why are academics so hell-bent on poster board and bad typography? Why don't they ask us for help?
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10.26.06: William Drenttel

Silk Road Typography
"This is the Silk Road at its worst: a kind of PC 1990s where each and every interest has to be fairly represented — a letter for every voice. The result is Babel, seven discordant voices singing in the wind." Commentary on new European Union 50th anniversary logo, and a look back at the 100th anniversary logo for the New York Public Library.
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09.29.06: William Drenttel

Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing
In partnership with AIGA, we launched the Winterhouse Writing Awards for Design and Criticism, an initiative to increase the appreciation of design — by recognizing new voices in design criticism and commentary. Here are the 2006 recipients.
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09.04.06: Jessica Helfand

Annals of Small Town Life: The Logo Stops Here
Working with Florence Knol, Lucille McGinnis convinced her husband, Patrick B. McGinnis, that the New Haven Railroad needed a new logo. Enter Herbert Matter, Swiss-born designer, photographer and Yale professor whose own education was framed by apprenticeships with Cassandre, Leger and Le Corbusier.
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08.20.06: Jessica Helfand

The Ovalization of The American Mind
Ovals — emancipated from circular restriction, freed of rectangular rigidity — are a perfect metaphor for the way we live now. They're out of shape and flabby, non-committal and generic — like sensible shoes, practical and monotonous and dull.
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07.14.06: William Drenttel

Move It Down . . . A Little to the Right
That some years ago, some poor sign installer went to put the first letter of the name of the museum up on the wall, and someone screamed, "No, you idiot! Lower! Much Lower! Get it down close to the edge. And a quarter-inch to the right." That the building is the Guggenheim Museum, and that the architect was Frank Lloyd Wright, makes this photographic detail especially interesting.
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07.05.06: Lorraine Wild

Wassup, Beatrice
I've heard endless definitions and descriptions of graphic design: I can recite them all, and on any given day I can identify with one essentialism over another: e.g., "Today, I'm a conceptualizer." I can even be swayed by the argument that, in fact, we work in a moment when graphic design is devolving as a practice identifiable by any common standards. It makes me think of a woman who I have always found completely annoying in her assuredness — Beatrice Warde.
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06.12.06: William Drenttel

The Red Hand : A Graphic History
I keep thinking about the red hand. Where did this graphic metaphor come from? The many uses of the red-hand — it's metaphorically rich and graphic history — remind me that symbols do have meaning. Whatever I think of Congresswoman Nancy Johnson here in northwestern Connecticut, I don't think she got caught red-handed, whether in a cookie jar or pie or pool of blood. This is a bad use of an historical symbol, and trashy politics as well.
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04.24.06: Willis Regier

In Remembrance of Richard Eckersley
Richard Eckersley died on April 16, having given the best years of his life to establishing the importance of high-quality book design for university presses. Here, a remembrance by Willis Regier, director of the University of Illinois Press.
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02.16.06: Jessica Helfand

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design History
At the end of the day, being a design historian means being observant and fearless, stubborn and driven, principled, passionate and anything but lazy. It means going where you have to go to get what you need.
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02.12.06: Michael Bierut

Design by Committee
"Design by committee" is usually thought to be a bad thing, but it has produced one great piece of architecture, the United Nations Headquarters Building.
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01.19.06: Adrian Shaughnessy

Robert Brownjohn and The Big Idea

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11.27.05: Lorraine Wild

Think Regional, Act Annual
Flying from New York to Los Angeles last week, I spent the long hours at 35,000 feet doing something I had not done in years: I read the Print Magazine's "2005 Regional Design Annual" cover to cover. Here are some of the things I learned:
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10.29.05: Michael Bierut

The Final Days of AT&T
The acquisition of AT&T by SBC will result in, among other things, the retirement of one of Saul Bass's most well-known logos. Does anyone care?
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09.25.05: Rick Poynor

Where Are the Design Critics?
There is no reason why design criticism shouldn’t take an oppositional view of design's instrumental uses and its social role, but few design writers seem motivated to produce this kind of criticism.
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06.08.05: Adrian Shaughnessy

Decoding Coldplay's X&Y
At a time when invisible data streams of binary information fed straight to our desktops are doing away with the need for album covers, it's odd to find a record sleeve as the subject of media comment and speculation. Odder still that the album cover in question — Coldplay's X&Y — should contain binary data as its central motif. Prophetic or what? The X&Y cover is agreeably eye-catching. You wouldn't call it a classic, but it has an unexpected severity that lifts it above the anodyne and cosmeticised design currently favoured by multi-platinum selling artists. It has dark echoes of Peter Saville's ephocal Factory covers.
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06.03.05: Rick Poynor

Mevis and Van Deursen: Rueful Recollections, Recycled Design
In their self-edited monograph, Dutch graphic designers Mevis and Van Deursen turn their backs on their professed commitment to ideas and treat the book mainly as an opportunity for undemanding aesthetic play.
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05.07.05: Lorraine Wild

A Design Annual Captures 1968
The title on the cover of the booklet is "Business as Usual" subtitled "Fourteenth Annual Type Directors Show—Typography Wherever It Exists"... On every spread of the book there are lovely pieces of typography, things most any of us would have been proud to have created, and then an image as brutal as a slap on the face. It was 1968.
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04.28.05: Jessica Helfand

Greer Allen: In Memoriam
Designer, critic, pundit and historian, Greer Allen was Senior Critic in Graphic Design at Yale School of Art. He designed publications for The Houghton Library at Harvard, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a number of other distinguished cultural institutions around the country. Greer Allen died last week after a short illness. He was 83.
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02.26.05: Michael Bierut

Designing Under the Influence
The similarity of a young designer's work to that of the artist Barbara Kruger provides the starting point for a discussion of the role of influence in design, and whether it is possible for someone to "own" a specific style.
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02.21.05: Jessica Helfand

Our Bodies, Our Fonts
Body markings — piercings, tattoos and so forth — have recently evolved into a kind of marginalized form of graphic expression, yet one that sheds an unusual light on some of the more mainstream ways in which design often reveals itself.
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02.16.05: Jessica Helfand

The New Paper Chase: Cyberspace on The Auction Block
On February 23, Christies in New York will auction more than 1,000 items dating as far back as the early 17th century, all of it tracing the history of cyberspace.
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01.03.05: Dmitri Siegel

Mysterious Disappearance of Carol Hersee
The story of Carol Hersee's portrait as Test Card F: since it first appeared in 1967 on BBC2, Carol's face has been on-air for over 70,000 hours.
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12.09.04: Tom Vanderbilt

Pleasures and Pathos of Industrial Ruins
An account of a visit to the abandoned site of Bethlehem Steel, Pennsylvania.
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11.15.04: Jessica Helfand

The Designibles
What's incredible about The Incredibles is the art of design capture. Because when it comes to nailing design, the "Is" have it.
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11.11.04: Rick Poynor

Who's In and Who's Out of the Dictionary
A Dictionary of Modern Design gives exemplary treatment to industrial designers, furniture designers, and the organisations that served them. Once again, though, graphic design emerges as the also-ran of design.
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10.29.04: Rick Poynor

Fear and Loathing at the Design Museum
James Dyson has accused the Design Museum in London of ruining its reputation with frivolous exhibitions. For many bemused onlookers, his complaints were out of touch with evolving public perceptions of design.

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10.25.04: William Drenttel

On Making Things

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10.09.04: William Drenttel

Does Aspen Have A Future?

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06.06.04: Rick Poynor

Modernising MoMA: Design on Display
MoMA is broadening its approach to graphic design. Recovering this material history will assist us in understanding our broader cultural history and help to educate a more aware generation of visual communicators.
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04.10.04: William Drenttel

El Lissitzky for Pesach

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03.21.04: Rick Poynor

Jan van Toorn: Arguing with Visual Means
Jan van Toorn’s designs embody an idea about citizenship. They address viewers as critical, thinking individuals who can be expected to take an informed and skeptical interest in the circumstances of their world.
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01.05.04: William Drenttel

Adolf Wölfli Invents Design Brut?
Mr. Gomez has taken your basic 19th-century-madman-artist and turned him into a model 20th century graphic designer.
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12.07.03: William Drenttel

Shallow Water Dictionary
A couple of years ago I stumbled across a little out-of-print tract called the Shallow Water Dictionary: A Grounding in Estuary English by John R. Stilgoe, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard.
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09.02.03: William Drenttel

Paul Rand: Bibliography as Biography
This is bibliography as biography, and a posthumous testament to the considerable scope — and ongoing life — of one designer's mind. A Selected Bibliography of Books from the Collection of Paul Rand
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