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Journalism


03.06.14: Chappell Ellison

You’ll Never Guess the Amazing Ways Online Design Writing and Criticism Has Changed
A call to support better desgn journalism.
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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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02.01.14: Alexandra Lange

Criticism = Love
Why you have to love design to be a critic.
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01.13.14: Rick Poynor

The Compulsively Visual World of Pinterest
I have always liked Pinterest’s exclusively visual focus and unlimited boards structure. A week ago I joined.
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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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12.28.13: Rick Poynor

The Writings of William Drenttel
Essays from the Design Observer archive show the wide scope of William Drenttel's interests and concerns.
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12.06.13: Rick Poynor

Martin Sharp: From Satire to Psychedelia
The late Martin Sharp was a visual innovator whose work erased artificial distinctions between applied image-making and fine art.
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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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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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06.03.13: Alexandra Lange

Home Improvement
The Sweethome, where Consumer Reports and Amazon product reviews meet.
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04.30.13: Owen Edwards

The 99 Factor: A Man About Town & Country
Owen Edwards reminisces about Frank Zachary, former editor-in-chief of Town & Country magazine.
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04.23.13: Mark Lamster

The Bush Library
A review of the Bush Library.
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02.17.13: Alexandra Lange

Patterns of Houston
How do you critique the urbanism of Houston? Look for patterns.
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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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12.13.12: Rob Walker

Tracking War Drones
Online projects that seek to make the drone war comprehensible.
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12.03.12: Rob Walker

The Latest In Journo-Comics
The New tablet magazine Symbolia debuts, a worthy additoin to today's vibrant nonfiction comics scene.
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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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07.31.12: Alexandra Lange

The Critical Olympics
What the best sports commentary does is just like criticism: it makes you care about the previously abstract.
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06.09.12: Alexandra Lange

Introducing Strelka Press
On Strelka Press, a new "digital first" publisher of longform architecture and design criticism.
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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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04.19.12: Rick Poynor

Phil Sayer, Designer of Photo-Portraits
Phil Sayer’s photographic portraits for Blueprint gave the magazine great visual impact and presence.
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12.11.11: Rick Poynor

Another Design Voice Falls Silent
As design criticism takes off as a branch of academic study, design publications such as Grafik keep closing.
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08.31.11: Alexandra Lange

Announcing LetsGetCritical.org
My new blog collects the best arts & culture criticism, essays and reviews.
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07.21.11: Michael Erard

Notes on Getting the Daily Newspaper
Michael Erard tells of the experience of sharing the physical newspaper with his son.
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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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06.01.11: Rick Poynor

On My Shelf: Stefan Lorant's Lilliput
Stefan Lorant’s use of photos in pairs could be wry, funny, bizarre, whimsical, satirical and not always kind.
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03.07.11: Alexandra Lange

Reading Out Loud
The disappearing physical on-ramps to reading.
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11.24.10: Alexandra Lange

Criticism Kerfuffle 2010
There are people trying to write their way to a future of architecture criticism. But it isn't just the writing that's the problem.
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11.22.10: Nancy Levinson

News/Print
The Last Newspaper, New City Reader, Newsstand: Print news may be dying, but it's alive in the galleries.
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06.02.10: Alexandra Lange

Bloggers in the Archive
Geoff Manaugh’s announcement, on BLDGBLOG, that he would be blogging from the CCA this summer irritated me, partly because the idea is not brand new.
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11.22.09: Alexandra Lange

Another New York
Every time I get an issue of New York Magazine lately I ask myself: is Adam Moss turning it into a men’s magazine?
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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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07.01.09: Alexandra Lange

Pre-Blog Work
Here are links to writing published before I began this blog in June 2009.
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04.14.09: The Editors

13th Annual Webby Awards
We are pleased to announce that Design Observer has been nominated for Webby Awards for Best Culture Blog and Best Writing.
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02.02.09: The Editors

Julie Lasky & Ernest Beck Join Design Observer
Design Observer announces that Julie Lasky and Ernest Beck will be joining the Design Observer team as our website makes a major editorial expansion to incorporate new content under the banner of Change Observer.
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01.12.08: William Drenttel

Polling Place Photo Project 2008
We are pleased to announce that the Polling Place Photo Project is continuing into the 2008 presidential primaries and election, supported by a new partnership of The New York Times, AIGA and Design Observer.
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01.08.08: Michael Bierut

Will the Real Ernst Bettler Please Stand Up?
In the late 50s, Swiss designer Ernst Bettler created a series of seemingly harmless posters that brought down a drug company with a Nazi past. It's a great story, but it never happened. Why do we need to believe in Ernst Bettler?
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10.09.07: Michael Bierut

Rest in Peace, Herbert Muschamp
Officially published for the first time as a posthumous tribute: a loving parody of the writing of the late, great architectural critic Herbert Muschamp.
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10.06.07: William Drenttel

A Plea to The New York Times: Index Your Art
Why does the art that adds so much to the texts published in The New York Times disappear? Why cannot The New York Times simply index the art that it publishes, at least leaving the bibliographic tracings of the work in their newspaper?
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08.26.07: Alice Twemlow

Design Criticism's Winding Road
To what extent does design criticism inspire a reaction; to whom is criticism addressed and what happens as a result of it being read? This article discusses the way in which an excerpt from a review of a 1955 Buick unexpectedly inspired a painting by one of the world's best-known Pop artists, Richard Hamilton.
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07.07.07: Richard Turley

Off the Grid
When you abandon most of the rules, how do you define a mistake? How to art direct a newspaper from the middle of the muddy Glastonbury music festival.
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06.06.07: Adrian Shaughnessy

The 2012 Olympic Logo Ate My Hamster
Designers often bemoan the lack of coverage given to graphic design in mainstream media. Yet when design catches the attention of journalists and commentators it usually results in a vicious mugging rather than hearty praise.
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05.31.07: William Drenttel

Al Gore for President
Writing as a designer, as a writer, as a husband and father, but most of all, as a human being — I believe we should draft Al Gore to run for the Presidency of the United States.
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04.22.07: Jessica Helfand

The New Manifest Destiny
When does a picture solidify a news story, and when does it merely sensationalize it? Decisions about words and pictures are made by editors and publishers, designers and photographers — but they are consumed by a public fully capable of an entire range of emotional responses. After this week's events at Virginia Tech, words and pictures do a poor job of communicating outrage and pain. And no amount of compositional ingenuity can reverse what happened.
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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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08.14.06: William Drenttel

Threat Advisory Pandemic Alert System (TAPAS)
How do we measure the danger level from the Avian Influenza A (H5N1) virus? What we lack is that one Tom Ridge-like bit of inspiration that would lend clarity to these confusing times. We took our cue from a certain John James Audubon. Herewith, one option for Homeland Security. Yes, we know: it's for the birds.
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07.17.06: Michael Bierut

Where the Happy People Go
The ferociously positive letters column in Architectural Digest magazine demonstrates that design can make people almost unnervingly happy.
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01.15.06: Michael Bierut

In Praise of Slow Design
Is there a such a thing as slow graphic design? A look at 80 years of barely perceptible design changes at The New Yorker.
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11.20.05: Michael Bierut

Innovation is the New Black
Innovation is the latest buzzword to overtake the design profession. What does it mean?
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11.17.05: William Drenttel

David Hughes: Caricaturist of Our Time
But my favorite, in recent years, is the British illustrator David Hughes. I yearn for his drawings, look for them in my favorite publications, and save them whenever and wherever I find them.
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11.10.05: Rick Poynor

Emigre: An Ending
Issue 69 of Emigre will be the last. In its heyday, it was the most consistently interesting design publication produced by anyone, anywhere. By 1990, it was one of those magazines you simply had to get hold of and read straight away.
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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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09.19.05: Rick Poynor

The Guardian's New European Look
The Guardian's choice of the "Berliner" format, half-way between broadsheet and tabloid, is an inspired alternative. The paper is the first British title to adopt this European page size. Elegant, well-proportioned pages make its tabloid rivals look like poor relations.
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08.23.05: William Drenttel

Reading the News & Charting Death
The potential for terrorism is not a chart I can make in my head. The numbers are there, but the design alludes me.
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07.22.05: Michael Bierut

Credit Line Goes Here
Design is essentially a collaborative enterprise. That makes assigning credit for the products of our work a complicated issue.
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07.01.05: Rick Poynor

We Are All Editors Now. Or Are We?
Many designers aspire to be editors. But being an editor is not simply about choosing some things you like and throwing them together. Editing is about deep engagement with content and the construction of meaning.
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06.28.05: Michael Bierut

The Obvious, Shunned by So Many, Is Successfully Avoided Once Again
Does anyone devote as much energy to avoiding simple, sensible solutions as the modern graphic designer? Publications of designers' own work demonstrate what effort they go through to needlessly complicate what might be simple solutions.
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03.03.05: Lawrence Weschler

The Aural As An Architectonic Challenge
What are the people over at Transom.org up to? As it happens, this month is a very good time to pay them a visit: for the next several weeks, Walter Murch — the phenomenally smart and inspired film and sound editor — will be continuing to hold court there.
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01.09.05: Rick Poynor

The I.D. Forty: What Are Lists For?
How do we measure one kind of achievement in design against another to arrive at a ranking? The truth is we can’t. The real purpose of I.D.’s list was to underscore the magazine’s position as selector and taste-maker.
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12.08.04: Michael Bierut

Just Say Yes
A seemingly legitimate news release from Dow Chemical on the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster was actually a hoax perpetrated by The Yes Men, who have created a new kind of civil disobedience uniquely suited to the media age.
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11.21.04: Michael Bierut

Logogate in Connecticut, or, The Rodneydangerfieldization of Graphic Design: Part II
A new logo for the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism by Cummings & Good provokes a public controversy on the value of design.
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11.13.04: Michael Bierut

First Person Shooter
News photographs from Iraq are eerily reminiscent of video game images.
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07.14.04: Michael Bierut

To Hell with the Simple Paper Clip
Answering the question "What's your favorite designed object?" with something humble and anonymous may be a tiresome cliche, but it's one that resonates with editors of the New York Times Magazine and curators at the Museum of Modern Art.
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07.07.04: William Drenttel

Posted Without Comment

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07.03.04: Rick Poynor

Where are the Design Intellectuals?
Prospect magazine has published a list of the 100 top British public intellectuals. A handful of visual art and architecture people make the cut, but no from design is included, reflecting its absence from public debate.
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04.17.04: Rick Poynor

Theory with a Small "t"
A critical writing determined by the need to shape practice will be limited in the cultural insights it can offer. This is the last thing that design writing needs when ways to engage a wider public could be opening up.
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04.15.04: Jessica Helfand

Graphic Flanerie
Graphic Design's real power comes from its ability to reach us through any of a number of means, both real and virtual, now and later. This ability to transcend the everyday and resonate in the heart, the soul, the mind and the memory—this is graphic design's reality, its legacy, and it is, decidedly, a reality that is more than a sum of its parts.
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04.09.04: Rick Poynor

How to Say What You Mean
There is a crucial difference between subtle and complex ideas and needlessly convoluted forms of expression. The challenge now for design writing is to move outwards into a world in which design is everywhere.
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02.18.04: Michael Bierut

The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Magazine Cover
Comparing the magazine covers of today to those created for Esquire magazine in the 1960s by George Lois leads to only one conclusion: today's magazine ideal magazine cover is enticing, not arresting, aiming not for shock, but for seduction. And it stinks.
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12.11.03: Rick Poynor

Adbusters in Anarchy
Adbusters’ once orderly pages are in a state of heaving agitation. The magazine seems to be seduced by the coolness of design as a gesture, even though this is part of the surface-fixated postmodernism it deplores.
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11.06.03: William Drenttel

Information Archaeology
Russ Kick is "a self-described 'information archaeologist...'" The revealing of state secrets through deconstructing a PDF.
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10.30.03: Jessica Helfand

Fatal Grandeur
Maybe design isn't going to kill you if it falls on your head. But if YOU fall, design is not exactly going to save you, either.
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10.28.03: Michael Bierut

The New York Times: Apocalypse Now, Page A1
Michael Bierut on the typographic redesign of the New York Times, October 2003.
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09.06.03: Jessica Helfand

The Real Declaration

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