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Reputations


02.27.14: Michael Bierut

What Bill Knew
A 1991 speech by William Drenttel revealed what he knew about the business 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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10.15.13: Rick Poynor

From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light
An early profile of ambient musician and producer Brian Eno’s parallel career as a visual artist.
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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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12.09.12: Rick Poynor

Dom Sylvester Houédard's Cosmic Typewriter
Dom Sylvester Houédard: Benedictine monk, champion of concrete poetry, and master of the “typestract.”
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11.30.12: Rick Poynor

Herbert Spencer and the Decisive Detail
In Herbert Spencer’s most memorable photographs, signs of official communication fray into visual poetry.
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11.18.12: Rick Poynor

Robert Brownjohn: Photos at Street Level
The Victoria and Albert Museum has put 18 of Robert Brownjohn’s photographs on display for the first time.
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05.13.12: The Editors

Our Mothers, Our Selves
"Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world," wrote James Joyce, "a mother's love is not." Herewith, a Mother's Day celebration of designers and their mothers.
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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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03.13.12: Jessica Helfand

Audrey Real Helfand: Designer Manquée
Fifty years ago, my mother Audrey was a prolific visual maker: today, she’d be running her own studio.
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01.30.12: Jessica Helfand

Ezra Winter Project: Chapter One
Jessica Helfand, who teaches the seminar "Studies in Visual Biography" at Yale, shares her year-long exploration of the American muralist Ezra Winter: this is part one.
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01.27.12: Rick Poynor

In Response to An Anatomy of Uncriticism
Alexandra Lange’s article in Print about the sacred cows of graphic design sidesteps the issue it raises.
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01.19.12: Rick Poynor

Ernst Haas and the Color Underground
Has Ernst Haas, an early master of color photography, received the credit his ground-breaking pictures deserve?
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10.22.11: Rick Poynor

On Display: The Kirkland Museum
If I had to pick just one Denver museum to revisit, it would be the fabulous Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art.
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12.27.10: William Drenttel

A Conversation with Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven
An expansive interview with Daniel van der Velden, co-author of Uncorporate Identity.
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09.15.10: Alice Twemlow

Massimo Vignelli’s Desk
Vignelli Celebration: Alice Twemlow snoops around Massimo Vignelli's desk.
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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.
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09.13.10: Debbie Millman

Interview with Massimo Vignelli
Vignelli Celebration: Debbie Millman interviews Massimo Vignelli.
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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.
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07.25.10: Michael Bierut

Jerry Della Femina, Mad Men, and the Cult of Advertising Personality
A review of Jerry Della Femina's From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, published in a new edition on the occasion of the debut of the fourth season of the AMC series Mad Men.
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07.29.09: Owen Edwards

Remembering Julius Shulman
Looking back on an afternoon of chocolate, pastrami, and Scotch with modern architecture's iconic photographer.
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05.30.09: Michael Bierut

Seymour, An Introduction
In a world of design consultants, information architects, and experience planners, Seymour Chwast is something refreshingly old-fashioned: a commercial artist. If this is a term that has fallen into dispute, Seymour is the best argument for reviving it.
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05.28.09: Ellen Lupton

A Conversation With David Barringer
David Barringer’s book, There’s Nothing Funny About Design is actually very funny. The conversation that follows was conducted via e-mail over a three-day period.
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05.12.09: Adam Harrison Levy

An Interview With Philip Glass
In 2005, Adam Harrison Levy interviewed Philip Glass for a BBC documentary film about Chuck Close. Glass was seated in front of the monumental painting Phil, 1969. This is their exchange.
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05.07.09: John Cantwell

Trump, The Logo
The logo above the Trump Tower's main entrance, huge and gleaming in 34-inch brass block letters, bluntly announces Donald Trump’s presence on the street. It’s crude, perhaps, but undeniably effective. In a neighborhood filled with names like Bergdorf, Cartier, and Tiffany, none is more prominent than Trump’s.
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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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11.23.08: Chris Pullman

What I've Learned
After 35 years working for the same company, WGBH in Boston, legendary design director Chris Pullman reveals the ten things he learned.
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10.23.08: Michael Bierut

The Four Lessons of Lou Dorfsman
For over 40 years, Lou Dorfsman designed everything at CBS from its advertising to the paper cups in its cafeteria. Getting great work done in giant institution is supposed to be hard. How did he make it look easy?
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09.30.08: Adam Harrison Levy

The Inventor of the Cowboy Shirt
A few years ago, I found myself lost inside a shopping mall with Jack A. Weil, better known as Jack A, the man who, in 1946, invented the snap-buttoned cowboy shirt.
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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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07.31.08: Michael Bierut

There is No Why
The year's best design movie is not about a typeface. It's Man on Wire, the new documentary about Philippe Petit's 1974 high wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center.
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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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06.05.08: Alice Twemlow

Graphic Design at the Museum
The work of Graphic Thought Facility, a London-based graphic design consultancy, is on exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago until August 17. It’s the first time the Art Institute has staged a show solely on contemporary design...
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02.01.08: The Editors

Fifteen Minutes of Fame
If graphic design's become so edgy as a profession that we're getting name-dropped in hit movies, maybe it's time to get serious about how we're really being portrayed.
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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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01.08.08: 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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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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12.16.07: Adrian Shaughnessy

Graphic Editorship
Fuel's realization that they possessed the transferable skills and instincts to publish thought-provoking books with editorial depth, has allowed them to create a publishing venture that offers a fresh take on visual culture.
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08.23.07: Jessica Helfand

Another Myth Brilliantly Debunked
The Folding Paper Box Association of America would influence more than just packaging regulations: a half century before the Poynter Institute would claim authorship for its revolutionary Eye-Trac research, the FPBAA was already tracking viewers' visual responses to packaging...
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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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05.17.07: Jessica Helfand

Ad Reinhardt, Graphic Designer
Ad Reinhardt fretted about the meaning of life. He agonized about the purpose of painting. He questioned everyone, critiqued everything, and worked incessantly. In other words, he was a graphic designer.
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02.08.07: William Drenttel

The Good Citizen's Alphabet
Bertrand Russell had the wisdom to realize that certain words require proper definition to be used correctly in political and social discourse. This alphabet book is offered here as a slide show for our readers.
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02.05.07: Adrian Shaughnessy

"I Sold My Soul And I Love It"
The current issue of Creative Review is "guest edited" by hip British advertising agency Mother. The theme, suggested by Mother, is I Sold My Soul And I Love It — a vastly contradictory statement, but one that invites debate over what it means to work in visual communication."
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12.11.06: Michael Bierut

The Graphic Glass Ceiling
A week ago, I was the moderator of a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y with Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers. Afterwards, someone asked, "Why do you — all three of you — suppose there are so few female graphic designers — or at least so few female 'superstar' graphic designers?" There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. What would your answer be?
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09.27.06: Michael Bierut

Alan Fletcher: Living by Design
Remembering the late British designer Alan Fletcher, who once said, "I treat clients as raw material to do what I want to do, though I would never tell them that." For him, design was not a profession or a craft, but a life.
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09.19.06: DJ Stout

Remembering Ann Richards
To create the famous Texas Monthly cover of Governor Ann Richards astride a Harley, art director DJ Stout used a body double. "For many years, I would run into Ann Richards at my favorite Mexican food lunch spot in downtown Austin and she would always thank me for giving her such a 'sexy body.'"
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08.23.06: Michael Bierut

Helmut Krone, Period.
One of the greatest designers that ever lived was an advertising art director: Doyle Dane Bernbach's Helmut Krone. A new book celebrates his life and work.
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07.28.06: Jessica Helfand

A Good Pan Is Hard To Find
On baking a cheesecake and becoming a better designer: it's one big balancing act of artistry and skill.
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07.20.06: Jessica Helfand

The Global Curse of Comic Sans
In this coastal region slung just below the Pyrenees, one might expect to see evidence of the enduring cultural tensions between Spain and Catalonia — different kinds of signs or symbols, for instance â€" but on the surface at least, no such rift is exposed. Instead, Catalonia clings to a visual language that celebrates the goofy: this is a country awash in Comic Sans.
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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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06.14.06: Michael Bierut

My Phone Call to Arnold Newman
Michael Bierut remembers a 25-year-old phone conversation with the late photographer Arnold Newman.
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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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04.06.06: Michael Bierut

When Design is a Matter of Life or Death
When structural engineer William LeMessurier realized that his work on Manhattan's Citicorp Center was flawed, he was faced with a choice: he could keep quiet and gamble with thousands of lives, or he could speak up. What would you do?
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01.05.06: Julie Lasky

Edward Hopper, Village Person
My friend opened the door to a minimally furnished skylit room. It had a pot-bellied stove, a painter's easel, and photos framed on the wall of a grim man with long legs. The room was the studio of Edward Hopper. (Slide show by Duane Michals.)
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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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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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08.29.05: Michael Bierut

You May Already Be a Winner
Are graphic design competitions worthwhile?
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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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07.14.05: Michael Bierut

Rick Valicenti: This Time It's Personal
In his newly-published monograph Emotion as Promotion: A Book of Thirst, Rick Valicenti provides a glimpse into a designer's life that is at once accessibly seductive and brazenly idiosyncratic.
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07.04.05: Lorraine Wild

Exhibitions by Renzo Piano and 2x4
Both architect Renzo Piano and graphic designers 2x4 are at the top of their respective games as designers, but the way they approach their own exhibitions (at LACMA and SFMOMA, respectively) places them at opposite poles of a style of communication, and maybe even belief.
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06.06.05: Michael Bierut

The Man Who Saved Jackson Pollock
Herbert Matter, the designer who stored away a cache of recently-discovered Jackson Pollock paintings, deserves a similar rediscovery.
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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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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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02.13.05: Julie Lasky

Christo's Agent Orange
Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Central Park gates lack that magnetic, landscape-transforming power. Could this be owing not just to the way the gates drive viewers to seek greater heights of sensation, but also to the off-putting emergency color, the subtle grid of the rip-stop nylon reminiscent of quick escapes from troubled aircraft?
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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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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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08.10.04: Jessica Helfand

Ladislav Sutnar: Mechanical Beauty

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07.20.04: Michael Bierut

Pablo Ferro Offers You His Protection
The title design for the film Napoleon Dynamite, credited to Pablo Ferro [although designed in fact by actor Aaron Ruell], provoke an assessment of Ferro's influence in the world of motion graphics.
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07.12.04: Michael Bierut

Ed Ruscha: When Art Rises to the Level of Graphic Design
A retrospective of the drawings of Ed Ruscha raises the question: is he an artist or a graphic designer?
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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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06.19.04: Michael Bierut

Barthes on the Ballpoint
Roland Barthes disliked ballpoint pens, suggesting that there is a "Bic style" suited for "writing that merely transcribes thought."
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05.01.04: Jessica Helfand

Time Waits for No Fan

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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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01.31.04: Michael Bierut

The Sins of St. Paul
Paul Rand is almost universally revered as the infallible father of American graphic design, which may have blinded his legions of admirers to his flaws: an overemphasis on logos as a communications tool, a lack of engagement in content, a detachment from history, and humorlessness.
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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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12.21.03: Rick Poynor

Notes on Experimental Jetset
Experimental Jetset’s argument that design should have a certain autonomy and an inner logic separate from tastes and trends makes sense, but as a rationale for defaulting to Helvetica, is it convincing?
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11.06.03: William Drenttel

Edward Tufte: The Dispassionate Statistician II
More on Edward Tufte and his critique of PowerPoint.
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11.03.03: Jessica Helfand

Color Me Kurt
Having seen Schwarzenegger as a black man before he was elected Governor, one can only imagine what's next for Colors under Kurt Andersen.
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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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