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Theory/Criticism


02.01.14: Alexandra Lange

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

Collage Culture: Nostalgia and Critique
An interview with David Banash, author of Collage Culture: Readymades, Meaning, and the Age of Consumption.
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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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10.02.13: Rob Walker

Scenes from the Crowdcrit Revolution
Assessing the crowdcrit revolution of the past decade, and what  it could mean for serious thinking about design.
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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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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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04.08.13: Rick Poynor

The Practical Virtue of Works That Work
Works That Work magazine reclaims the word “creativity” from the stultifying embrace of branding culture and design thinking.
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03.18.13: Alexandra Lange

Instagramming Around Australia
Lessons from contemporary Australian architecture, plus what I saw on Instagram.
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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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01.30.13: Rob Walker

Branding By Numbers
Emblemetric backs its assessment of the American Airlines logo with "the data." Of course, that's open to interpretation.
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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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12.19.12: Alexandra Lange

Bad Taste True Confessions: Erté
True confessions about my own bad taste. I loved Erté. Did you?
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10.29.12: Michael Bierut

Style: An Inventory
Style: An Inventory by Michael Bierut
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09.25.12: Rob Walker

Crowdcrit vs. Apple Maps
An instant Tumblr responds to Apple's maps app, and demonstrates the art of the creative takedown.
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08.01.12: Rob Walker

Secret Lives Of Things
Ian Bogost explains why it's important to try to understand what it's like to be a thing.
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06.28.12: Rick Poynor

What Does Critical Writing Look Like?
A report on work by the first graduates from the Royal College of Art’s Critical Writing in Art & Design MA.
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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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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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04.13.12: Rick Poynor

The Closed Shop of Design Academia
Shouldn’t it be part of a design academic’s brief to communicate more widely with the design profession and public?
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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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02.26.12: Rick Poynor

John McHale and the Expendable Ikon
Artist, graphic designer, information theorist, architectural critic, sociologist, futurist: it’s time to rediscover John McHale.
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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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01.09.12: Rick Poynor

Read All That? You Must be Kidding Me
Ellen Lupton’s essay about reading and writing for Graphic Design: Now in Production misses some key points.
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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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10.28.11: Rick Poynor

On My Shelf: Continuum's 33 1/3 Series
The 33 1/3 books about classic albums are a perfect example of how design can help focus an editorial idea.
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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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09.29.11: Rick Poynor

Should We Look at Corrosive Images?
What do violent photographs of war do to us as viewers?
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09.09.11: Rick Poynor

A Swedish Perspective on Critical Practice
The Reader, a recent book from Stockholm about critical practice, has some smart insights while missing the bigger picture.
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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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07.13.11: 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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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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04.05.11: Alexandra Lange

Muddying the Waters
Explore New York's watery edges with the graduating class at D-Crit.
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03.10.11: Andy Chen

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Cub
Is design strictly a set of rules?
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02.22.11: Alexandra Lange

ISO The Digital Sidewalk Critic
Why is it so hard to say, "I hate my iPad"?
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01.31.11: Michael Bierut

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mentor, Or, Why Modernist Designers Are Superior
Does a strict upbringing make you a better designer?
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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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12.01.10: Rick Poynor

Where Is Art Now?
Leaving the art world to decide what art is doesn’t resolve the issue of quality.
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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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11.13.10: Mark Lamster

Design Writing: Vital Field or Museum Piece?
Is traditional architectural criticism dead?
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11.05.10: Rick Poynor

Adventures in the Image World
This is a blog about visual culture. It reflects my interests, enthusiasms, concerns and bêtes noires across the spectrum of visual phenomena.
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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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10.07.10: Leonard Koren

Which “Aesthetics” Do You Mean?
An excerpt from Leonard Koren's new book Which “Aesthetics” do You Mean?: Ten Definitions
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10.05.10: AIGA and Winterhouse Institute

AIGA Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing: 2010 Recipients
AIGA and Winterhouse Institute announce the two writers selected to receive the 2010 AIGA Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism — including a $10,000 prize and a $1,000 student award.
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09.10.10: Alexandra Lange

An Honor Just to be Mentioned...
It's all about etiquette, as I find myself included with the likes of Edith Wharton and Jane Austen.
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08.30.10: Alexandra Lange

Lunch with the Critics: Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza
In my second critical lunch with Mark Lamster, in the creepy climes of the Hotel Pennsylvania, we discuss the urbanism, politics and skyline posturing of Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza.
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08.17.10: Alexandra Lange

The Imperfect Imperfectionists
Last week I felt disgusted with myself for becoming one of those parents who no longer reads so I bought Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionistsat Book Court.
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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.
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07.27.10: Alexandra Lange

On DO: Lunch with the Critics
Please weigh in on Mark Lamster and my new Design Observer feature, "Lunch with the Critics," in which we observe the new Lincoln Center.
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07.07.10: Alexandra Lange

Out of Love with Piano
After reading Reading Martin Filler’s review of Renzo Piano’s proposed addition to the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, I was struck again by how Piano’s critical reception seems to have curdled.
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07.01.10: Alexandra Lange

Whatever Happened to Architecture Critique?
Sometimes it feels like everything is shrinking: the magazines, the word counts, the outlets, and especially the critics.
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06.14.10: Alexandra Lange

"We Can't Really Pay"
All of you print people who scorned bloggers but have moved into blogging and helm publications that “blog,” earth to you: You don’t pay.
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06.10.10: Alexandra Lange

Pomo Time Machine
I’m writing more about Warren Platner, my favorite terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible architect.
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06.03.10: Alexandra Lange

My .02 on the Whitney
Everyone has taken their shot at outrage regarding the Whitney's move to a Renzo Piano building at the base of the High Line.
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05.21.10: Alexandra Lange

The Anti-Enthusiasts
Design Blogs: The Vacuum of Enthusiasm, my Design Observer manifesto on what the world of design on the internet needs, lives on in the comments.
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05.11.10: Alexandra Lange

Jane Jacobs Is Still Watching
Despite my dislike of Jane Jacobs's beef with architects and planners, so many points seem strangely prescient.
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05.07.10: Alexandra Lange

On Archpaper: Saccharine Design
My review of Marcel Wanders’ exhibition Daydreams at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for The Architect’s Newspaper just went online and let’s just say I was not impressed.
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05.06.10: Alexandra Lange

Straw Men Redux
I can't help but compare and contrast Nicolai Ourossoff's opening sentences of his recent work.
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05.02.10: Alexandra Lange

What I Learned @dcritconference
The D-Crit Conference is just a memory, so as a tribute to the afternoon presentations I saw, I offer a set of tangents.
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04.26.10: Alexandra Lange

Confessions and Criticism
I am not a fan of TMI, the confessional mode, or the sense one gets that the best way to make it as a woman in the media business is to write about yourself.
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04.22.10: Alexandra Lange

Junior Critics
One of the pleasures of teaching is when your students actually surprise you.
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04.20.10: Alexandra Lange

Approving of the Approval Matrix
Now that Bravo just bought the TV show based on New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix, who says criticism is dead?
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04.15.10: Alexandra Lange

All in the Execution
Ian Baldwin's review of The Grid Book calls out the coffee-table book format and it's middlebrow achievements.
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04.14.10: Alexandra Lange

Please Join Us
I'm looking forward to the upcoming D-Crit Conference on April 30, 2010.
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04.10.10: Alexandra Lange

Every Thing Design: Can I Play Too?
Alice Rawsthorn, whom I generally want to grow up to be, writes in today’s T about Every Thing Design, Dutch designer Irma Boom’s latest book based on the collections of the Museum of Design, Zurich.
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04.07.10: Alexandra Lange

Anthony Lane Fugs Too
Anthony Lane pans The Clash of the Titans.
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04.02.10: Alexandra Lange

Design Adjacent
There’s a theme in the comments on my Design Observer piece on design blogs, The Vacuum of Enthusiasm, that there is little for me to say about.
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03.30.10: Alexandra Lange

Texts Without Context
I keep thinking about Michiko Kakutani’s piece, Texts Without Context, that begins the discussion of what is being lost to culture by the supremacy of the web.
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03.17.10: Alexandra Lange

Doing Addition
When I tweeted yesterday on the rumored short list for the San Francisco MoMA expansion competition, Curbed SF called me sour!
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03.14.10: Alexandra Lange

Tearing Down
At the end of a session at the Architectural League's On Criticism reading group, the non-journalists in attendance began to ask the journalists whether architecture critics had any power.
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03.11.10: Alexandra Lange

Critical Mass
Not to be overly self-referential, but I have to highlight this paragraph of Places editor Nancy Levinson’s response to the comments on her response to my Nicolai Ouroussoff piece.
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03.01.10: Alexandra Lange

On DO: Why Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough
Well, it took me about six month to work up to this, but here goes: If the death of the architecture critic is nigh, we really need better ones than Ouroussoff occupying the top spots.
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02.09.10: Alexandra Lange

Serious Fun
I am headed to California this week, and realized I might be passing by the Nut Tree, a roadside restaurant on the highway from Sacramento to San Francisco.
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02.05.10: Mark Lamster

Overkill, Design Publishing Dept.
I have a piece out in the new issue of Dwell, a peek at a modest kitchen reno in Brooklyn. It's not online yet.
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01.26.10: Alexandra Lange

More! Women! Architects!
A lot of attention — in Chicago, at least — has been given to the fact that Aqua is the tallest building in the world designed by a woman.
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01.06.10: Alexandra Lange

I Heart Huxtable
Ada Louise Huxtable is still the most knowledgeable, elegant, thoughtful critic out there.
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01.04.10: Alexandra Lange

Size M
Nicolai Ouroussoff, Paul Goldberger, and Ada Louise Huxtable may live here in New York, but in general they have become too big to pay attnetion to the small stuff.
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01.01.10: Mark Lamster

Criticizing the Critics
The two men who controlled the architectural conversation in New York (and hence America and the world) for better than two decades have recently published collections of their criticism.
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12.22.09: Alexandra Lange

The Women
While Manohla Dargis rants about the lack of women in charge in Hollywood save for Nancy Meyers, Zaha Hadid similarly represents the dirth of women in architecture.
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12.16.09: Alexandra Lange

Making A List...
The New Yorker has a rather expansive round-up of lists online and I particularly like Judith Thurman’s memorable fashion statements of 2009.
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11.17.09: Alexandra Lange

Paper Revelations
Reading a lot of architecture criticism for those same classes, I also start to develop a running mental list of the writerly tics of critics like Paul Goldberger.
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09.22.09: Mark Lamster

Ron Arad at MoMA
I'm not sold on Arad as an architect, but his material experimentation is certainly admirable
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07.02.09: Mark Lamster

Delayed Gratification: On Architectural Criticism
Caught up in the formal design aspects of a building, critics like Nicolai Ouroussoff overlook the social context.
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06.03.09: Alan Rapp

Personal Space
Robert Sommer’s Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design was published in forty years ago, and its compact title concept — an invisible but perceptible security zone surrounding an individual — caught on. But where is Sommer now? A recent study in Perception finds that listening to music on headphones alters our sense of sociospatial relations. Until these more contemporary strands of inquiry result in a truly new analysis of how we perceive our interpersonal zones today, Personal Space is now available in a new edition, with some additional commentary by Dr. Sommer, from Bosko Books in the UK
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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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03.19.08: Matt Soar

Fail Again, Fail Better
So, what of productive failure with respect to graphic design and typography? The idea of failing again and again for a reason? Does it somehow help to define the limits of professional practice?
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02.21.08: Alice Twemlow

Some Questions about an Inquiry
“Critical design” is design that, through its form, can question and challenge industrial agendas; embody alternative social, cultural, technical or economic values; and act as a prop to stimulate debate and discussion amongst the public, designers and industry. As critical design gathers momentum, where is graphic design?
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06.29.07: Alice Twemlow

When Did Posters Become Such Wallflowers?
What was odd about many of the posters Alice Twemlow judged in a recent competition was that they didn't promote an idea, event or product; their only purpose seemed to be entering numerous annual poster competitions.
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02.12.07: Jessica Helfand

I'm Not Ready to Make Nice

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01.19.07: Jessica Helfand

The Karaoke Effect
The lure of American Idol, in these early weeks, lies in precisely this shaky space: that illusory bubble populated by thousands of fame-seekers who fervently believe in their own righteous, if highly fictional talent. It's cultural fallout. Just as the karaoke singer imagines him or herself live and in concert before the screaming fans, so, too, does the illusion persist once the microphone is turned off.
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05.25.06: Justin Good

What is Beauty? Or, On the Aesthetics of Wind Farms
What is beauty and how does it relate to ecology? A look at contrasting aesthetic intuitions about wind farms reveals a paradigm shift in how we understand beauty.
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03.18.06: Michael Bierut

Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content
Design is that it is almost always about something else. The more things you're interested in, the better your work will be.
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01.22.06: Michael Bierut

Wilson Pickett, Design Theorist, 1942 - 2006
Wilson Pickett's advice on hitmaking, "Harmonize, then customize," would make good advice for any designer.
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12.11.05: Dmitri Siegel

Bartleby™
In his classic story of Wall Street, Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville recounts the tale of a humble copyist employed by the story's narrator. Could Bartleby's perfectly crafted refrain be the appropriate response to a world where every choice and configuration has been designed?
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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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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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04.21.05: Jessica Helfand

Extremely Young and Incredibly Everywhere: The Public Art of Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer's emergent body of work includes film and video, public art installations, theatrical collaboration, expressive typography, and a fairly prolific jumpstart as a writer. Cumulatively, all of his projects — which range from collecting empty pages of famous writers, to constructing parabolas in a public park, to collecting anonymous self-portraits — seem to look for ways to formally address time and space and the human condition.
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03.21.05: Rick Poynor

Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot
Dot Dot Dot is the most stimulating and original visual culture magazine produced by designers since Emigre's heyday in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.
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03.13.05: Rick Poynor

Why Architects Give Me the Willies
No matter how central graphic communication might be to our lives, architecture always dominates press coverage because it is very expensive, expresses the conditions of power, and is just plain big.
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02.08.05: Michael Bierut

Authenticity: A User's Guide
Graphic designers take pleasure in simulation. This makes defining authenticity a tricky thing.
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02.04.05: William Drenttel

Chris Marker: La Jetée
For years, I've owned a copy of La Jetée, a book about the film by Chris Marker, the experimental filmmaker. Designed by Bruce Mau and published by MIT Press/Zone Books in 1993, this is one of those design books that has ascended into the realm of rare bookdom...
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02.03.05: Michael Bierut

The Comfort of Style
The design process at the World Trade Center site has attracted enormous interest on one hand, and marginalized the role of designers on the other, as described in Philip Nobel's book Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero.
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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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12.23.04: Jessica Helfand

Code (PMS) Blue
Hospital rooms are architectural oddities: they're all function with no form. To the extent that, in matters of critical care, timing is everything, why should it matter? Then again, why shouldn't it?
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12.03.04: Jessica Helfand

Time, Space and The Microsoft Colonialists
If Microsoft displayed its marketing genius by introducing "Spaces" three weeks before Christmas, its failure as a compelling editorial product — as evidenced by its restrictive format, its templated narrowcasting, its uninspired design parameters — illuminates its ultimate weakness: these spaces have nothing to do with space, in all its rich, fascinating and deeply human complexity.
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11.03.04: Jessica Helfand

Am I Blue
Bumper stickers and lawn posters aside, Americans showed their concern on election day 2004 by standing in epic lines at polling centers around the nation, but also in certain subtle, discreetly visual ways. From dressing in all blue (or red) to wearing "I voted today" buttons, there has been a kind of silent visual communication effort steadily in play for the last 36 hours.
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08.17.04: Michael Bierut

What is Design For? A Discussion
Rick Poynor and Michael Bierut discuss the purpose and promise of graphic design, in a conversation moderated by Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne.
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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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04.23.04: Rick Poynor

Critics and Their Purpose
Pulling a 1960s art magazine from the shelf, I opened it at random to find a long list of thoughts about art criticism assembled in 1966 by students at the Royal College of Art in London. Many of these ideas apply to design.
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04.20.04: Jessica Helfand

One Person, One Vote, One MRI?

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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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04.09.04: 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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02.24.04: Jessica Helfand

The Crisis of Intent

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02.03.04: Jessica Helfand

You're Going to Hollywood, Baby

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01.13.04: Jessica Helfand

The Span of Casual Vision

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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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11.22.03: Jessica Helfand

On Visual Empathy
In a world besieged by unpredictable atrocities, don't we all feel a little emotionally raw? Two recent articles in suggest that visual empathy may more critical to a productive imagination than we thought.
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11.09.03: Rick Poynor

Those Inward-looking Europeans
Three American design teachers visit London and the Netherlands. European designers, they say, are not paying attention to design history. Maybe the visitors are missing local factors and broader global issues.
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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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09.06.03: Jessica Helfand

The Real Declaration

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