Hardly exhaustive, here are some of the highlights of essays and blog posts on the Design Observer Group during 2010. We want to thank all of the writers who contributed to this site in 2010.
Big Books, Little Books:
Mark Lamster first took on one of the biggest books of the year (2x4's It Is What It Is), and then certainly the smallest book of the year (Irma Boom's Biography in Books). In neither case did he find content commensurate with 700-1000+ pages of bulk. We also published a holiday list of books recommended by our authors.
Cars, Trains and Planes:
Phil Patton was our automobile critic this past year, including reports on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, Murray T.25 city car and Yves Béhar's people's car. (He also wrote about frugal engineering and the legacy of the SONY Walkman.) Meanwhile, John Thackara asks, Is an environmentally neutral car possible? and compares train systems in Norway and India. And, finally, I reflect on taking the first (empty) plane out of Heathrow after Eyjafjallajökull.
Design Criticism, or Just Things Critical:
The state of (design) criticism was a constant theme during 2010. Alexandra Lange took on The New York Times architectural critic, "Why Nicolai Ouroussof Isn't Good Enough," while Maria Popova challenged a leading writing on the subject of social media, "Malcolm Gladwell is #Wrong." Meanwhile, Nancy Levinson argued that the fundamental dilemma of architecture criticism is the rise of the global beat. Other probing essays included John Thackara offering advice to future critics, and Alexandra Lange on "Criticism Kerfuffle" and the state of design blogs. We also published six views on the current state of design education.
Design Imperialism vs. Humanitarian Design:
One of the more interesting discussions of the year was about the role of design in solving social problems, and whether design interventions are imperialism or humanitarianism. The discussion started with a post by Bruce Nussbaum, and a dozen other writers weighed in over the next couple of months. We summarized the discussion and all of the articles here. On Change Observer, we had contributions by Robert Fabricant and Maria Popova.
Detroit, Borderland, Borderama:
A series by Jerry Herron explored the meaning of the abandonment and decline of Detroit: part 1, part 2, part 3. Plus, a gallery by Dan Pitera showcased efforts by architects, landscape architects and artists to re-occupy the abandoned cityscape. And finally, the head of graphic design at Cranbrook in Detroit, Elliott Earls ranted about design students and the state of design.
Dutch Design, or Things Dutch:
Julie Lasky reflected on Tord Boontje and "Beauty", while Rick Poynor reflected on the state of Dutch graphic design (causing a controversy in The Netherlands). Alexandra Lange comments on Dutch photographer Iwan Bann as the post-Stoller-Shulman-Molitor savior of architectural photography, and Mark Lamster finds bravura moments in the new Michael Graves's Louwman Museum. And I reported on a trip to Amsterdam and proposals by Metahaven for a new identity program for WikiLeaks; as a year-end interview, we published an 6,500 word dialogue with Daniel van der Velden about the work of Metahaven.
Places published three outstanding essays by Hector Fernando Burga, Deborah Gans and Thomas Fisher on Haiti and the aftermath of the earthquake there, as well as articles on Havana by Belmont Freeman and sanitation in South Africa by Barbara Penner. Other reports included Constantin Boym on Qatari Workers' Housing, Ashish Nangia on the legacy of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, Jessica Helfand on a SEWA textile factory, and Meena Kadri on the new rupee symbol, new mass transit in Ahmedabad, and the 2010 Indian census. Design Observer was also a co-sponsor of the Sanitation is Sexy competition from Acumen Fund.
Jessica Helfand and I published an "Introduction to Graphic Design," an abstract of a longer piece in progress that was extensively commented on and critiqued. Meanwhile, Debbie Millman published over a dozen "Design Matters" podcast interviews with graphic designers, including Eric Baker, Marian Bantjes, Kate Bingaman-Burt, Stephen Doyle, Steven Heller, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Alexander Isley, James Victore and Massimo Vignelli. The ever-prolific graphic designer Marian Bantjes also published all of the rejected covers for her new book. Most recently, Jessica Helfand shared a letter about typography written to her daughter.
Rick Poynor has republished his fantastic essay about photography and W.G. Sebald, as well as of essays on H.P. Lovecraft and science fiction. Meanwhile, Michael Erard reviewed the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.
During the past year, Places maintained a steadfast focus on the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, including three essays by Richard Campanella: delta urbanism before and after, and how the narrative of New Orleans has unintentionally enabled the U.S. power centers to abandon the Gulf Coast. Others essay on New Orleans were published by Elizabeth Mossop and Jeff Carney, Tim Culvahouse, Denise Hoffman-Brandt and Dorothy Ball.
Our favorite poem of the year was "Unchopping A Tree," by W.S. Merwin. We also published poems by J.D. McClatchy, James Merrill and Christian Wiman. Our favorite poetry book of the year was Jonathan Galassi's translations of Giacomo Leopardi's Canti, from which we hope to publish poems in 2011.
Rockefeller Foundation, Thank You:
During 2010, we were able to publish much of the work on Change Observer — including over 50 project reports — thanks to support from the Rockefeller Foundation. We also convened symposiums in Italy on how museums collect and archive objects of social change and in Connecticut on documenting the work of schools teaching design and social innovation. Importantly, we were able to publish two case studies with Yale School of Management, part of a new series on design and social innovation. Jay Parkinson M.D. followed up on his experience at the Aspen Design Summit with this report, The Road to Wellville.
On the occasion of the dedication of the new Vignelli Center at RIT, we published 17 essays, remembrances and historical examinations about Lella and Massimo Vignelli. Selected highlights included Michael Bierut on Lella Vignelli, Alice Twemlow on Massimo's desk, Debbie Millman's podcast interview with Massimo, Kim Foster's look at architectural publications designed by the Vignellis, and Steven Heller on The Herald, Lorraine Wild on the Black Rule, and John Madere's film about Massimo and Lella.