When we launched Design Observer in November 2003, we envisioned a weblog focused on writings about design and visual culture — a simple site publishing a few essays a week by a short list of friends. We then started "blogging," recommending through our Observed column an eclectic mix of stories, news and surprises found around the web. This combination of features and links crystallized as our audience grew, and we eventually redesigned the site to its current look and structure in June 2006. New contributing writers were added, and numerous guest writers joined us from time to time — and the long-form essay became our specialty, even as other sites championed shorter and quicker. This commitment to the writing — and implicitly, to championing writers — has been rewarded with two recent Webby Award nominations for Best Writing on the web (where we've been honored to be the only blog in the company of The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Wired).
Today we begin a new chapter in this story and evolution — a vastly reconceived and expanded Design Observer.
The Design Observer Group will now house four channels at designobserver.com, and our homepage will surface the best and newest from these channels.
Observatory will include the essays and commentary previously published on Design Observer, with an archive of over 700 essays published between 2003-2009. The focus of this channel will remain the same — essays and commentary on design and visual culture, and the publishing cycle will still include 2-3 new essays a week, plus Gallery features (Today, Slideshows, Collections, etc.). Observatory will continue to be edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Julie Lasky.
Change Observer is a new channel, devoted to the many dimensions of design for social innovation, developed by Winterhouse Institute with support from Rockefeller Foundation. It will provide timely information about design strategies aimed globally at improving health, education, housing, and the environment, and will feature reportage, interviews, opinion pieces, book and exhibition reviews, a photo gallery, and a resource center compiling information about key organizations and events. Change Observer will not only identify important people and projects related to design for social change, it will also assess their effectiveness through investigative reports by renowned journalists. Change Observer is edited by Julie Lasky and William Drenttel.
Places is not only a new channel, but an exciting new partnership between the Design Observer Group and the Design History Foundation. Since its founding in Spring 1983 by architecture faculty at MIT and Berkeley, Places: Forum of Design For the Public Realm has been a print journal, encompassing 69 issues and over 1250 articles — all now archived as a rich resource on Design Observer. We will be showcasing outstanding essays from the Places archive until October, when a new online journal, edited by Nancy Levinson, will be launched featuring a mix of topical essays, timely reviews, refereed scholarship and project portfolios.
Lastly, Observer Media will be our audio and video channel. We are pleased to announce a new partnership that brings the audio archives of "Design Matters with Debbie Millman" to our site — close to 100 hour-long podcast interviews with leading designers, artists and writers. In the Fall, we will be launching a new interview show with Debbie Millman, professionally produced by Curtis Fox with higher audio standards. We are also proud to include "We the Constitution," a series of short videos by Andrew Sloat designed to draw attention to the words of the United States Constitution. We will be adding new shows, as well as individual podcasts and videos, in the coming months.
Our Observed column of short links to news and items around the web will continue, but with many more editors and writers contributing. Items posted in Observed will be generally longer, with shorter items delivered via Twitter.
Design Observer also includes a greatly expanded Books + Store section, with over 600 books archived in a database constructed for easy sorting and browsing. So that our readers can keep up on new and noteworthy titles, we will include all books received, as well as noting books which we recommend — with short notes signed by our contributing writers. Over time we will expand our Store offerings to include more items for sale directly through Design Observer. We will also continue to feature small, selective ads from The Deck advertising network, as well as a Job Board developed in partnership with Coroflot. We encourage our readers (whether at design firms, universities, corporations or non-profits) to place job ads through Design Observer: the results are continually reported to be outstanding. Next month, we expect to launch sign-ups for Newsletters for those readers who wish to stay abreast of our new content by email.
In a separate post, we will also outline our new Comments Policy, which is going to encourage a more thoughtful and civilized tone to the discussions on our sites. We are also implementing new anti-spam procedures, including a captcha-type test for new commenters.
The expansion of Design Observer to include new channels, and so much new content, will not be flawless, and we anticipate some growing pains. We ask for your patience. Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome and may be emailed to Jade-Snow Carroll, managing editor: jade [at] winterhouse.com.
We have appreciated the support and encouragement of our readers over the past six years. We hope to be a site you visit regularly in the years to come.