Rob Giampietro is a principal at Giampietro+Smith, a design firm based in New York City. Rob is also an adjunct faculty member at Parsons School of Design and a regular columnist for BusinessWeek Online.


I saw Bill and Jessica present as part of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Yale’s MFA Graphic Design program. I was inspired and intrigued and I deeply admired their practice. Later in the year I sent them a note saying so, and, a few days later, Bill called me up about an internship. His questions were probing. His passion was infectious. His wisdom was great. Before I really knew it, I was on a plane bound for Connecticut to do an internship at Winterhouse. Soon after that, I discovered what so many have already noted about Bill: his generous spirit.

Bill helped me find a place to live. He gave me books to read — he somehow got me to read Wittgenstein so we could debate his points on color theory together. He and Jessica made some fantastic dinners for our late nights in the studio. They were incredibly generous with their home. Sometimes I played their piano on my lunch break. Once, Bill loaned me his car to drive to New Haven. Bill and Jessica had a BBQ for my parents when they came to visit that summer. Bill loved spy stories and one night we knocked off work early one night to see Spy Game. He enjoyed it, but, ever the perfectionist, he suggested a few improvements — I agreed with every one. I remember all of this like it was yesterday. I knew such kindness was rare then; I know even better how rare it is now.

He was a thoughtful teacher, especially in the classroom of life. He took me to book barns around Winterhouse and showed me what he looked for. His library was such a remarkable, living resource for the studio’s work. We were working on a newspaper project and he dropped a pile of books from the library on my desk about newspaper design methods and history and asked me to look through them. At first I thought, Where did he get all these books on such an obscure subject? But everything made Bill curious. On our way to the first presentation, Bill asked me what I’d learned from his improvised syllabus. I rambled a bit, and tried to answer his many thoughtful questions. When we arrived at the meeting, Bill had synthesized them all into an precise, compelling presentation, far wiser than anything I had told him. In that moment, he showed me that the best teacher is always a student — it is a lesson I have never forgotten.

When Kevin and I started Giampietro+Smith, Bill offered to be the chairman of our board for the first few years. I marveled at how he could manage it among the million other things he did, but he seemed to love it, and his energy gave us confidence, especially at the beginning. So often he was much more than a great creative director — he was a champion for what design could be, for what people could be. He believed in people’s best selves and settled for nothing less.

Bill always encouraged me to write. My first published piece, about default systems in graphic design, came from a conversation I had with him. He always advocated for my writing and encouraged me to contribute to Design Observer and Looking Closer and more. He believed in the potential for an expanded design discourse and dedicated his life to pushing the boundaries of what that meant with almost everything he did.

I will always cherish my time with Bill. Much love and heartfelt thoughts to Jessica, Malcolm, Fiona, and friends in this difficult time.
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