Rob Walker is a technology and culture columnist for Yahoo News. He is the former Consumed columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and has contributed to many publications. He is co-editor (with Joshua Glenn) of the book Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, and author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are.

Statement

My interests — in the context of writing about design, visual culture, or anything else — tend toward subjects that strike me as being overlooked, underrated, nearly invisible. And I don’t just mean overlooked in general; I mean (previously) overlooked by me.

I’m interested, then, in neglected objects and abandoned buildings, stealthy iconography and obscured infrastructure.  I try to see what nobody else is trying to make me see, to notice what’s forgotten in the corner, or hiding in plain sight — whether it’s something delightful, or something awful. And I try to notice the work of others who do all of this better than I can. 

I do not pretend this makes me unique: It may be a description that almost any design observer, as it were, would embrace. But to the extent that I can suggest a throughline connecting the specific subjects I feel compelled to investigate and consider — security cameras, the yellow penalty card, the Google Maps pin, defaced Neighborhood Watch signage, worn-out gizmos, oddball Tumblrs, cigarette packaging, 3D-printed weapons — this is what I can offer. 

Maybe all I’m really doing is trying to have a good time as I strive to see the world more  clearly. So I write about what I believe I will enjoy writing about. And of course I hope that results in something that you, perhaps, will enjoy reading.


Rob Walker
An End of Things

Rob Walker
Object of Interest: The Yellow Card
06.21.14

An appreciation of a great World Cup object: the yellow card.


Rob Walker
Danger, Nostalgia, and Playgrounds

Rob Walker
Infrastructure Field Trips

Rob Walker
Object Vs. Object
05.12.14

The Re Made Plunger satirizes the Best Made axe — a great example of object-as-critique.


Rob Walker
Object in the News: The Face Privatizer

Rob Walker
Boris, Subverted

Rob Walker
A Security Camera Worth Looking At

Rob Walker
Personal Packaging
02.05.14

Fondly revisiting the look and feel of the mixtape.


Rob Walker
Hale County Revisited
01.18.14

An in-depth look at Hale County, Alabama, an accidental social-design laboratory.


Rob Walker
Mona Lisa Selfies

Rob Walker
Is Design Benign?

Rob Walker
Seeing The Problem
11.05.13

How a graphic communication campaign could help us address a real electoral map crisis: Gerrymandering 2.0.


Rob Walker
Scenes from the Crowdcrit Revolution
10.02.13

Assessing the crowdcrit revolution of the past decade, and what  it could mean for serious thinking about design.


Rob Walker
Rob Walker on Seeing

Rob Walker
No. 1 Object

Rob Walker
An Accidental Time Capsule

Rob Walker
Looking Better, All The Time
07.30.13

Alexandra Horowitz' book On Looking offers a framework, and specific tactics, for smarter seeing.


Rob Walker
Staring Back at Security Cameras

Rob Walker
Street Life
06.13.13

In praise of street art that draws attention to more than just itself.


Rob Walker
The Mighty Shirt Kings
06.11.13

Back in the 1980s, a group of artists calling themselves The Mighty Shirt Kings set up shop at the Jamaica Coliseum, in Queens, offering “custom air-brushed and original artwork,” which could be had on canvas, but also pants, jackets, and of course T-shirts. They are the subject of a new book: The Shirt Kings.


Rob Walker
Object Lessons
06.10.13

Object Lessons is a new project that concerns itself with “the hidden lives of ordinary things.”


Rob Walker
The Hyperdocumented Sunset Strip

Rob Walker
Finding The Story

Rob Walker
The Medium Is The Mail

Rob Walker
Cover Story

Rob Walker
Bill for a Bowl
04.02.13

Considering dollar value as one of many things a bowl might contain.


Rob Walker
Google Image Search Results, Abstracted and Animated
03.25.13

Rob Walker has created a video of his image abstraction Tumblr.


Rob Walker
The Panic Option
03.08.13

A rental car's key fob design emphasizes "Panic" over all other options. Is that really a good idea?


Rob Walker
Overshareability
02.28.13

Evernote's introvert focus raises a question: Has digital design become overly obsessed with extroverted behavior?


Rob Walker
Let’s Make A Mark
02.12.13

Ellen Susan proposes a new punctuation mark, the ElRey, for the digital-text era.


Rob Walker
Branding By Numbers

Rob Walker
What Are You Looking At?
01.18.13

The maps of the future will tell you what to look at. Sometimes, you should look elsewhere.


Rob Walker
13 Striking Landscape Fictions

Rob Walker
What Does ‘The Cover of Time’ Mean?
12.20.12

The cover of Time Magazine may not speak with authority in the nonstop news cycle. But what does?


Rob Walker
Why We Buy, Why We Brand
12.18.12

Rob Walker recommends Debbie Millman's talk "Why We Buy, Why We Brand".


Rob Walker
Tracking War Drones

Rob Walker
The Latest In Journo-Comics
12.03.12

The New tablet magazine Symbolia debuts, a worthy additoin to today's vibrant nonfiction comics scene.


Rob Walker
Real Space, Imaginary Stuff
11.24.12

Some lessons from organizing a show about the marketplace as medium


Rob Walker
Lulz and Pedagogy

Rob Walker
On Dapper Dan

Rob Walker
System As Photographer

Rob Walker
Killing for Beautiful Objects
10.17.12

A report on the ivory trade reminds us of the uniquely human willingness to kill for beautiful objects.


Rob Walker
Listening to Retail
10.06.12

Disquiet Junto has been listening to retail, and it's changing my ears.


Rob Walker
Crowdcrit vs. Apple Maps
09.25.12

An instant Tumblr responds to Apple's maps app, and demonstrates the art of the creative takedown.


Rob Walker
Card Tricks
09.17.12

The digital doesn't annihilate the analog, and business card creativity proves it.


Rob Walker
Making "Making" Mass
09.06.12

A visit to an outpost of TechShop, the aspriing "Kinko's for geeks," in North Carolina.


Rob Walker
Focusing On ‘Optics’
08.29.12

Optics: The indispensible buzzword for those who analyze pseudo-events.


Rob Walker
The City In Your Dreams

Rob Walker
High Caliber Expression

Rob Walker
Secret Lives Of Things
08.01.12

Ian Bogost explains why it's important to try to understand what it's like to be a thing.


Rob Walker
De-weaponization by Design

Rob Walker
Interface Runes

Rob Walker
Selling Stories With Stuff
07.05.12

What Significant Objects suggests about the relationship between stories and stuff.


Rob Walker
Observational Instruments, Observed
06.27.12

Peeping at the Venue project's delightful gear, and Google's Seussian Trekker


Rob Walker
The Built Villain

Rob Walker
The Bizarro Storytelling Exercise
06.08.12

The Bizarro Story Exercise: The value in thinking hard about the worst.


Rob Walker
The Infrastructure of the Cloud

Rob Walker
The Theater of Making
05.18.12

What videos depicting the story of stuff-being-made are really about.


Rob Walker
Managing Digital Durability
05.14.12

Learning to manage the disconcerting durability of digital objects.


Rob Walker
Assignment Creativity

Rob Walker
Dancing About Ruins
04.24.12

Dancing about ruins: Can debris, detritus, junk, be useful creative material?


Rob Walker
Where We Work
04.09.12

The computer-screen desktop, considered as a category of work space.


Rob Walker
What To Make Of It? A Contest.

Rob Walker
"Screenshots of Despair"
03.21.12

Considering practica interactive-design elements as plaintive expressions of isolation.


Rob Walker
Stealth Iconography: Pinwheel of Death

Rob Walker
The Ekphrasis-y Critique

Rob Walker
Dance About Architecture (Please)

Rob Walker
A Place Called "Space Available"
02.15.12

How a collection of "Space Available" signs functions as an involutnary monument to the sluggish economy.


Rob Walker
Beautified Words
02.06.12

Further thoughts on the romance of the hand.


Rob Walker
Santorum’s Tragic Sweater Vest
01.28.12

The visual meaning of Rick Santorum's sweater vest, considered.


Rob Walker
Package It Black

Rob Walker
Swoosh. Repeat.
12.29.11

The enduring success of the Nike Swoosh, and the mysterious power of repetition.


Rob Walker
Anonymous Identity (Seen and Heard)

Rob Walker
Image of the Year

Rob Walker
Postcards from Portfoliopolis

Rob Walker
Shower Head As Moral Crossroad
11.15.11

A hotel presents travelers a moral crossroads in the form of a dual shower head.


Rob Walker
A New Kind of Capture

Rob Walker
Questions About ‘The New Aesthetic’

Rob Walker
Imagine To Me

Rob Walker
More Google Image Fun

Rob Walker
An Interview with Kevin Slavin
10.10.11

A conversation between Rob Walker and co-founder of the game development company Area/Code, Kevin Slavin.


Rob Walker
Pictures of the Familiar
09.30.11

Why do we photograph extensively documented icons and monuments?


Rob Walker
Quirky and "Design" as Entertainment

Rob Walker
Styles of Likeness
09.14.11

The meaningful photograph as object — and non-object.


Rob Walker
Stealth Iconography: The Waveform

Rob Walker
Monkey or Drone?
09.02.11

Photography settles into the era of Annoying Facebook Girl, the drone, and the monkey.


Rob Walker
Graphic Design, Valued
08.28.11

Is an aesthetically pleasing annual report a signal of financial health?


Rob Walker
Wear And Tear
08.15.11

Designing something that is meant to be lived with vs. designing something that is meant to be replaced: How to think about wear and tear.


Rob Walker
Ruscha Vs. Street View

Rob Walker
A Simple Tool, or the Value of "Oh yeah"

Rob Walker
The Work of Art in the Age of Googled Reproduction
07.26.11

Ask Google for an image of "Mona Lisa," and what do you get? Maybe the answer is an artwork unto itself.


Rob Walker
Rarified Air
07.14.11

Can air (like water) be commodified, or at least physically and/or intellectually packaged in some manner that gives it measurable monetary value? So it would seem.


Rob Walker
On Slate: Branding with badges

Rob Walker
Order, chaos, order: Jennifer Shaw’s ‘Hurricane Story’

Rob Walker
The Right Stuff
06.23.11

Tumblrs The Burning House and Everyday Carry aim to tell personal stories with objects.


Rob Walker
Stealth Iconography: The Google Maps Pin

Rob Walker
Dedigitization

Rob Walker
On Radiolab: the Sound of Science
04.07.11

“Radiolab,” a public radio show that breaks from public radio sensibilities, not least in its striking sound.


Rob Walker
Fun Stuff
02.11.11

A result of the wrenching economic downturn is that we just don’t care about stuff anymore.


Rob Walker
Go Figure
02.04.11

A recurring feature in architectural renderings: the little human figures who inhabit the rendered world.


Rob Walker
Ghosts in the Machine
01.09.11

Everyday we are busy producing fresh masses of life-affirming digital stuff. What happens to this “stuff” when we die?


Rob Walker
Global Entertainment
12.30.10

Entertainment via web-based geography.


Rob Walker
Rob Walker’s Collection of Bicentennial Quarters
12.09.10

Rob Walker shares his collection of bicentennial quarters.


Rob Walker
Inside the Wild, Wacky, Profitable World of Boing Boing
12.01.10

How four people who do exactly what they want run one of the most popular blogs on the planet.


Rob Walker
Hearing Things
09.10.10

I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it’s merch. Of course, band-branded merchandise has been a major part of the music business, big and small, for years.


Rob Walker
When Funny Goes Viral
07.16.10

Taking Lulz (Sort of) Seriously.


Rob Walker
The Song Decoders
07.16.10

Pandora, is convinced it can guide you, to music that you like. The premise is that your favorite songs can be stripped to parts and reverse-engineered.


Rob Walker
Hitting Rewind on the Cassette Tape
04.23.10

The romance associated with vinyl seems to apply to its longtime analog rival, the cassette.


Rob Walker
Slightly Used
04.03.10

A line of axes from the Best Made Company. These are lovely objects, remarkable for the colorful painted patterns on the handles.


Rob Walker
Valuing $0
03.13.10

Lewis Hyde wrote The Gift decades ago for an audience of artists, writers and other people who create. Chris Anderson, cited Hyde’s work in his book Free, published last year.


Rob Walker
The End of the 00s: Noted, Without Noteworthiness
12.23.09

An event that embodies so many 21st-century events: Something is happening, somewhere, and it has no particular effect on you whatsoever. The latest details in a moment.


Rob Walker
Stuffed
12.17.09

The scariest reading of the A&E reality show Hoarders, is that these freakish piles of stuff it documents simply reflect what plenty of us consume as a matter of course.


Rob Walker
Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide To American Consumer Culture
06.17.09

Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture, is a book that I can recommend without hesitation — because after all, I was asked to write a forward for it.


Rob Walker
If You Follow Me, I Will Follow You Back
05.08.09

“If You Follow Me, I Will Follow You Back” a talk revisited from the NYU “Blowing Up The Brand” conference.


Rob Walker
A Successful Failure
02.12.09

Yiying Lu is an artist and designer in Sydney, Australia. One image in her portfolio is of a peaceful whale held aloft by a small flock of birds, aka as the “Fail Whale” of Twitter.


Rob Walker
Dumb and Dumber 2.0
01.28.09

American consumers have long shown an “exceptional willingness” to buy, for instance, technology products before their utility is clear.


Rob Walker
Talk is Cheap
12.12.08

As the financial crisis snowballed this year, retail sales fell sharply. Curiously, many assessments of this development treated it as an exciting new trend.


Rob Walker
Subconscious Warm-Up
10.03.08

The Speedo LZR Racer suits worn by
Michael Phelps and other world-class swimmers. Promoted as a design breakthrough and worn by the most victorious Olympian in history, it offers a potent blend of functional promise and emotional aspiration.

Rob Walker
Shared Memories
09.12.08

Many of the images reproduced in Scrapbooks: An American History, by Jessica Helfand, date back 50, 80, even 100 years. Reproduced in color and spread across wide pages, the anonymous scrapbook creators could hardly have imagined such a fate for their work.


Rob Walker
This Joke’s for You
05.04.08

In the movie Idiocracy, an average and unambitious guy played by Luke Wilson hibernates as part of a military experiment and wakes up 500 years later. The America he wakes up to has devolved radically.


Rob Walker
Can a Dead Brand Live Again?
03.18.08

Is it possible to revive a dead brand?


Rob Walker
Imitation of Life
01.13.08

Spend enough time looking at design and new-product Web sites and it’s easy to spot recurring themes. One of the most interesting is things that look like other things.


Rob Walker
Handmade 2.0
12.16.07

The Handmade Consortium, Etsy and the DIY moment.


Rob Walker
Tobias Wong on Consuming Consumer Consumption
12.01.07

Tobias Wong on Consuming Consumer Consumption.


Rob Walker
False Endorsement
11.18.07

There is no shortage of logos in the world, no dearth of brands striving for consumer allegiance and no chance that the creation of new brands and logos will cease.


Rob Walker
Timeless Object
10.28.07

What makes a useless-seeming watch potentially more valuable — in identity terms — than, say, regular jewelry?


Rob Walker
Back to Basics Egg & Muffin Toaster
04.08.07

In a recent issue of The 
M.I.T. Sloan Management Review, Michael Schrage, a business writer and an M.I.T. researcher, challenged what Bruce Greenwald, has said about the fate of all innovative technologies: “In the long run, everything is a toaster.”

Rob Walker
TV Land
03.18.07

Buying, selling, updating, restoring and “flipping” for quick profits — it all ran together, but I watched even when I couldn’t remember if the title of a certain show was “Flip This House” or “Flip That House.”


Rob Walker
Unconsumption
01.07.07

Getting new stuff can feel really good. Most everybody knows that. Most everybody also knows — that utility can fade, pleasure can be fleeting and the whole thought-that-counts thing is especially ephemeral.


Rob Walker
Animal Pragmatism
04.23.06

A critter label is any label that features an animal. According to ACNielsen, 438 table-wine brands have been introduced in the past three years, and 18 percent — feature an animal on the label.


Rob Walker
Original Tastemaker
03.05.06

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced a 650-home community near Raleigh, N.C., designed and built in a collaboration between Stewart and KB Home, a builder of residential houses.


Rob Walker
The Story of O's
02.19.06

More than 60 years ago, CheeriOats were introduced to a cereal aisle far less abundant with choices than the one we know today. Cheerios — the shortened name, as of 1945 — remains a powerhouse.


Rob Walker
For Kicks
03.03.05

A look at one facet of the sneaker phenomenon — that is, the way that fashion and brand loyalty can come together in what might be considered the folk art of a consumer culture.


Rob Walker
Hyperreality Hobbying
02.02.05

“Reborning'” is the name that has emerged for a curious process of altering and enhancing a baby doll to look and even to feel as much like a human baby as possible.


Rob Walker
Surface Effects (re: Shepard Fairey)
01.30.05

When Shepard Fairey was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, a friend wanted to know how to make stencils. Fairey offered to show him, using picture of the wrestler Andre the Giant.


Rob Walker
The Good, the Plaid and the Ugly
01.02.05

Reborn dolls, is the name that has emerged for a curious process of altering and enhancing a baby doll to look and even to feel as much like a human baby as possible.


Rob Walker
Pattern Recognition
10.17.04

Realtree High Definition Camouflage.


Rob Walker
The Filth Epiphany (Dyson Vacuums)
08.08.04

The Dyson vacuum cleaner, a hit product in England and elsewhere in Europe, was introduced to the American market in 2002 by way of a commercial featuring its inventor, James Dyson.


Rob Walker
The Lives They Lived: Making Us Laugh
12.28.03

Consider the machine that a television engineer named Charles Douglass, invented in the 1950's. It was called the Laff Box.


Rob Walker
The Guts of a New Machine
11.30.03

The iPod, a digital music player, it weighing just 6.5 ounces and holding about 1,000 songs.


Rob Walker
Digital Tools for Making Brilliant Mistakes
11.30.03

The many options for digitally antiquing your 21st-century self-expression.


Rob Walker
The Lives They Lived: Let There Be Lite
12.29.02



Rob Walker
The Way We Live Now: Me, My Brand And I
05.14.00

About a year and a half ago, a colleague of mine whom I'll call Steve Theory walked into my office, shut the door behind him and asked my advice about some recent job offers. Without a hint of sarcasm, he explained, ''I just want to do what's best for the brand Steve Theory.''


Rob Walker
The Way We Live Now: Fauxhemian Rhapsody
01.23.00

Pastis, the Parisian-style bistro that recently opened in New York's meatpacking district, is a restaurant with an idea. The menu is unpretentious, ''simple,'' the owner has explained, and ''there will be no reservations.''



Influences

Lynda Barry
Wahneema Lubiano
Laurie Anderson
PJ Harvey
Alma Guillermoprieto
Creative Opportunities
  • Twitter Facebook Google+
    Tumblr Pinterest RSS

    Design Observer
    social media à la carte
  • Newsletter signup

  • Design Jobs
    Observer Jobs Spotlight




Mail Chimp