William Drenttel is a designer and publisher, and editorial director of Design Observer. He is a partner at Winterhouse, a design consultancy focused on social change, online media and educational institutions, and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.


William Drenttel is a designer, publisher and design leader. Bill works in partnership with Jessica Helfand at Winterhouse, a design consultancy focused on social change and innovation, publishing and online media, and cultural and educational institutions. Recent clients include Poetry Foundation, Nextbook, New England Journal of Medicine, Archives of American Art, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Harvard Law Review, Yale School of Management, New York University School of Journalism, University of Chicago Press and the National Design Awards. He is currently the design director of Teach For All, an international initiative of Teach For America working on education innovation in 10 countries. Through Winterhouse Institute, he is the recipient of a $1.5 million Rockefeller Foundation grant for 2009-2010 to develop collective action and collaboration for social impact across the design industry.

Bill is the co-founder of Design Observer, the widely-read blog about design and visual culture, and the founder of the Polling Place Photo Project, an online election documentation project supported by The New York Times during the last election cycle. As a publisher, he develops books under the Winterhouse imprint with the University of Chicago Press and Yale University Press.

Bill is president emeritus of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, a former trustee of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Poetry Society, a fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU, and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management. He lectures widely on design and communications in the U.S. and abroad, and will be a resident at the American Academy in Rome in 2010. He is a graduate of Princeton University, and lives in Falls Village, Connecticut, USA.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Final Report

An review of the Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Change.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Innovation: Participants

The Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Change is being held August 18-20, 2013 in New Haven, Connecticut. These were the 18 participants.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Program Description

The original program description for the Winterhouse Institute symposium at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, August 2013 on social design in education.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Third Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Final Report

Final report from symposium held at Yale University, August 2012, where participants from a variety of eduction programs discussed the challenges of social change initiatives within universities and schools.

William Drenttel
Third Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education and Social Innovation: Participants

The Winterhouse Third Symposium on Design Education and Social Changeis being held August 19-21, 2012 in New Haven, Connecticut.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Third Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Program Description

The original program description for the Winterhouse Institute symposium at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, August 2012 on social design in education.

William Drenttel
Design + Craft: The Brazilian Path

Adélia Borges, a Brazilian curator has now published a remarkable book on the intersection of design and craft, artisanal objects and social innovation.

William Drenttel
Update: Design For Change Goes Global

Design For Change, the international design project that gives young people a chance to make a design contribution in their villages and cities has now reached 34 countries, launched a new website and conference, as well as school and communities challenges.

William Drenttel
Designing for Social Change

William Drenttel
Give the Gift of Design this Holiday Season

Tax-deductible gifts for the holiday season: they feel good for the giver, meaningful for the recipient, and provide crucial support for hardworking nonprofits on the ground.

William Drenttel
Design and the Social Sector: An Annotated Bibliography

This bibiography surveys the literature of social design — the spectrum from design process and thinking to the zones of social innovation.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse First Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Program Description

This symposium, sponsored by the Winterhouse Institute, was held October 17-19 2010 in Falls Village, Connecticut. This was the initial information shared with participants.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Second Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Participants

The Winterhouse Second Symposium on Design Education and Social Change, was held August 14-16, 2011 in Falls Village, Connecticut.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Second Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Program Description

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Second Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Final Report

William Drenttel
Design Matters Wins People’s Choice Design Award

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum announced the People's Choice Design Award — and Design Observer's own Debbie Millman, the creator of the popular Design Matters series of podcast interviews, was the surprise winner.

William Drenttel
National Design Award Trophy

In October 2011, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum unveiled a new trophy for the National Design Awards. Originally designed as an asterisk in silicon carbide by Winterhouse in 2000, the new glass trophy is by Corning GlassLab.

William Drenttel
Late Summer Reading

In the late summer, we share a reading list first published in Frieze magazine, April 2011.

William Drenttel
William Drenttel at Design Indaba

William Drenttel
For Sale: The Earliest Modern Studio in America

William Drenttel
Design of Crime, Evil and Death

Buried in our Winterhouse library are numerous books with "design" in the title — things like Death by Design, Design for Dying and Design in Evil.

William Drenttel

A plastic axe, a left-over prop from a Halloween costume, tracked from a Connecticut store back to a California distributor back to a Chinese manufacturer.

William Drenttel
Best of DOG 2010

Hardly exhaustive, here are some of the highlights of essays and blog posts on the Design Observer Group during 2010.

William Drenttel
A Conversation with Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven

An expansive interview with Daniel van der Velden, co-author of Uncorporate Identity.

William Drenttel
WikiLeaks: Design Proposals by Metahaven

William Drenttel
I (still) Love Amsterdam

Dutch design events in December 2010, including the Prince Claus Awards and graphic design conferences.

William Drenttel
Imagining Menorahs as Peacocks?

That designers want to "re-imagine" the menorah every year is worthy of discussion and critique. That they want to make them out of recycled bike chains needs to be challenged someplace, by someone.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse First Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Final Report

The final report from a symposium held in Connecticut, October 17–19, 2010, where 13 educators from a variety of design and business programs discussed the challenges and objectives of social-change initiatives within their schools and universities.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse First Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Participant Case Studies

Participants of Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education and Social Change, October 17-19, 2010, each contributed case studies of a class, project or program that bridges design and social innovation.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse First Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Participants

This outlines the participants of the Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education and Social Change, which was held October 17-19 2011, in Falls Village CT.

William Drenttel
An Introduction to Graphic Design

Graphic Design 101 by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand.

William Drenttel
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.

William Drenttel
Arial vs. Helvetica

A great visualization showing the differences between Helvetica and Arial.

William Drenttel
William Drenttel on Design and Social Innovation

A video of a talk on design and social innovation at the Feast Conference given by William Drenttel on October 1, 2009.

William Drenttel
Dogs and Their Designers

Design Observer posted an open call for designers to submit photos of themselves with their canine companions. These are the results...

William Drenttel
Case Study Use: Teaching History and Notes for Educators

A record of where case studies in Design and Social Enterprise series from Yale School of Management have been used or taught.

William Drenttel
Reasons Not to Be Pretty: Symposium on Design, Social Change and the “Museum”

In April 2010, 22 designers, historians, curators, educators and journalists met at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy to discuss the museum’s potential role in relation to design for social change. This is a report on their conversation.

William Drenttel
Periodic Table of Swearing

William Drenttel
Bellagio Design Symposium: Participants

Bellagio Design Symposium, April 12-14, 2010, sponsored by Winterhouse Institute with support from Rockefeller Foundation, involved 21 participants — curators, educators, designers, writers, and representatives of NGOs and foundations. This the complete list of participants.

William Drenttel
Bellagio Design Symposium: Call for Participation

Reasons Not to Be Pretty: Symposium on Design, Social Change and the "Museum" was a symposium sponsored by the Winterhouse Institute and held at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center, Bellagio Italy, April 12-14 2010. This is the initial information posted as a call for participation.

William Drenttel
Sustainability Posters

Six leading designers make posters of the word Sustainability.

William Drenttel
Design for Change Contest

William Drenttel
After the Volcano, the First Flight Out of Healthrow (or Shame on American Express and British Airways)

Stuck in London by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökul, I flew one of the first flights out of Heathrow. Sadly, the flight was empty.

William Drenttel
Aspen Design Summit: Background

As background to the Aspen Design Summit November 11-14, 2009, each participant was given a briefing book that included the following background, history, program and schedule.

William Drenttel
The Stonework of Jon Piasecki

"Stone construction is one of the most enduring traces of human activity. Any effort to quarry, cut and stack it is one that requires a powerful incentive, extensive planning and specialized skill." The Stone River project of Jon Piasecki.

William Drenttel
Aspen Design Summit: Program Description

AIGA and Winterhouse Institute are joining forces to stage the Aspen Design Summit in November 2009.

William Drenttel
Better World by Design Poster

A recent poster by Winterhouse for the A Better World by Design conference at RISD/Brown in early October 2009.

William Drenttel
Report from Hale County, Alabama

Greensboro Alabama is a city of contrasts, and a place where new design thinking is revealing itself in a surprising number of ways. An occasional report from Winterhouse Institute on its Design for Social Impact & Innovation Project.

William Drenttel
Once Out of Chaos

William Drenttel
Announcing Project M at Winterhouse

William Drenttel
Polling Place Photo Project

To commemorate the inauguration of President Barack Obama, please enjoy this short film by Andrew Sloat inspired by Polling Place Photo Project.

William Drenttel
A Design-Oriented National Endowment for the Arts

A proposal for a design-oriented National Endowment for the Arts.

William Drenttel
The Obama Victory

The Polling Place Photo Project, staged in partnership with The New York Times and AIGA, seeks to visualize democracy in action with photographs by citizens engaged with voting at the polls. Yesterday was Barrack Obama's day, and these photographs are dedicated to him.

William Drenttel
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Working with Amnesty International, Woody Pirtle designed a series of posters that spotlights 12 of the individual articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We celebrate these, today, the 60th anniversary of the UDHR.

William Drenttel
Polling Place Photo Project on November 4, 2008

We are pleased to announce that the Polling Place Photo Project is continuing into the 2008 presidential election, supported by a partnership of The New York Times, AIGA and Design Observer.

William Drenttel

William Drenttel
Whose Flag?

Nearly a decade into a new century, I believe it is unacceptable for a design organization, foundation, board of directors, magazine or other enterprise, to mount an initiative with an all male panel of judges. Such behavior is no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated by a community of designers (or any other community).

William Drenttel
Hurricane Watch: Gustav Emergency Relief

William Drenttel
I Was A Mad Man

Mad Men takes place in 1960. Just seventeen years later, I went to work at an ad agency and became a Mad Man. This is my story...

William Drenttel
Thoughts on Democracy, July 4 2008

William Drenttel
AIGA Winterhouse Writing Awards 2008

AIGA Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism seek to increase the understanding and appreciation of design, both within the profession and throughout American life. Submissions for the $10,000 Writing Award and the $1,000 Student Award are due before June 2, 2008.

William Drenttel
Any Baseball is Beautiful

Baseball spring training opens Tuesday. It is in this spirit that I stumbled upon the photographs of Don Hamerman. For the past few years, as he's walked his dog at a local park, he's picked up lost and forgotten baseballs. There are dozens of them now, all lovingly photographed.

William Drenttel
Polling Place Photo Project on Super Tuesday

Voting on Tuesday, February 5, in the U.S. presidential primaries? We hope you will contribute a photograph to the Polling Place Photo Project.

William Drenttel
Polling Place Photo Project 2008

We are pleased to announce that the Polling Place Photo Project is continuing into the 2008 presidential primaries and election, supported by a new partnership of The New York Times, AIGA and Design Observer.

William Drenttel
Taking Things Seriously I

William Drenttel
Stephen Doyle: A Few Words

Stephen Doyle is a graphic wordsmith.

William Drenttel
A Plea to The New York Times: Index Your Art

Why does the art that adds so much to the texts published in The New York Times disappear? Why cannot The New York Times simply index the art that it publishes, at least leaving the bibliographic tracings of the work in their newspaper?

William Drenttel
Wood That We Could

Remember back in the late 1980s, when Minneapolis was a hotbed of creative energy? Back when brochures were tied together with braid and twigs? Minnesota was making a play for the next big thing: the North Woods look. Well, it's back...

William Drenttel
Burma (Myanmar), 1989

This slideshow of photographs from 1989 is offered in solidarity with the people of Burma — as they again confront one of the most brutal regimes in the world.

William Drenttel
The Presidential Rash

It was reported this week by the Huffington Post that President George W. Bush has had Lyme Disease since last August — when he got the "characteristic bullseye rash" on his left shin. So what does a Presidential rash look like, anyway?

William Drenttel
Project M

It is clear that in the last decade, the rural poor in America have gotten poorer. But having safe water is not something most of us think of as a problem in our country. If you'd like to help, Buy A Meter.

William Drenttel
One Man's Literary Compass

It was in 1966 when I returned to San Francisco to re-establish The Greenwood Press. The first thing I did was to build these bookshelves with my young architect friends. These photographs by Dennis Letbetter, forty years later, have captured so beautifully the soul and spirit of Greenwood's library.

William Drenttel
Al Gore for President

Writing as a designer, as a writer, as a husband and father, but most of all, as a human being — I believe we should draft Al Gore to run for the Presidency of the United States.

William Drenttel
Julie Iovine

William Drenttel
Koolhaas and His Omnipotent Masters

Koolhaas recounts the story: he chose between working on NYC's Ground Zero and the Beijing CCTV project based on a fortune cookie he was given at a Chinese restaurant — in it, the goofy prognostication "Stunningly Omnipresent Masters Make Minced Meat of Memory." Instead of responding to fortune cookies, Rem Koolhaas could have changed the world.

William Drenttel
International Polar Year

In what may turn out to be the biggest international scientific project to date, an army of thousands of scientists will spend the next two years studying the Arctic and Antarctic as part of the International Polar Year, which officially begins this week.

William Drenttel
The Good Citizen's Alphabet

Bertrand Russell had the wisdom to realize that certain words require proper definition to be used correctly in political and social discourse. This alphabet book is offered here as a slide show for our readers.

William Drenttel
Diversity as Form: The Yale Architecture Posters

Since 1998, Michael Bierut has worked with Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, designing more than 40 posters. Mohawk Fine Papers has published a book celebrating this collaboration: Forty Posters for the Yale School of Architecture.

William Drenttel
Voting & Religion in America: A Slideshow

The reality, contrary to my perception, is that millions vote in religious settings all across the country, casting this important act of citizenry in distinctly non-secular environments.

William Drenttel
Polling Place Photo Project

Polling Place Photo Project seeks to advance innovation in citizen journalism by documenting local voter experiences during the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday, November 7...

William Drenttel
Silk Road Typography

"This is the Silk Road at its worst: a kind of PC 1990s where each and every interest has to be fairly represented — a letter for every voice. The result is Babel, seven discordant voices singing in the wind." Commentary on new European Union 50th anniversary logo, and a look back at the 100th anniversary logo for the New York Public Library.

William Drenttel
Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing

In partnership with AIGA, we launched the Winterhouse Writing Awards for Design and Criticism, an initiative to increase the appreciation of design — by recognizing new voices in design criticism and commentary. Here are the 2006 recipients.

William Drenttel
What Ever Happened to Half.com, Oregon?

But back in 1999, in its Netflix-like heyday, Half.com was hot. And it did something quite remarkable. As a publicity stunt, it bought a town and renamed it. Someplace in Oregon. I wondered what ever happened to Half.com, Oregon — the first dot com city in the world?

William Drenttel
Threat Advisory Pandemic Alert System (TAPAS)

How do we measure the danger level from the Avian Influenza A (H5N1) virus? What we lack is that one Tom Ridge-like bit of inspiration that would lend clarity to these confusing times. We took our cue from a certain John James Audubon. Herewith, one option for Homeland Security. Yes, we know: it's for the birds.

William Drenttel
Dangerous Beauty: The Art of the Shiv

A shiv is a weapon crafted from the limited resources of a prisoner's closed world. Crudely constructed from such things as spoons, shoelaces and upholstery tacks, shivs are about masked utility: it's an innocuous object with improbably toxic intent (whether used to attack others or to protect oneself...).

William Drenttel
Move It Down . . . A Little to the Right

That some years ago, some poor sign installer went to put the first letter of the name of the museum up on the wall, and someone screamed, "No, you idiot! Lower! Much Lower! Get it down close to the edge. And a quarter-inch to the right." That the building is the Guggenheim Museum, and that the architect was Frank Lloyd Wright, makes this photographic detail especially interesting.

William Drenttel
The Red Hand : A Graphic History

I keep thinking about the red hand. Where did this graphic metaphor come from? The many uses of the red-hand — it's metaphorically rich and graphic history — remind me that symbols do have meaning. Whatever I think of Congresswoman Nancy Johnson here in northwestern Connecticut, I don't think she got caught red-handed, whether in a cookie jar or pie or pool of blood. This is a bad use of an historical symbol, and trashy politics as well.

William Drenttel
Weather Report: 53 Degrees F. Heavy Snowfall Predicted

The weather is fucked up. "Science is a way of making sense of the world. Design is a way of making the world make sense."

William Drenttel
Meet Me in St. Louis: The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts makes the radical assumption that the experience of art is about contemplation. Take your time. You are alone here. The light will change if you stay long enough.

William Drenttel
David Hughes: Caricaturist of Our Time

But my favorite, in recent years, is the British illustrator David Hughes. I yearn for his drawings, look for them in my favorite publications, and save them whenever and wherever I find them.

William Drenttel
Katrina: Designer News & Resources (09.10 Update)

This updates our efforts to support relief initiatives for those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

William Drenttel
Katrina: Designer News & Resources (09.08 Update)

This post is an archive of news and resources to help designers devastated by Hurricane Katrina from the New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf States area.

William Drenttel
Reading the News & Charting Death

The potential for terrorism is not a chart I can make in my head. The numbers are there, but the design alludes me.

William Drenttel
Small Town Meetings

Zoning regulations are how a town designs its future. They determine what kind of development is encouraged, and what kind is discouraged. In Meetings, Paul Shambroom visited 150 local government meetings in 32 states. The photographs are remarkable in presenting the physical details by which towns gather to determine how they live.

William Drenttel
Signs of Religion in the American South

I live in a country where religion has become not only a matter of faith, but increasingly the foundation for malevolent politics — ugly hostilities over abortion, what's on television, whether Darwin can be taught in schools, and who gets named to the Supreme Court. In the South, on every corner, is a sign, a plaque, a statue, a monument signifying faith. Jesus's name is invoked in the landscape to name beauty salons, to say this homeowner is a believer, and to give direction to non-believers.

William Drenttel
Catastrophic Imaginings: The Design of Disaster

In the end, artificial disasters are designed to elicit and test the responses of participants. In their recording, both allow for a post-mortem evaluation. How did I do? How would I respond? Would I sit patiently in my car a mile up the road? Would I watch from my window, safe in my home?

William Drenttel
Maps of Cyberspace

It is the internet that has changed our perception of space, precisely because the sheer volume of interconnectivity is beyond our imagination, whether it be language-based, data-based, or community-based. Add black holes and photographs of asteroidal moons around Jupiter, and our world seems increasingly expansive. Yet, if we cannot map it, how can we understand it?

William Drenttel
Ten Years of Design Leadership: Richard Grefé

William Drenttel
Moving the Axum Obelisk

In the mid-1990s, I saw an exhibition at the New York Public Library of the greatest illustrated books of the 19th century. One book stood out for me: a massive tome by Henry H. Gorringe, titled Egyptian Obelisks and dated 1882. It's in my design collection because of a dubious memory that it's the first book to document a from-start-to-finish design process. Of course, the process it documents is how one moves an obelisk.

William Drenttel
Stop The Plant: The Failure of Rendering

There is no single rendering ominous enough to create public fear; no image so compelling as to create political momentum; and no symbol so memorable as to unite the opposition. Whether through artistic renderings or compelling information design, no one has made a visual case against these plants that is wholly effective. This is, I believe, a fundamental failure of design.

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...

William Drenttel
Bird in Hand: When Does A Copy Become Plagiarism?

William Drenttel
In Remembrance of Susan Sontag

In Remembrance of Susan Sontag: a designer's twenty-five years of interaction with the legandary writer.

William Drenttel
My Country Is Not A Brand

Branding was originally an approach for creating reputations for commercial products.

William Drenttel
On Making Things

William Drenttel
Does Aspen Have A Future?

William Drenttel
Font Forensics, Or Whether George W. Bush Is Hiding Something

William Drenttel
Penmanship: The Voice of A Future Designer

William Drenttel
Posted Without Comment

William Drenttel
Edward Tufte: The Dispassionate Statistician III

William Drenttel
Learning from Las Vegas: The Book That (Still) Takes My Breath Away

William Drenttel
El Lissitzky for Pesach

William Drenttel
The Lying Game No. 2 (Or Vietnam Redux)

William Drenttel
Defamiliarization: A Personal History

William Drenttel
Typography and Diplomacy

William Drenttel
Call for Entries: Periodic Table of the Elements

Jessica Helfand and I are building a collection of Periodic Tables and hope to publish a book on their scientific, visual and cultural history.

William Drenttel
Uut, Uup and Away

What happens when we discover new elements, especially ones on the outer fringes of the periodic table? Where did Uut and Uup come from?

William Drenttel
Rationalizing Absence

James Turrell's influence on World Trade Tower memorial design.

William Drenttel
Adolf Wölfli Invents Design Brut?

Mr. Gomez has taken your basic 19th-century-madman-artist and turned him into a model 20th century graphic designer.

William Drenttel
Design URLs

As a service to our readers over the holidays, here is a list of the twenty URLs we found to be available, and more interestingly, the close to one hundred URLs we found to be taken.

William Drenttel
Shallow Water Dictionary

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a little out-of-print tract called the Shallow Water Dictionary: A Grounding in Estuary English by John R. Stilgoe, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard.

William Drenttel
Information Archaeology

Russ Kick is "a self-described 'information archaeologist...'" The revealing of state secrets through deconstructing a PDF.

William Drenttel
Edward Tufte: The Dispassionate Statistician II

More on Edward Tufte and his critique of PowerPoint.

William Drenttel
Culture Is Not Always Popular

A keynote presentation by Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel at the AIGA conference in Vancouver, October 25, 2003.

William Drenttel
VAS: An Opera in Flatland

VAS: An Opera in Flatland is the first full-length novel by Steve Tomasula and Stephen Farrell.

William Drenttel
Twin (Cities) Type in Flux

A new typeface commissioned for the City of Minneapolis moves when the wind blows. Is this what Gutenberg imagined when he invented movable type?

William Drenttel
Paul Rand: Bibliography as Biography

This is bibliography as biography, and a posthumous testament to the considerable scope — and ongoing life — of one designer's mind. A Selected Bibliography of Books from the Collection of Paul Rand

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