Literature

Rick Poynor
Exposure: H.P. Lovecraft by Lucius B. Truesdell
The master of horror


Rick Poynor
Exposure: J.G. Ballard by Brian Griffin
The science fiction of the ordinary


Rick Poynor
Illustrations by Bohumil Štěpán for Crazy Fairy Tales
Another look at Bohumil Štěpán’s whimsical absurdism


Rick Poynor
Tracking the Locations of J.G. Ballard’s Super-Cannes
A photo-essay on the futuristic marina and business park in the south of France that inspired Ballard’s disquieting fantasy about corporate crime


Rick Poynor
The Conceptual Advertising of J.G. Ballard
J.G. Ballard’s conceptual ads anticipated the emergence of culture jamming, subvertising, design fiction and speculative design.


Rick Poynor
The Age of Wire and String Rebooted
Granta’s new edition of The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus is a landmark of experimental illustration.



Debbie Millman
Wendy MacNaughton + Caroline Paul
Wendy MacNaughton and Caroline Paul on a journey from advertising to Rwanda to illustration, and from Stanford to firefighter to author.


Rick Poynor
On the Trail of The Eater of Darkness
The Eater of Darkness is a collision of science fiction, murder mystery, Surrealism and experimental typography.


Rick Poynor
The Museum of Communicating Objects
Orhan Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects is an illuminating guide to his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.


Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: André Breton’s Nadja
The Livre de poche edition of André Breton’s Surrealist classic Nadja remains the best visual interpretation of the book.


Rob Walker
High Caliber Expression
Reading Richard Ford's response to a critic (by shooting her book) as an expressive act.


Rick Poynor
Pierre Faucheux and Le Livre de Poche
A masterclass in book cover design: Pierre Faucheux’s work for the French paperback publisher Livre de poche.


Rob Walker
Selling Stories With Stuff
What Significant Objects suggests about the relationship between stories and stuff.


Rick Poynor
The Strange Afterlife of Common Objects
In lstanbul shops like The Works: “Objects of Desire,” the novelist Orhan Pamuk found the artifacts for his newly opened Museum of Innocence.


Rick Poynor
The Covers of J.G. Ballard’s Crash: An Update
Some recent covers of J.G. Ballard’s disturbing Crash, a notoriously hard novel for designers to interpret.


Alexandra Lange
Downton Abbey: Fell In Love With a House
Downton Abbey, for all its melodrama and dropped teacups, is really the story of falling in love with a house.


Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: A Classic by Berger and Mohr
John Berger and Jean Mohr’s A Fortunate Man brilliantly fuses words and photos to examine a doctor’s life.


Rick Poynor
How to Cover an Impossible Book
Tadeusz Borowski’s book This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen poses a visual challenge for designers.


Rick Poynor
Literary Horror from the Chapman Brothers
British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman have created an image of sublime horror for the cover of Granta magazine.


Rick Poynor
Chris Foss and the Technological Sublime
Is cult science fiction artist Chris Foss’s work just highly effective illustration, or can it be seen as a visionary form of art?


Alexandra Lange
Up From Zero, the Novel
A post-9/11 fiction scooped by reality.


Alexandra Lange
Jane Austen, Landscape Architect
Trapped by a ha-ha: bad romance and good landscapes in Mansfield Park.


Rick Poynor
J.G. Ballard’s Terminal Documents
A speculative visual interpretation of one of the surreal image lists in J.G. Ballard’s experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition.


Rick Poynor
Speculative Fiction, Speculative Design
The cover of England Swings SF is one of those prescient imaginative leaps that vaulted so far it disappeared from the historical record.


Alexandra Lange
Jane Austen, Architect?
Why is Austen next to Ballard on the Designers & Books lists?



Matthew Stadler
Publication Studio: What’s It Like?
On any given day the storefront is home to book production, bookstore, endless packing and shipping, a half-dozen hangers-on, curious drop-ins, lost tourists: a composite day in the life of Publication Studio, Portland.


Rick Poynor
What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like? Part 2
There is increasing interest in the relationship between the writer J.G. Ballard and the visual arts. Have Ballard’s admirers and critics overlooked the most Ballardian artist of them all?


Steven Heller
Hitler’s Poster Handbook
Hitler’s Poster Handbook: a follow-up to “The Master Race’s Graphic Masterpiece.”


Rick Poynor
A Journal with No Fear of Flying
The Drawbridge’s change of visual direction is one of the most dramatic ever ventured by a literary magazine.


Rick Poynor
What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like?
J.G. Ballard was one of those rare writers whose vision inspired a new adjective. What is a “Ballardian” image and how have designers and image-makers interpreted it?


Rick Poynor
W.G. Sebald: Writing with Pictures
How do the great German writer's notoriously tricky visual fictions compare with reality?


Rick Poynor
Everything has Become Science Fiction
Is science fiction's most crucial task to envision the future or to understand the present?


Rick Poynor
What Does H. P. Lovecraft Look Like?
In a gilded age of adaptations: films, TV series, theatrical productions, H. P. Lovecraft’s short novel At the Mountains of Madness, is re-envisioned for a new generation.



William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, and AIGA
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.



Christian Wiman
"Five Houses Down"
Five Houses Down, a poem by Christian Wiman.



Alexandra Lange
Wives of the Architects
The beginning of a short story I have been writing in my head for years.



Sharon Olds
"Q"
Q, a poem by Sharon Olds.



Chase Twichell
"Negligent Worldicide"
Negligent Worldicide, a poem by Chase Twichell.



Mark Lamster
Ovid: On Picking Up Girls (Literally)
Ovid gives some un-politically correct advice on playing hard to get.



Alexandra Lange
Home Front
Good Neighbors is a cautionary tale, reminding us to focus less on what’s coming in to your home and more on the individuals already inside.



Christian Bök
"W, a poem"
A poem about typography by Christian Bök.



Michael Erard
Cedars
The wake of dead trees is thick behind me, and the others weep and gnash their teeth. Larger trees I leave for some chainsaw to come; I'm a writer, not a lumberjack. Michael Erand on cedars.



Michael Sorkin
On Paul Auster
The annual Lewis Mumford Lecture has become an intellectual rite of spring for urbanists, architects, and students of both. Here is Michael Sorkin's introduction to novelist and filmmaker Paul Auster.



Franz Wright
"Visiting the Library in a Strange City"
A poem by Franz Wright.



Kerry Saretsky
Curious Case of the Better Adaptation
Now that I am comfortably “well-read” in my twenties with a Master’s in modern English Literature tucked into my back pocket, I can’t help but notice that every movie I have seen lately — and every movie that I want to see — has independently stood as a work of print before being reincarnated into movie form.



W.S. Merwin
"Unchopping A Tree"
"Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places..." A prose poem by W.S. Merwin about how to unchop a tree.



Michael Bierut
David Foster Wallace, Branding Theorist, 1962-2008




Debbie Millman
Spoken Word Broadcast
All spoken word show featuring poems, prose and a short story.



Michael Bierut
Would It Kill You To Smile?
Thoughts on the enduring influence of bershon, "how you feel when you’re 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture."



Chip Kidd
The Learners
Chip Kidd's new novel, The Learners: A Novel. An excerpt courtesy of the author....



Michael Erard
Babel's Nobel
Observers seem to track the nations, not the languages, of the 104 Nobel-winning writers. Yet parsing the list of 25 languages that they wrote in turns up many interesting instances of disproportion.



Jessica Helfand
Lost, O Lost




Michael Bierut
Speech, Speech
The State of the Union Address is tonight. Messages, big ideas, careful details, second-guessing, refinements and revisions, anonymity: graphic design has a lot in common with political speechwriting. What kind of client do you suppose the President is?



Billy Collins
"Design" (1995)
"Design," a poem by Billy Collins.



Rob Giampietro
Kafka & Typography
For many, including myself, "The Trees" is about typography, and, in its first sentence, Kafka lets letters speak directly to the reader themselves: "we are like tree trunks in the snow." Picture a field after a recent snowfall. Think of the straight, almost runic lines of the fallen boughs. Approaching them, they seem like characters from an unused alphabet.



Michael Bierut
I Am a Plagiarist
Plagiarism is a hot topic in the world of publishing, What does it mean in the world of design? Michael Bierut pleads guilty.



Willis Regier
In Remembrance of Richard Eckersley
Richard Eckersley died on April 16, having given the best years of his life to establishing the importance of high-quality book design for university presses. Here, a remembrance by Willis Regier, director of the University of Illinois Press.



Adrian Shaughnessy
Charles Dickens and The BBC
Who would have guessed that a
BBC costume drama would provide us with Exhibit-A in the defense's case — that a mass audience can be engaged without pandering to base instincts?



Dmitri Siegel
Bartleby™
In his classic story of Wall Street,
Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville recounts the tale of a humble copyist employed by the story's narrator. Could Bartleby's perfectly crafted refrain be the appropriate response to a world where every choice and configuration has been designed?






Michael Bierut
My Favorite Book is Not About Design (or Is It?)
Act One, the autobiography of playwright and director Moss Hart, is the best, funniest, and most inspiring description of the creative process ever put down on paper.



Debbie Millman
David Barringer
Debbie Millman interviews Winterhouse Writing Award winner David Barringer, who discusses his new book and his views on the state of contemporary graphic design.



Rick Poynor
In Memoriam: My Manual Typewriter
The fully evolved typewriter is a 20th-century industrial archetype. It feels inevitable, almost elemental, like one of those object types, such as a chair or a fork, that simply had to exist in this universe of forms.



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



Michael Bierut
The Other Rand
The Fountainhead, a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand, continues to exert its influence over generations of architects and designers.



Michael Bierut
Barthes on the Ballpoint
Roland Barthes disliked ballpoint pens, suggesting that there is a "Bic style" suited for "writing that merely transcribes thought."



Jessica Helfand
The Lying Game




Jessica Helfand
Blanket Statements




Michael Bierut
Vladimir Nabokov: Father of Hypertext?
The innovative narrative technique developed by Vladimir Nabokov for his 1962 novel "Pale Fire" -- essentially a single epic poem with footnotes and commentary -- anticipated hypertext, the internet, and the interconnected world of blogs.



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



Jessica Helfand
The Art of Elegant Abstraction
Bill Morrison's surprising 66-minute film is now playing on the Sundance Channel. For listings, see: http://www.sundancechannel.com/film_finder/index.php?startingLetter=d



Observed | January 20

Five months after becoming director of the Museum of Arts and Design, Jorge Daniel Veneciano is stepping down on Jan. 31 to turn his attention to the cultural sector. [JH]

From Portland-based designer Ilisha Helfman, a color palette tool for fountain pens with a custom-cut Canson paper top so you can make notes for each pen or sample ink vial. [JH]

On this historic day in America, as we struggle to honor truth, tolerance, and a deeply uncertain future, let us remember that inclusiveness is not only a matter of race and gender and nationality, but also a question of mutual respect and cross-disciplinary freedom. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: doctors who create! [JH]

The day has come. Here’s a reading list for designers in Trump‘s America. [MPL]

“Taking cues from the Girl Scouts, Soviet-era Constructivism, the WPA, and Kara Walker…” Behind the branding of the Women’s March on Washington. [MB]


Observed | January 19

Design as a proactive response to disaster, and the challenges for climate change. [JH]

In a design exploration that has taken nearly two years and six significant iterations of the prototype—during which the app’s usage has grown eightfold to 4 million daily active users—Slack introduces threaded conversations. Meanwhile, Mozilla (remember them, before Netscape?) introduces a revamped design identity. [JH]

In the US, nuclear plant design goes modular. [JH]

The lost signs of Montreal. [MB]

Paula Scher, Christoph Niemann and more visionary designers: coming soon on Netflix. Watch the trailer here! [JH]

Apple vs.Samsung: it‘s not over! [JH]

Design, detente—and defiance. [JH]

“Trump sits for hours with architects and designers, instinctively pointing to what he likes and doesn’t like.” The President-elect as design client. Sad! [JH]


Observed | January 18

“They’re the spiritual successors to the visual metaphors of early graphical user interfaces, but there’s a big difference between an icon shaped like a trash can and the tilt of a robotic eyebrow.” Visualizing AI—and why it may not be as ‘user-friendly’ as you’d think. [JH]

Trump, His Gilded Taste, and Me, a strange and prescient piece by the late Herbert Muschamp (via Paul Goldberger). [MB]

From the Department of Thespian Schadenfreude: when good actors have bad auditions. (Spoiler alert: they’re still pretty good.) [JH]

From The Amplifier Foundation—an extraordinary initiative that needs to be funded, now—before it’s too late. [JH]

From our friends at Continuum, a cogent, level-headed argument explaining why so many corporate-level design thinking initiatives are inevitably doomed to failure. [JH]

Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena launch a campaign to fund public art to protest the inauguration and beyond. [MB]


Observed | January 17

Extraordinary motion graphics from the French motion graphics genius Maxime Causeret, with music by Max Cooper. [JH]

The long lost connection between and Marilyn Monroe’s most famous scene and Design Observer’s own Bonnie Siegler. [MB]

Juventus—an Italian soccer team— reveals its pared down, minimalist new logo. You know what happens next. [JH]

“I want to create new things.” A New York Times profile of legendary book designer Irma Boom. [MB]

Peter Mendelsund on family, memory, and W.G. Sebald. [MB]

The suit is dead. Long live the suit! [JH]


Observed | January 16

V&A Head Designer Annabel Judd is taking on science. And here’s what’s happening Stateside. [JH]

Wells Fargo rejects a Black Lives Matter debit card. [JH]

Richard Prince disavows his appropriated Instagram portrait of Ivanka Trump and returns the money they paid him for it. [MB]


Observed | January 13

Yves Béhar designs a robot for the elderly he’s calling a “companion”. [JH]

Mr. Poopie explores the uncanny visual relationship between poop and ice cream. (Via Modes of Criticism.) [MB]



Jobs | January 22