Popular Culture

Adam Harrison Levy
Coney Island of The Mind
It’s late August and your shirt sticks to your back. The only escape is….the beach.

Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand
A Seat at the Table
The President needs a Cabinet-level Secretary of Design — or a design consigliere

Rick Poynor
The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic
Punk has two graphic histories: Punk: An Aesthetic and The Art of Punk. What conclusions do they draw?

Debbie Millman
Alison Bechdel
Debbie talks to Alicon Bechdel about how identifying herself as a lesbian when she was young lead her into a career as a cartoonist.

Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand
Prisons and Paradise
Solitary confinement, virtual reality, design thinking for prisoners, Drew Hodges’s Broadway, The Paradise, Prince’s unpronounceable glyph

Alice Twemlow
Dodging, Dazzling, and Divulging
Design Responses to Mass Surveillance

Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand
Shapes and Japes
Corporate design humor from Mic Drop to bland.ly, photoviz, remembering Zaha Hadid

Rick Poynor
Stephen Bayley: Death Drive
Style, money, class, glamour, sex, and the car crash

Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand
Crowd Control
Tay, Boaty McBoatface, New Zealand, emoji, and the madness of crowds

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
This collection of underground music and culture events flyers come from the personal online collection of Chicago collector Marc Fischer.

John Foster
Rebel Yell
Rare Posters and Placards from the 1930s Socialist Arts Collective

Paul Gansky
Jurassic Hacking
Shoot-outs and talking telephones

Jessica Helfand + Andrew Howard
New Horizons
Pluto is at the outer limits of the solar system. Porto is at the end of Europe.

John Foster
Quest for Fire
Vintage Swedish Matchboxes

John Foster
All About the Box
Mid-century toy robots

Sara Jamshidi
The Observers
Built Environment

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Butlin’s holiday camp by Edmund Nägele
A sixties vacation in glowing color

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Cat and I by Wanda Wulz
Modernity, femininity and the feline

John Foster
Flower Power
The Hibiscus Scrapbook

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Viktoria Modesta by Nadav Kander
Changing perceptions of impairment

Betsy Vardell
Holiday Movies in Print: The Apartment
The movie that made Fred MacMurray a cad

Betsy Vardell
Holiday Movies in Print: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Christmas in space-blazing color!

Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand
The Observatory: Our Favorite Things
On this episode, Jessica Helfand talks about her Paris 140 series, and Michael Bierut describes his 100 Day Project + some of the cultural highlights of the year.

Rob Walker
Jony Ive: The Supercut
Finally! Someone made a supercut video of Jony Ive’s years of describing the awesomeness of Apple product design.

Adrian Shaughnessy
Twitter has its dark side, but it’s also a source of delight.
In defense of an imperfect medium.

Jessica Helfand
To Thine Own Selfie Be True
Photographing oneself has become a singular pastime, an instantly rewarding yet indisputably time-sucking activity poised somewhere between narcotic and sport.

Steven Heller
Confessions of a Frustrated Newsprint Lover
I’ve held on devotedly to newsprint as long as humanly possible but I recently reached the point where my loyalty gave way to expedience.

Véronique Vienne
Image Making, Reclaimed
Etienne Hervy, art director of the International Graphic Design Festival in Chaumont, France, asked a painter, not a graphic designer, to create a pair of posters for this year’s event.

Justin Zhuang
Monocle Magazine: A Singular View of the City
A monocle is a single eyeglass kept in position by the muscles around the eye. The same can be said of monocle Magazine, a publication fixated on how cities should all be built in style and for conspicuous consumption.

Alexander Isley
The Light
How operating a searchlight influenced Alexander Isley's approach to design.

John Foster
Why Won’t My Doll Sell on eBay?
From Chatty Cathy to Pee-Wee Herman, to the movie Chucky, sentient dolls have occupied the imagination of children and adults in literature, photography, theatre, and film.

Glaser Goes Psychedelic
If you're watching the premier of Mad Men this Sunday, you may notice some familiar-ish graphics. That's because the key art for Season 7 was created by Milton Glaser, based on some of the work he became known for in the 1960's and 70's, now frequently described as 'psychedelia'.

Hala Abdul Malak
Hala A. Malak on Lomo
Hala A. Malak is a design critic, curator, branding consultant, and Middle East expert with her own particular view of the world.

Samantha García
Inalienable Rights, Wolfsonian-Style
A review of  the inaugural "Power of Design" ideas festival in Miami.

Brigette Brown
Brigette Brown on Umbrellas
Brigette Brown is a 2013 graduate of SVA MFA Design Criticism program who has worked for the Museum of Latin American Art, written for Disegno and Surface, researched for Metropolis, and edited a publication for Domus.

Adam Harrison Levy
Data Loss
Adam Harrison Levy on losing everything he had stored on his phone for three years.

Anne Quito
Anne Quito on Quiet
Anne Quito will graduate in May 2014 from SVA’s MFA Design Criticism program. In 2009, she earned a master’s degree in Visual Culture from Georgetown University.

Anna Marie Smith
Anna Marie Smith on “Apples to Apples”
Anna Marie Smith is currently working on her MFA in Design Criticism from the School of Visual Arts, with particular interest in social media, video game design, and branding within the Young Adult demographic.

The Hilda Stories
In a new video series from Herman Miller, Hilda Longinotti, George Nelson’s longtime aide-de-camp, recounts some of the greatest anecdotes from her 21-year run at the legendary New York City design atelier.

Complaints Posters
Complaints! An Inalienable Right, is a poster exhibition curated by author, design critic, educator and Design Observer friend Steven Heller.

John Foster
Blues, Baptisms, and Prison Farms: The Lomax Snapshots of 1934-1950
Blues, Baptisms, and Prison Farms: The Lomax Snapshots of 1934-1950

John Foster
The Dreamland Motel
A reivew of the vanishing signage of our American landscape.

Owen Edwards
The Quickest Fix
A suggestion for an easy & quick design tweak that could help reduce concussions in the NFL.

Rob Walker
Personal Packaging
Fondly revisiting the look and feel of the mixtape.

Alexandra Lange
Criticism = Love
Why you have to love design to be a critic.

Selling Shame
Southern California artist Cynthia Petrovic has collected vintage body-shaming advertisements geared toward women.

Rick Poynor
The Compulsively Visual World of Pinterest
I have always liked Pinterest’s exclusively visual focus and unlimited boards structure. A week ago I joined.

John Foster
Capturing Imagination
The ten most popular galleries from John Foster in 2013.

Michael Bierut
And May All Your Christmases Be Carefully Staged So As To Appear White
A backstage story from Balanchine’s The Nutcracker 

Rick Poynor
Martin Sharp: From Satire to Psychedelia
The late Martin Sharp was a visual innovator whose work erased artificial distinctions between applied image-making and fine art.

John Foster
Graphics of Authority
A look at the police cars that may or may not want to be seen.

New Items in the Design Observer Store
New products listed in the Design Observer store.

Rick Poynor
Collage Culture: Nostalgia and Critique
An interview with David Banash, author of Collage Culture: Readymades, Meaning, and the Age of Consumption.

Alexandra Lange
L.A. Loves Deborah Sussman
A Kickstarter for an upcming exhibition on the wotk of Deborah Sussman in Los Angeles.

Happy Halloween!
To celebrate the creepy and the spooky, a short list of films for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

The Wire Poster Project
"The Wire Poster Project" consists of 60 typographic posters, each one representing one of the 60 different epigrams preceding every episodes of HBO’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire.

John Foster
Welcome to the Asylum
A selection of images that came from the days when ‘asylum’ was a noun, not a verb.

Rick Poynor
New York: City of Spectacular Doors
For six years, Allan Markman crisscrossed New York taking pictures of remarkable doors for a new book.

John Foster
John Foster on Colloquialisms
John Foster has been a longtime collector of self-taught art and vernacular photography, as well as an artist, designer, and art curator.

John Maeda
John Maeda on Loops
John Maeda is the president of Rhode Island School of Design.

Mark Lamster
High Net Space: The New International Style
High Net Space: The New International Style

The Subculture of Japanese Trucker Art
Tatsuki Masaru's new book Dekotora documents the Japanese subculture of pimping big rigs with neon lights and luxury interiors.

Rick Poynor
Soft Machine’s Dysfunctional Mechanism
An alternative cover for the French release of The Soft Machine’s first album alludes to the history of the machine in 20th-century art.

Iron Man 3 Titles
An interesting look at the design process for the Iron Man 3 title screens.

My 3-D Life
Meanwhile, what’s to stop me from printing some caviar, or an Oscar? A pony? Or a Porsche? Musings on what to print on your home 3-D printer.

John Foster
Birds of a Feather
This week's Accidental Mysteries focuses on groups of similar objects: Birds of a Feather.

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Upgrade Yourself!
If appearances matter more than ever, as we are constantly told, the personal makeover has become our most fundamental design task.

Rob Walker
The Mighty Shirt Kings
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.

The Man in Black, On Your Envelope
On June 5, 2013, the US Post Office issues a new stamp designed by Greg Breeding featuring Johnny Cash.

Rick Poynor
The Irresistible Attraction of Self Storage
Self storage centers are places of private and public fascination and I always knew that one day I would succumb.

Alexandra Lange
Anxiety, Culture and Commerce
Is the museum store a distraction or an enticement?

Kit Hinrichs + Delphine Hirasuna
The Alphabet Card
Excerpt from The Alphabet Card, a new book by Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna.

Circus Poster Archive
Circusmuseum.nl, is "the ultimate image bank" of circus posters, photos and prints — with nearly eight thousand circus posters from 1880 to the present, from the Netherlands to America.

Jessica Helfand
Our Shopping Lists, Our Selves
Jessica Helfand on lists: from the mundane to the historical, the shopping list to the Bill of Rights.

Awful Library Books
Awful Library Books is a collection of amusing and/or questionable library holdings found in real libraries and curated by librarians Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner.

John Foster
Drawn to Currency
The Accidental Mystery of Tim Prusmack's hand drawn currency.

We The Designers
We the Designers” is a national exhibition of self-authored graphic design on view through April 5 at the AIGA National Design Center in NYC.

London Transport Museum Poster Colletion
A wonderful way to spend an hour (or more). The poster collection from the London Transport Museum.

Unorthodox suggestions and unsolicited advice for V-Day.

National Poetry Month Poster
The 2013 National Poetry Month Poster, designed by Jessica Helfand.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Comic selections from the 
Lewis Wayne Gallery in Dallas, Texas — one of the nation’s largest galleries of comic book art. 

Alexandra Lange
Bad Taste True Confessions: Erté
True confessions about my own bad taste. I loved Erté. Did you?

Betsy Vardell
Betsy on Etsy: Gifts for Kids
Gifts for children found on Etsy.com

Neon: Bright Lights, Big City
Collector's Weekly interviewed architect Kirsten Hively, the created of the free iPhone app Project Neon.

Betsy Vardell
Betsy on Etsy: Guide to Personalizable Gifts
Personalized gifts found on Etsy.com.

Betsy Vardell
Betsy on Etsy: Ornaments and Decorations Gift Guide
Ornaments and decorations found on Etsy.

Alexandra Lange, and Mark Lamster
Lunch With The Critics: Third-Annual Year-End Awards
Idiosyncratic awards bestowed on architecture, design and media.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Hands of all kinds — in bronze, as shadow puppets and on gravestones.

Betsy Vardell
Betsy on Etsy: Science/Technology Gift Guide
Science and technology related gifts found on Etsy.com

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Motorcycle club cuts (or vests) and their assorted, colorful club colors (or patches) represent a unique form of American folk art embodying the freedom and nonconformity of bikers.

Alexandra Lange
3rd Annual Holiday Card Review
Holiday card designs for 2012 reveal the social media preoccupations of their buyers, whether it is Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram or old-fashioned (perhaps Downton Abbey-inspired?) stationery.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Lunchboxes from the American past, via the National Museum of American History.

How Does Your Salary Compare?
Coroflot's 12th annual Design Salary Guide.

Alexandra Lange
Having Fun at the Museum
Blocks, rocket ships, playgrounds and balls: the hidden meaning of playthings at the Museum of Modern Art.

Rob Walker
Focusing On ‘Optics’
Optics: The indispensible buzzword for those who analyze pseudo-events.

Alexandra Lange
The Shape of Lunch
"Lunch Hour NYC," a new exhibition at the New York Public Library, defines the midday meal as an urban invention.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries: 06.24.12
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age. This week's focus is Zippos from VietNam.

Alexandra Lange
The Charismatic Megafauna of Design
Identifying the "charismatic megafauna" of design and the critical uses of their popularity.

Michael Bierut
I Love the 80s
Miami Vice: the quintessential postmodern design artifact, in all its glory and all its disgrace.

John Foster
Bumbos, Swirlys and a Chinese Birdcage: A Snapshot of Marbles
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age. This week's focus is marbles.

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Graphic Metallica
Heavy metal’s extremity, as a set of aesthetic choices and as a way of life, exerts an enduring fascination.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age. This week's focus is paper folding art.

The Architecture of Television
Brandi Roberts is an interior designer by training and TV afficionado by choice who draws fictional floorplans of classic television shows.

Make a Mixel this Weekend
This weekend the folks at Mixel, an amazing collaborative collage app for the iPad, want to spread the word about how easy (and fun) it is.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age. This week's focus is Superheroes.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age. This week's focus is St. Louis Bus Passes from the 1940s.

Debbie Millman
Roman Mars
Radio producer Roman Mars discusses the connection between ’zines and radio, why he ditched science and the reason he named his show “99% Invisible”.

Alexandra Lange
Frank Lloyd Wright + Katniss Everdeen
On photographing architecture as sculpture and telling stories via architecture.

Rick Poynor
On Display: Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb is a public space consecrated to a universal experience of sadness and loss.

Debbie Millman
Jen Bekman
Jen Bekman discusses managing a BBS in the early days of the internet, her first email exchange and the importance of everyone owning art.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Welcome to Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities set aside for your perusal and enlightenment. This week's focus is firearms.

Rick Poynor
How We Learned to Live with Zombies
Zombie films, zombie walks, zombie shops, zombie TV series: our darkest fears are now mainstream.

Rick Poynor
Did We Ever Stop Being Postmodern?
Like it or not, argues the V&A's exhibition about postmodernism and design, we are all postmodern now.

Alexandra Lange
Stop That: Minimalist Posters
Make a minimalist poster, see your work travel the digital world.

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?

Nancy Levinson
A Dream House for Architect Barbie
Just in time for the midsummer heat, Architect Barbie's got a competition-winning new dream house in Malibu.

Alexandra Lange
The Uses of Cranks
Maybe comedy isn't Larry David's calling.

Rick Poynor
Lost Inside the Collector’s Cabinet
The Collector’s Cabinet at the Frederic Marès Museum in Barcelona is a mind-bending, sense-bedazzling palace of artifactual wonders.

Rick Poynor
Stewart Mackinnon: Ruptured and Remade
Why, at the height of his early success, did a brilliant British illustrator decide to walk away and what happened next?

Nancy Levinson
Architect Barbie
Architect Barbie: the world's most famous doll has a new career.

Alexandra Lange
What Should Food Look Like?
Food packaging and what it says about class.

Rick Poynor
Surrealism in the Pre-School Years
A poet described postcards as a “Lilliputian hallucination of the world”: he must have seen the surreal babies.

Alexandra Lange
Sans Serif Seasons Greetings
The market in "modern" holiday cards grows every year, but the choices--Helvetica, brown and baby blue, color blocks--still seem dated.

Jessica Helfand
Pretty Pictures, Bad Judgment
If a picture's worth a thousand words, a publically broadcast picture is amplified, multiplied and cast out into a world where it can go anywhere.

John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of curiosities curated by John Foster, highlights images of design, art, architecture and ephemera brought to light by the magic of the digital age.

Johanna Blakley
The Costs of Ownership: Why Copyright Protection Will Hurt the Fashion Industry
New copyright protection for fashion designs is only going to hurt an already struggling industry.

Michael Bierut
Jerry Della Femina, Mad Men, and the Cult of Advertising Personality
A review of Jerry Della Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, published in a new edition on the occasion of the debut of the fourth season of the AMC series Mad Men.

Gerry Shamray
Harvey and Me
A remembrance of comic artist and graphic novelist Harvey Pekar by an illustrator who worked with him throughout his career, fellow Clevelander Gerry Shamray.

Mike Sinclair
Midway at the Oasis
Photo of Neshoba County Fair, Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Mark Dery
Dawn of the Dead Mall
Mark Dery surveys the landscape of failing malls and speculates about the future means and venues of mass consumption.

Owen Edwards
Not the Same Old Same Old
It’s hard not to agree that cars, though better designed and engineered than ever, are often pressed into plebian duty.

Mark Lamster
Theirs Go to Twaalf
Meet Lamster (no relation), Belgium's ascendant metal goliath.

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

Debbie Millman
Shepard Fairey
Designer and illustrator Shepard Fairey is the author of Supply and Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey and Shepard Fairey: Post No Bills.

Debbie Millman
Jeffrey Keyton
An interview with Jeffrey Keyton, Senior Vice Ppresident, On-Air Design and Off-Air Creative, MTV.

Rick Poynor
Dancing to the Sound in Your Head
We might not appreciate advertising conducted like a saturation bombing campaign in public spaces. Yet now, to complicate things, the personal stereo is being used as a way of reasserting spontaneity, exuberance and passion in over-controlled public places.

Rob Walker
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.

Debbie Millman
Malcolm Gladwell + Joyce Gladwell
An interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The New York Times bestseller Outliers and Joyce Gladwell, author of Brown Face.

Observed | October 21

More on ballot design and its many problems. [JH]

Design is the new currency. [JH]

If Hillary is elected, “...you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner”, warned Latinos for Trump’s Marco Gutierrez. Lana Rigby designs a citywide fleet of taco trucks that double as voter registration booths. [JH]

“Design is the art and science of improving the interface between human beings and their environment.” A new design incubator at MIT. [JH]

Observed | October 20

“Ignore the fads and go back to the typographic principles of print — keep your type black,” says Kevin Marks. More from Cory Doctorow on the web’s “plague” of grey type. [JH]

The Wall Street Journal on design books as eye candy. [JH]

The New Yorker on urban housing, inequality, density, democracy—and Le Corbusier. [JH]

Observed | October 18

Could bad buildings damage your mental health? [MB]

Dutch Design Week! Here’s the program. [JH]

Observed | October 17

Wine labels—and how their design impacts what we want to buy. [JH]

From India, a story on design mistakes for startups. [JH]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre (“Theory of Colors”), 1810. [MB]

A call to action for design justice. [JH]

The eerie secret apartments of the New York Public Library system [MB]

“Not knowing what you’re doing is a skill you can’t teach.” An interview with Richard Turley (ex-Businessweek, ex-MTV) on his move to Wieden+Kennedy. [MB]

Observed | October 14

“How do you approach an art empty of figures and evident narratives?,” asks New York Times art critic Holland Cotter, writing about the late minimalist painter Agnes Martin. "How do you find out what, if anything, is in it for you? What do you do to make it your own?” To which Martin herself was known to reply: “You go there and sit and look.” A retrospective of Martin’s work is on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through early January. [JH]

Magenta debuts! A new online source for design, cultural criticism, and more. [JH]

David Bowie had a vast collection of Memphis furniture. [MB]

Observed | October 13

Non-car designer designs non-car. [JH]

Democratic design—between cultures. [JH]

A day in the life of Tobias Frere-Jones. [MB]

Louise Fili, Goddess of typographic splendor! [JH]

Observed | October 12

Ice cream! Complimentary slippers! And design awards for a check-in counter! Highlights of service design for those traveling to (and from) Japan. [JH]

Philanthropists donate 8.1 billion for a new design center at Colorado State University. [JH]

Can happiness be designed? More evidence pointing to the fact that this is possible. (Bear in mind that “design” is used rather loosely, here—but is strategically positioned as an antidote to technology.) [JH]

Spy is back! [MB]

In a landmark patent case, Supreme Court Justices use Volkswagen Beetle as cultural shorthand for design brilliance. [JH]

Observed | October 11

Design in the age of globalization: what China does. [JH]

Today—for the first time in over a century—a design case reaches the Supreme Court. NPR reports. More from Reuters and from Bloomberg. [JH]

Mexican polymath Gabriel Orozco branches out—literally—into horticulture. [JH]

Jobs | October 22