Rick Poynor
Exposure: Brodsky, the Tie Seller in Paris

Every photograph is an enigma

Rob Walker
Object Vs. Object
Alexandra Lange
Criticism = Love

Why you have to love design to be a critic.

Alexandra Lange
Year of the Women
Rick Poynor
The Writings of William Drenttel

Essays from the Design Observer archive show the wide scope of William Drenttel's interests and concerns.

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
MoMA’s Modern Women
Alexandra Lange
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, Freelancer
Rob Walker
Scenes from the Crowdcrit Revolution

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

Alexandra Lange
Learning New Tricks

Harvard doesn't have any design courses, but I've found new friends in "material culture." What it's like for a critic to go back to school.

Alexandra Lange
Praise the Partner(s)

Salute Denise Scott Brown because she deserves it, but let's not forget the other partners.

Alexandra Lange
The Fork and the World: Design 101
Rick Poynor
The Practical Virtue of Works That Work

Works That Work magazine reclaims the word “creativity” from the stultifying embrace of branding culture and design thinking.

Alexandra Lange
Instagramming Around Australia

Lessons from contemporary Australian architecture, plus what I saw on Instagram.

Rick Poynor
A Dictionary of Surrealism and the Graphic Image
Rob Walker
Branding By Numbers

Emblemetric backs its assessment of the American Airlines logo with "the data." Of course, that's open to interpretation.

Alexandra Lange
Kicked A Building Lately?
Alexandra Lange
Bad Taste True Confessions: Erté

True confessions about my own bad taste. I loved Erté. Did you?

Michael Bierut
Style: An Inventory

Style: An Inventory by Michael Bierut

Rob Walker
Crowdcrit vs. Apple Maps

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

Rob Walker
Secret Lives Of Things
Rick Poynor
What Does Critical Writing Look Like?
Alexandra Lange
The Charismatic Megafauna of Design

Identifying the "charismatic megafauna" of design and the critical uses of their popularity.

Alexandra Lange
The Mother of Us All

Reyner Banham on Esther McCoy: "She speaks as she finds, with sympathy and honesty, and relevantly to the matter at hand." Could there be a better definition of the role of the critic?

Rick Poynor
The Closed Shop of Design Academia

Shouldn’t it be part of a design academic’s brief to communicate more widely with the design profession and public?

Alexandra Lange
Frank Lloyd Wright + Katniss Everdeen

On photographing architecture as sculpture and telling stories via architecture.

Rick Poynor
John McHale and the Expendable Ikon

Artist, graphic designer, information theorist, architectural critic, sociologist, futurist: it’s time to rediscover John McHale.

Rick Poynor
In Response to An Anatomy of Uncriticism
Rick Poynor
Read All That? You Must be Kidding Me

Ellen Lupton’s essay about reading and writing for Graphic Design: Now in Production misses some key points.

Rick Poynor
Another Design Voice Falls Silent
Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series

The 33 1/3 books about classic albums are a perfect example of how design can help focus an editorial idea.

Rick Poynor
Did We Ever Stop Being Postmodern?
Rick Poynor
Should We Look at Corrosive Images?
Rick Poynor
A Swedish Perspective on Critical Practice

The Reader, a recent book from Stockholm about critical practice, has some smart insights while missing the bigger picture.

Alexandra Lange

My new blog collects the best arts & culture criticism, essays and reviews.

Rick Poynor
The House That Design Journalism Built
Rick Poynor
Books Every Graphic Designer Should Read

The Designers & Books website has published my list of 20 indispensable books about graphic design.

Rick Poynor
Paul Stiff, the Reader’s Champion

For the late Paul Stiff, design educator, writer, editor and skeptic, typography must never neglect to serve the reader.

Alexandra Lange
Muddying the Waters

Explore New York's watery edges with the graduating class at D-Crit.

Andy Chen
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Cub

Is design strictly a set of rules?

Alexandra Lange
ISO The Digital Sidewalk Critic

Why is it so hard to say, "I hate my iPad"?

Michael Bierut
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mentor, Or, Why Modernist Designers Are Superior
Alexandra Lange
Objects Fall From the Sky

What's more important: crediting a designer or the designer credited?

Rick Poynor
Where Is Art Now?

Leaving the art world to decide what art is doesn’t resolve the issue of quality.

Alexandra Lange
Criticism Kerfuffle 2010
Mark Lamster
Design Writing: Vital Field or Museum Piece?

Is traditional architectural criticism dead?

Rick Poynor
Adventures in the Image World

This is a blog about visual culture. It reflects my interests, enthusiasms, concerns and bêtes noires across the spectrum of visual phenomena.

Rick Poynor
Design Writing from Down Under
Leonard Koren
Which “Aesthetics” Do You Mean?

An excerpt from Leonard Koren's new book Which “Aesthetics” do You Mean?: Ten Definitions

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.

Jade Dressler
Degrees of Temporary

Interview with Claudia Zanfi, co-founder of the cultural organization aMAZElab in Milan.

Alexandra Lange
An Honor Just to be Mentioned...

It's all about etiquette, as I find myself included with the likes of Edith Wharton and Jane Austen.

Alexandra Lange
Lunch with the Critics: Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza

In my 
second critical lunch with Mark Lamster, in the creepy climes of the Hotel Pennsylvania, we discuss the urbanism, politics and skyline posturing of Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza.
Alexandra Lange
When Shopping Was Sociable

Design Research and Apple, a comparison of the two stores that have brought design to the masses.

Alexandra Lange
On DO: Lunch with the Critics

Please weigh in on 
Mark Lamster and my new Design Observer feature, "Lunch with the Critics," in which we observe the new Lincoln Center.
Alexandra Lange
Whatever Happened to Architecture Critique?

Sometimes it feels like everything is shrinking: the magazines, the word counts, the outlets, and especially the critics.

Alexandra Lange
“We Can’t Really Pay”

All of you print people who scorned bloggers but have moved into blogging and helm publications that “blog,” earth to you: You don’t pay.

Alexandra Lange
Pomo Time Machine

I’m writing more about
Warren Platner, my favorite terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible architect.
Alexandra Lange
My .02 on the Whitney

Everyone has taken their shot at outrage regarding the Whitney's move to a Renzo Piano building at the base of the High Line.

John Thackara
What Should Design Critics Write About?

Address to MFA students in the School of Visual Arts' Design Criticism program, April 30, 2010.

Alexandra Lange
The Anti-Enthusiasts

Design Blogs: The Vacuum of Enthusiasm, my Design Observer manifesto on what the world of design on the internet needs, lives on in the comments.
Alexandra Lange
Jane Jacobs Is Still Watching

Despite my dislike of Jane Jacobs's beef with architects and planners, so many points seem strangely prescient.

Alexandra Lange
On Archpaper: Saccharine Design

My review of
Marcel Wanders’ exhibition Daydreams at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for The Architect’s Newspaper just went online and let’s just say I was not impressed.
Alexandra Lange
Straw Men Redux

I can't help but compare and contrast Nicolai Ourossoff's opening sentences of his recent work.

Alexandra Lange
What I Learned @dcritconference

D-Crit Conference is just a memory, so as a tribute to the afternoon presentations I saw, I offer a set of tangents.
Alexandra Lange
Confessions and Criticism

I am not a fan of TMI, the confessional mode, or the sense one gets that the best way to make it as a woman in the media business is to write about yourself.

Alexandra Lange
Junior Critics

One of the pleasures of teaching is when your students actually surprise you.

Alexandra Lange
All in the Execution

Ian Baldwin's review of The Grid Book calls out the coffee-table book format and it's middlebrow achievements.
Mark Dery
Bunker of Broken Dreams

Review of "Landscapes of Quarantine," Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. March 9–April 17, 2010.

Alexandra Lange
Anthony Lane Fugs Too

Anthony Lane pans The Clash of the Titans.

Alexandra Lange
Texts Without Context

I keep thinking about Michiko Kakutani’s piece,
Texts Without Context, that begins the discussion of what is being lost to culture by the supremacy of the web.
Alexandra Lange
Tearing Down

At the end of a session at the Architectural League's On Criticism reading group, the non-journalists in attendance began to ask the journalists whether architecture critics had any power.

Alexandra Lange
Serious Fun

I am headed to California this week, and realized I might be passing by the Nut Tree, a roadside restaurant on the highway from Sacramento to San Francisco.

Mark Lamster
Overkill, Design Publishing Dept.

I have a piece out in the new issue of Dwell, a peek at a modest kitchen reno in Brooklyn. It's not online yet.

Alexandra Lange
More! Women! Architects!

A lot of attention — in Chicago, at least — has been given to the fact that Aqua is the tallest building in the world designed by a woman.

Alexandra Lange
I Heart Huxtable

Ada Louise Huxtable is still the most knowledgeable, elegant, thoughtful critic out there.
Alexandra Lange
Size M

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Paul Goldberger, and Ada Louise Huxtable may live here in New York, but in general they have become too big to pay attnetion to the small stuff.

Mark Lamster
Criticizing the Critics

The two men who controlled the architectural conversation in New York (and hence America and the world) for better than two decades have recently published collections of their criticism.

Alexandra Lange
The Women

While Manohla Dargis rants about the lack of women in charge in Hollywood save for Nancy Meyers, Zaha Hadid similarly represents the dirth of women in architecture.

Alexandra Lange
Paper Revelations

Reading a lot of architecture criticism for those same classes, I also start to develop a running mental list of the writerly tics of critics like Paul Goldberger.

Mark Lamster
Ron Arad at MoMA

I'm not sold on Arad as an architect, but his material experimentation is certainly admirable

Mark Lamster
Delayed Gratification: On Architectural Criticism

Caught up in the formal design aspects of a building, critics like Nicolai Ouroussoff overlook the social context.

Alan Rapp
Personal Space

Robert Sommer’s Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design was published in forty years ago, and its compact title concept — an invisible but perceptible security zone surrounding an individual — caught on. But where is Sommer now? A recent study in Perception finds that listening to music on headphones alters our sense of sociospatial relations. Until these more contemporary strands of inquiry result in a truly new analysis of how we perceive our interpersonal zones today, Personal Space is now available in a new edition, with some additional commentary by Dr. Sommer, from Bosko Books in the UK

Denise Gonzales Crisp, and Rick Poynor
A Critical View of Graphic Design History

Now comes yet another historical survey, Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish. Denise Gonzales Crisp and Rick Poynor have been marking pages, making notes and exchanging views...

Matt Soar
Fail Again, Fail Better

So, what of productive failure with respect to graphic design and typography? The idea of failing again and again for a reason? Does it somehow help to define the limits of professional practice?

Alice Twemlow
Some Questions about an Inquiry

“Critical design” is design that, through its form, can question and challenge industrial agendas; embody alternative social, cultural, technical or economic values; and act as a prop to stimulate debate and discussion amongst the public, designers and industry. As critical design gathers momentum, where is graphic design?

Alice Twemlow
When Did Posters Become Such Wallflowers?

What was odd about many of the posters Alice Twemlow judged in a recent competition was that they didn't promote an idea, event or product; their only purpose seemed to be entering numerous annual poster competitions.

Jessica Helfand
I'm Not Ready to Make Nice

Jessica Helfand
The Karaoke Effect

The lure of American Idol, in these early weeks, lies in precisely this shaky space: that illusory bubble populated by thousands of fame-seekers who fervently believe in their own righteous, if highly fictional talent. It's cultural fallout. Just as the karaoke singer imagines him or herself live and in concert before the screaming fans, so, too, does the illusion persist once the microphone is turned off.

Justin Good
What is Beauty? Or, On the Aesthetics of Wind Farms

What is beauty and how does it relate to ecology? A look at contrasting aesthetic intuitions about wind farms reveals a paradigm shift in how we understand beauty.

Michael Bierut
Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content

Design is that it is almost always about something else. The more things you're interested in, the better your work will be.

Michael Bierut
Wilson Pickett, Design Theorist, 1942 - 2006

Wilson Pickett's advice on hitmaking, "Harmonize, then customize," would make good advice for any designer.

Dmitri Siegel

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?
Rick Poynor
Emigre: An Ending

Issue 69 of Emigre will be the last. In its heyday, it was the most consistently interesting design publication produced by anyone, anywhere. By 1990, it was one of those magazines you simply had to get hold of and read straight away.

Rick Poynor
Where Are the Design Critics?

There is no reason why design criticism shouldn’t take an oppositional view of design's instrumental uses and its social role, but few design writers seem motivated to produce this kind of criticism.

Rick Poynor
Mevis and Van Deursen: Rueful Recollections, Recycled Design

In their self-edited monograph, Dutch graphic designers Mevis and Van Deursen turn their backs on their professed commitment to ideas and treat the book mainly as an opportunity for undemanding aesthetic play.

Jessica Helfand
Extremely Young and Incredibly Everywhere: The Public Art of Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer's emergent body of work includes film and video, public art installations, theatrical collaboration, expressive typography, and a fairly prolific jumpstart as a writer. Cumulatively, all of his projects — which range from collecting empty pages of famous writers, to constructing parabolas in a public park, to collecting anonymous self-portraits — seem to look for ways to formally address time and space and the human condition.

Rick Poynor
Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot

Dot Dot Dot is the most stimulating and original visual culture magazine produced by designers since Emigre's heyday in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.

Rick Poynor
Why Architects Give Me the Willies

No matter how central graphic communication might be to our lives, architecture always dominates press coverage because it is very expensive, expresses the conditions of power, and is just plain big.

Michael Bierut
Authenticity: A User's Guide

Graphic designers take pleasure in simulation. This makes defining authenticity a tricky thing.

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...

Michael Bierut
The Comfort of Style

The design process at the World Trade Center site has attracted enormous interest on one hand, and marginalized the role of designers on the other, as described in Philip Nobel's book Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero.

Rick Poynor
The I.D. Forty: What Are Lists For?

How do we measure one kind of achievement in design against another to arrive at a ranking? The truth is we can’t. The real purpose of I.D.’s list was to underscore the magazine’s position as selector and taste-maker.

Jessica Helfand
Code (PMS) Blue

Hospital rooms are architectural oddities: they're all function with no form. To the extent that, in matters of critical care, timing is everything, why should it matter? Then again, why shouldn't it?

Jessica Helfand
Time, Space and The Microsoft Colonialists

If Microsoft displayed its marketing genius by introducing "Spaces" three weeks before Christmas, its failure as a compelling editorial product — as evidenced by its restrictive format, its templated narrowcasting, its uninspired design parameters — illuminates its ultimate weakness: these spaces have nothing to do with space, in all its rich, fascinating and deeply human complexity.

Jessica Helfand
Am I Blue

Bumper stickers and lawn posters aside, Americans showed their concern on election day 2004 by standing in epic lines at polling centers around the nation, but also in certain subtle, discreetly visual ways. From dressing in all blue (or red) to wearing "I voted today" buttons, there has been a kind of silent visual communication effort steadily in play for the last 36 hours.

Michael Bierut
What is Design For? A Discussion

Rick Poynor and Michael Bierut discuss the purpose and promise of graphic design, in a conversation moderated by Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne.

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
Annals of Academia, Part I: What I Didn't Learn In Graduate School

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

Rick Poynor
Critics and Their Purpose

Pulling a 1960s art magazine from the shelf, I opened it at random to find a long list of thoughts about art criticism assembled in 1966 by students at the Royal College of Art in London. Many of these ideas apply to design.

Jessica Helfand
One Person, One Vote, One MRI?

Rick Poynor
Theory with a Small "t"

A critical writing determined by the need to shape practice will be limited in the cultural insights it can offer. This is the last thing that design writing needs when ways to engage a wider public could be opening up.

Rick Poynor
How to Say What You Mean

There is a crucial difference between subtle and complex ideas and needlessly convoluted forms of expression. The challenge now for design writing is to move outwards into a world in which design is everywhere.

Jessica Helfand
Regarding the Photography of Others

William Drenttel
Defamiliarization: A Personal History

Jessica Helfand
The Crisis of Intent

Jessica Helfand
You're Going to Hollywood, Baby

Jessica Helfand
The Span of Casual Vision

Rick Poynor
Notes on Experimental Jetset

Experimental Jetset’s argument that design should have a certain autonomy and an inner logic separate from tastes and trends makes sense, but as a rationale for defaulting to Helvetica, is it convincing?

Jessica Helfand
On Visual Empathy

In a world besieged by unpredictable atrocities, don't we all feel a little emotionally raw? Two recent articles in suggest that visual empathy may more critical to a productive imagination than we thought.

Rick Poynor
Those Inward-looking Europeans

Three American design teachers visit London and the Netherlands. European designers, they say, are not paying attention to design history. Maybe the visitors are missing local factors and broader global issues.

Jessica Helfand
Fatal Grandeur

Maybe design isn't going to kill you if it falls on your head. But if YOU fall, design is not exactly going to save you, either.

Jessica Helfand
Edward Tufte: The Dispassionate Statistician I

Jessica Helfand
The Real Declaration

Creative Opportunities
  • Twitter Facebook Google+
    Tumblr Pinterest RSS

    Design Observer
    social media à la carte
  • Newsletter signup