The Design Observer Twenty

William Drenttel | Essays

Design URLs

Design Observer is not just a name we stumbled upon: we searched hi and low. Delineator was not available, nor was untitled. The Velocity of Modern Life sounded too, well, too obvious and far afield. 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. Perhaps someone will find a name for their own blog of design criticism. Or, perhaps someone will see a pattern in the etymology of the names already taken. In any event, happy holidays.

Available URLs:


Posted in: Technology

Comments [9]

But why did you choose DesignObserver? I've wondered about that. It's so passive; so distant. It doesn't speak of any involvement on your part, let alone anyone else. and are both available.
Or was there some kind of newspaper reference in your name? In which case, how about and, both available. was available, but I just registered it.

And what about .net or .org? Surely you are net- and org-worthy. is available, and who knows what else.
marian bantjes

Passive? Distant? Do we seem passive and distant, Marian? I hope not. This sounds like that old chestnut about reading being "passive" when in reality it's a highly motivated, engaged, involving kind of activity, even if there's no actual running about or shouting most of the time. Observing means paying attention, taking note, forming conclusions, thinking. And there's a double meaning, too. An observation is a comment, a remark, a response. So that's what we are trying to do with the blog: look and talk and think about our visual culture with anyone who wants to join in.

But the point of Bill's list is to show that a vast number of natural formulations to describe design-connected activity have already been taken. After spending days thinking about the site name, it was pleasing to find that a simple, memorable description that so exactly fits our aims was still available. I can't see that it will do us any harm.
Rick Poynor

Well, actually, the name is passive. An observer observes, but often doesn't take part or contribute. Blog lurkers are perfect examples of observers.

As for y'all, well clearly you're not passive or you wouldn't have built this thing and be writing for it, which is why the name seems not quite right to me.

Distant however ... yup, a little distant. I'm somewhat surprised (and pleased) that one of the DO authors actually responded, as there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of back-and-forth here at DO. I'm just used to the style of Speak Up where you can challenge an author or ask for clarification or add something to the discussion and get a response.

So DesignObserver has this very "from on high" kind of feel to it. You Observe, you make a pronouncement about your observation, and sometimes people add things. But there's very little interaction, discussion, argument, counter argument or dialogue. This is the first time I've actually engaged someone here--thanks!

I thought the point of Bill's list was as an amusing kind of present to us all.

marian bantjes

Well, clearly we take a different view of this. Passivity to me suggests a lack of engagement. The passive person allows things to wash over them. They are looking, but not necessarily seeing. But if I visit, say, Speak Up to see what's going on and I read it carefully and form conclusions but choose not to comment and maybe use those conclusions in some way of my own in the future, am I passive? Calling those silent Speak Up visitors "lurkers" seems like a rather dismissive way of describing people who are taking an interest on their own terms at their own speed. That's certainly not the way I view anyone who's reading this, but doesn't feel like commenting.

As for Design Observer, it's early days. It will evolve. We're finding out how to do this, how to fit it in alongside other commitments, what the possibilities (and limitations) of the medium are, and what this will be. All power to Speak Up, but this is something different, or what's the point? Anyway, thanks for visiting and observing - in both senses.
Rick Poynor

Well, my observation would be that you're jealous that I thought of "designalogue" and now you're trying to inject passion into--and eject passivity from--the word "observer" in a desperate attempt to defend your good name.

... I'm kidding, Rick.

So far, I tend to think of DO (at least the acronym is active) as a journal, and Speak Up as the village square. I didn't suggest that you should be like them, only that I'm used to the friendly jostling and verbal frottage of SU. Here I put on a suit and tie, and check my walking stick at the door.

As for lurkers, that's pretty much a blog-accepted term, and not intended as dismissal, as obviously we'd rather they were there than not there; but more obviously we'd prefer they say something. It's like presenting your work to a client and being met with dead silence: you can comfort yourself with the thought that they seemed to be smiling, but it's small comfort.

DO will grow and change, but it's largely up to you, the authors, to steer it in whichever direction you want it to go. If you want to Observe design and have designers Observe your observations, then you are both named and acting appropriately. But if you wish to encourage discussion (and, quite frankly, a larger readership), more involvement and engagement with those of us who put up our hands to speak will be required (as you've done here).

Of course should you decide that what you're really about is dialogue, have I got the url for you. ;)

A note on the difference between 'observation' and 'critique' as I understand it: to observe is to show an interest in and comment upon the workings and doings of culture; to critique is to propose alterations to the way that culture works and does.

Marian, you noted that designcrit(ics).com domains were available, so it seems to me that you have pigeonholed Ms Helfand and Mssrs Bierut, Drenttel and Poynor as design critics, pure and simple. I have always viewed the authors of this site as design philosophers, and I was very excited to learn about the existence of this site, expecting that it would provide insight and reflection rather than show'n'tell and prescription. (Which it has done.)

Where Speak Up is a weblog that happens to be about design, Design Observer is a design forum in the guise of a weblog; I think that this is an important distinction.

I have been delighted to see that the comments posted have - for the most part - been intelligent and on-topic contributions to the discussion at hand, something that cannot be said of most design 'blogs' which allow for comments to be posted. While I have been an observer of Design Observer for many months, this is my first comment; the site encourages considered contribution to its discussion, as the site itself is serious and topics are seriously considered.

So. Those are my 2¢ (or 2p for Rick). Thank you all for your generous gift.


> I have been delighted to see that the comments posted have - for the most part - been intelligent and on-topic contributions to the discussion at hand, something that cannot be said of most design 'blogs' which allow for comments to be posted.

Hi, first time poster also. So chester, I'm curious -- are you suggesting that Design Observer's merits are based on "contributions" that offer insight, but not "critiques" as in Bill's critique of Tufte in "Information Archaeology", or Michael's truthful critiques about Morris' documentary "The Fog of War", and so on? Or perhaps, you meant to say that if a poster's comments is not deemed "serious" by you or one of the site's "philosophers" -- it's unworthy to the "discussion" because it's not "on-topic contributions".

(I hope I'm still "on-topic" here.)

And I'm still vague on your disctinction between a "weblog" and a "forum". Aren't both public environments for open discussions on topics presented? Or are you suggesting that a "serious" forum needs to censor and validate the language of postings -- something that lowly weblogs do not?

I'm sorry, but a forum that professes to encourage open, intelligent discussions should never censor and define standards and "serious"-ness of readers' contributions. What's "intelligent" posting to one person could be considered as "asinine ramblings" to someone else, and vice versa. Any open forum that creates a distinction between the two is not truly open in the first place. It's just creating hypocrisy.

And that's not a "gift" to anyone.

Jessie, if there is any censorship in the postings that I have read on this site, it is self-censorship. When entering a "serious" forum, one gives more thought to what one says. That is what I have seen in the discussion threads on this site, as opposed to the postings I see on other blogs. (I myself have been guilty of crazy-posting on

So, for me the distinction between blog and forum is the distinction between casual and serious. There is room in the world for both.

Best regards and wishes for 2004,

I'm tempted to go on some crazy rant here out of principle, but i will control myself

Chester, you said,
you noted that designcrit(ics).com domains were available, so it seems to me that you have pigeonholed Ms Helfand and Mssrs Bierut, Drenttel and Poynor as design critics, pure and simple.

Did I also pidgeonhole them as guardians, writers of theses and diatribes or accuse them of engaging in flagrant dialogue?

{{Heavy sigh.}} I think I've made it pretty clear that I responded to what I perceived as a light-hearted "here ya go" post by Bill with a light-hearted reply, despite the ensuing--hopefully friendly--squabble over semantics.

I am in fact pretty convinced that this site is aptly named after all, though I do think that "designalogue" is a better name pound-for-pound (or dollar-for-dollar to chester) for a weblog.
(what is the emoticon for a weary smile?)

Jobs | June 08