The Self-Reliance Project

The Self-Reliance Project is a daily essay about what it means to be a maker during a crisis—to think through making, to know yourself better through the process of producing something—and how this kind of return to self-knowledge might just be the entire point.

It’s title comes from the 1841 essay on self-reliance by the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote with astonishing clarity about the perils of conformity and consistency, about what it means to follow your mind, trust your instincts, and listen to your heart.

So for now, stay well, stay home, and do your work. But don’t just take it from me. Take it from Emerson.

Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.

Self-Reliance
Emerson’s text is widely available to read online, but this new Volume edition—produced with Design Observer—elevates his wisdom through the printed word. With twelve essays from Jessica Helfand’s Self-Reliance Project: pledge now and order your copy today!




Jessica Helfand
On Activism
A starting point for a new kind of dialogue—us with you, and you with yourself—because even and especially in a year such as this one, we know that at the core of all creative enterprise lies a singular, beating heart.


Jessica Helfand + Sara Hendren
On Ablerism
What does it mean, right now, to be self-reliant—to trust your voice, heed your mind, and connect to your own sense of what really matters?


Jessica Helfand + Noreen Khawaja
On Philosophy
Noreen Khawaja and Jessica Helfand talk about the philisophical nature of self-reliance.


Jessica Helfand
On Seeing
Rethinking a color. Awakening the senses. And soldiering on.


Jessica Helfand + Claire Weisz
On Architecture
Herewith, the first in a series of conversations with artists, architects, photographers, cinematographers, designers and makers of all kinds, from all over the world.


Jessica Helfand
Remembering
Visual memories sear themselves into the unconscious, bearing down and not letting go.


Jessica Helfand
Storytelling
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.


Jessica Helfand
Discerning
Sometimes you have to unlearn the constellations to see the stars.


Jessica Helfand
Making
Real makers produce against all odds: ever evolving, all of it work in progress


Jessica Helfand
Feeling
To feel fragile is to feel human, which is to recognize your inherent vulnerability, not your presumed invincibility.


Jessica Helfand
Observing
Observing is truth-telling. It’s not a picture postcard, or a gilded lily.


Jessica Helfand
Pretending
The faking of feelings is a sin against the imagination.


Jessica Helfand
Sharpening
As an isolated activity, sharpening’s got its own powerful syntax. It’s the art of paying attention.


Jessica Helfand
Missing
Ambiguous loss is the loss we can not see, just as it lingers in the closure we can not find.


Jessica Helfand
Tracing
Tracing is a way to think in stages, and seeing those stages pulls you along in your thinking.


Jessica Helfand
Animating
As an artistic practice, animation is a process of aggregation. But as a life practice, to animate is to awaken.


Jessica Helfand
Helping
It’s time to pierce the routine of the everyday. What else is there to know?


Jessica Helfand
Waiting
To wait inside is also a chance to go inside—and stay there for awhile.


Jessica Helfand
Admitting
Productivity is a tonic for loss—not a replacement for it—and the work of reconstruction is always brutal.


Jessica Helfand
Assimilating
What becomes of public space when we’re absent from it—when our familiar human constellations cease to exist?


Jessica Helfand
Dreaming
Dreaming is how we allow the unconscious mind to improvise.


Jessica Helfand
Reading
Reading is one of life’s great indulgences, even (and especially) if you are stuck inside.


Jessica Helfand
Generating
The studio is the seed lab: it’s where we realize that practice is at once speculative, iterative, and generative.


Jessica Helfand
Reciprocating
Reciprocity is not binary—it’s fragmented—like people are, and like life is.


Jessica Helfand
Turning
Turning is a deliberate and conscious act: it’s how we express attentiveness.


Jessica Helfand
Walking
Walking is a form of creative trespassing, like tourism for the psyche.


Jessica Helfand
Responding
Responses are reactions, and reactions demand attention.


Jessica Helfand
Distancing
Will social alienation make us a socially alien nation?


Jessica Helfand
Surrendering
Surrender is the art of uncertainty: it’s the practice of giving in, not giving up.


Jessica Helfand
Sheltering
Shelter is not so much a gesture of imprisonment as an invitation to dream.


Jessica Helfand
Canoeing
What is an actor without an audience? A person—that’s what.


Jessica Helfand
Burning
To read a poem allows you to visit words, the same way you might, say, go to a museum to visit a particular painting.


Jessica Helfand
Recalibrating
To measure your worth against what life looked like until last month is a fool’s errand.


Jessica Helfand
Longing
Wanting what is not possible—no matter how you define your object of desire—is a recipe for disappointment.


Jessica Helfand
Listening
Sound cuts right through you and tells its own story—whether you like it or not.


Jessica Helfand
Reflecting
Photographs like these are trenchant reminders about who we are as a people.


Jessica Helfand
Harvesting
What kind of work would you make if you thought no one was looking?


Jessica Helfand
Breathing
Breathing is one of those things you take for granted. Until you can’t.


Jessica Helfand
Looking
What it means to be a maker during this pandemic.


The Design Observer Cooperative

Observed | November 30

Help our friends at Unit Editions produce a long-overdue monograph on the work of artist and designer Ed Fella. [JH]


Observed | November 18

You may congratulate yourself for being a good listener, but often it’s the powerful who get to listen and decide what to hear. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]

Why the Google Workspace rebrand isn’t as bad as the Internet would have you believe. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | November 17

Aaaaaannnnnnd—that’s a lawsuit. Banana Republic gets sued over an Ampersand. [JH]


Observed | November 16

Architects designing for sea changes—as in, sea LEVEL changes. [JH]


Observed | November 06

Try to impeach THIS. [JH]


Observed | November 02

A history of American culture told through the pin-back button

Observed | October 30

A
t-shirt design created by Christian Rincon in honor of a champion of equality and justice. Proceeds benefit Senate races all across the country. [BV]


Observed | October 29

London’s Design Museum is hosting an exhibition of the work of Margaret Calvert, who had a prominent role in designing the UK’s road signage system. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | October 28

For the first time in history, Time Magazine will replace its logo with the word Vote. [JH]

“Mr. Lee thought a good designer should work in multiple forms, though he had a particular fondness for dance.” Longtime Yale professor and award-winning set designer Ming Cho Lee has died, at 90. [JH]


Observed | October 26

Our favorite minimalist, Kyle Chayka, on the quarantine palette. [JH]


Observed | October 20

Designer Peter Cho has introduced a daily drawing challenge—perfect for us all. Sign up here. [JH]


Observed | October 19

Shalom Schotten, a graphic designer at Thames & Hudson for over fifty years, has died. Remembered for his talent, kindness, and patience, the Austrian-born designer was 86. [JH]


Observed | October 14

“Either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet, or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate, and problem-solve.” Nominations for The Earthshot Prize begin on November 1. [JH]


Observed | October 09

Politicizing the duck stamp. (Sigh.) [JH]


Observed | October 08

“It Is What It Is”: All of Donald Trump’s Transgressions is a set of four artist’s books in which Trump’s transgressions are recorded and assigned colored cards as if by a referee in soccer. A monumental informational graphic work, Siglio Press needs your help to get it published. [BV]


Observed | October 07

Behold: the dawn of X (and why it’s a design story). [JH]

What is good design if not drama? Twenty-six movies every design lover should see. [JH]

Today, the Getty Research Institute launched 12 Sunsets: Exploring Ed Ruscha’s Archive, an interactive website that allows users to discover thousands of photographs of Sunset Boulevard taken by artist Ed Ruscha between 1965 and 2007. Stamen Design founder Eric Rodenbeck writes about the project and the many gems they found along the way. [BV]


Observed | October 06

Run—don’t walk—to pick up your copy of the new book by Roman Mars + Kurt Kohlstedt. [JH]

The existence and etymology of “uppercase” and “lowercase” is a fascinating tale. [BV]


Observed | October 05

The Japanese fashion designer Kenzo has died of complications from COVID-19, in Paris, his adopted home for more than half a century. He was 81. [JH]


Observed | October 02

The first Monday of every October is World Architecture Day: herewith, American architects choose their favorite Architects and buildings. [JH]

Do you think they provided allen wrenches in 1958? The IKEA museum has posted 70 years of their catalogs. [BV]


Observed | October 01

Wix debuts their bespoke typeface: Madefor. Madefor was designed in collaboration with its in-house studio and type foundry Dalton Maag. [BV]

Alexandra Lange on Wes Anderson: the fixation, the following—and now, the book. [JH]


Observed | September 30

How do you design for the future when the future you are designing for will not exist? [JH]


Observed | September 28

How Biden prepares for the debate of his life: intense preparation, rehearsals, and briefing books—and “he’s a sans-serif man! Mr. Biden has long preferred the Arial typeface,” notes the New York Times, “14 point”. [JH]

“He wanted accurate science, and he wanted great design.” Pioneering science fiction designer Ron Cobb dies at 83. [JH]



Jobs | December 01