Chain Letters


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Celene Aubry
“The natural path to solving any design problem is rarely straight.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Melissa Deckert + Nicole Licht
"We really enjoy the ideation stage of a project because it is where we can be thoughtful and considered, but also allow ourselves to entertain crazy ideas."


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Victor Melendez
This December, we’re elevating the act of gift giving by pondering the items inside the box: examining design as craft, poring over process, and picking the brains of designers whose technical skill turn products into objets d’art.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dana Chisnell
You might think these aren’t design questions, but you’re in the business of culture change.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Toni L. Griffin
I strongly believe—and have seen firsthand—how shared ownership in creating a vision plan inspires greater collective action.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Chelsea Mauldin
“Most broken government systems are not designed—they accrete, bits and pieces stuck on to address problems.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Steven Heller
“Design is a profession that has grown out of its stereotypes.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Elysia Borowy-Reeder
“Information is everywhere now. We need educated, well-versed curators to make sense of it.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Alexander Tochilovsky
"Reading the imprint of past choices can teach us a lot about how to be a designer today."



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Sean Adams
The point regarding design history is about documentation. If the work is not documented and disseminated, it disappears.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Margaret Gould Stewart
Margaret Gould Stewart is Vice-President of Product Design at Facebook where she leads a global team of product designers and researchers for teams such as Artificial Intelligence and Privacy & Data Use.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Arthur Cohen
I support a world in which design is not elevated and codified into some idealized “other,” but rather integrated into everyday practice that is just good business.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Randy J. Hunt
“There are examples of designs that were the spark of an innovation and there are examples of designs that added to and evolved an otherwise already innovative idea.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Grace Jun
“Design is way of seeing and a way of doing. A unique perspective and method that combined can lead to innovation.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Zachary Lieberman
“Tools and jobs will always change but the fundamentals stay the same.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Paul Pangaro
In my experience, an understanding of the processes of design and the means for expanding techniques and capabilities are a matter of practice and critique, tightly coupled.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dori Tunstall
“Designing is not about a job. Design is one of many pathways for doing meaningful work in the world.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Gail Anderson
“As a designer, I am sensitive to the way people consume information, and very concerned about the survival of print.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Joan Wong
“I’m not sure the experience between print and ebooks is really that different.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jennifer 8. Lee
“In my line of work, sometimes you have to wait for the future to catch up.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Anna Gerber
“Readers and writers are open, adventurous, and eager to try new things. Even if those experiences are not always perfect.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Paul Moore
“Streaming has shocked new life into the music industry and the vinyl we all hold dear to our hearts. Now the platform is finding a new generation of ardent fans. As designers, that’s where we can influence a movement.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Emily Batson
“A key part of my job is collaboration. I enjoy the negotiation of finding a concept that truly works.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Frank Ockenfels 3
“I am a true believer of creating in the moment.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Lawrence Azerrad
It‘s June, and you know what that means—the unofficial kick-off of summer concert season. This month, we examine design and music, and why fans everywhere benefit when these creative industries work in concert.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jamer Hunt
“And it’s likely the case that most design criticism today focuses on ideology more than aesthetics, as we’re going through a period of long-overdue self-scrutiny.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Molly Heintz
Labeling design, or anything, “good” is a slippery slope—good for whom?



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Andrew Blauvelt
Criticism allows for self-reflection, and that is necessary when we use words like discipline and field to talk about design.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Alice Twemlow
“Of course design criticism is still relevant—it just inhabits formats that we might be less familiar with.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Karin Fong
“A bit of uncertainty is good for the design process. I would hate to be trapped in the sureness of my own thoughts.”



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Deva Pardue
“I don’t believe that being an artist or a designer by definition makes you an activist. I think the responsibility arises when you have something relevant to say.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Rhea Combs
“I believe art has many functions, and one of them is to interrogate the status quo.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Lindsay Peoples
Celebrating Women’s History month and how to better design for inclusivity with The Cut’s fashion market editor, Lindsay Peoples.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Julian Alexander
What made Julian Alexander become a designer, and what was it like working with 50 Cent during the start of his career?



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jason Murphy
“Inclusivity. That is the cliché. Where are they doing that?”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Ced Funches
“Admitting you may not be the best person to bring a vision to life is the hard part.”



Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Dian Holton
"As designers, we are problem-solvers, visionaries, and teachers," says Holton. "It’s important for us to be empathic and proactive in learning about our audience, so that we can provide meaningful experiences. This means getting to know the people who may not be like you."


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Briana Como
“We make an effort to be aware of and remove bias by focusing on behaviors instead of demographics when creating distinct personas.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Sarah Doody
“With anything we create, the first step in the design process must be to understand. This happens through research.”


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Richard Ting
Richard Ting, Global Chief Experience Officer at R/GA, continues our Chain Letters interview series.


Lilly Smith
Chain Letters: Jessica Gaddis
This interview is part of a new Design Observer series, Chain Letters, in which we ask leading design minds a few burning questions—and so do their peers, for a year-long conversation about the state of the industry.



Observed | February 14

Welcome to 2019. If you value your privacy, don’t get your Valentine an internet-connected sex toy. [BV]


Observed | February 13

Places Journal’s ongoing series “Future Archive” republishes significant 20th-century texts introduced by a prominent scholar. This installment features J.B. Jackson’s 1976 essay on the American garage from Landscape. [BV]

Can multigenerational home-sharing solve LA’s affordability crisis? Alissa Walker explores what it might mean to age in place in LA. [BV]


Observed | February 12

Cubicles are back, and we have open plan offices to thank. [BV]

As emoji become more detailed in their design, they become less useful for communication. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | February 11

#Longread: The Five Families of Feces—the porta-potty business is as dirty as you’d think. [BV]

The world’s watersheds, mapped in gorgeous detail by Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs. [BV]

Photography writes with light, but not everything wants to be seen. [JH]


Observed | February 07

Are we heading towards extreme overpopulation or a decline in humans? Questioning the UN population model. [BV]


Observed | February 06

What if everything you knew about the history of pizza in America was false? [BV]

A special class of vivid, textural words defy linguistic theory: could ‘ideophones’ unlock the secrets of humans’ first utterances? [BV]

Social media has spawned a generation of un-Strunk-and-White-ified people who appear to believe that punctuation is optional, that grammar is for the elderly, and that ending a sentence with a period is a deliberate act of aggression. The guardian of grammar, Benjamin Dreyer, wants that to change. [BV]


Observed | February 05

Innovative interaction design helps Chinese families stay emotionally connected through the Chinese New Year while being geographically scattered. [BV]


Observed | February 04

Was architecture better under socialism? [BV]

Ganbreeder is an experiment using breeding and sharing to explore complex visual spaces. Or, Ganbreeder is a crazy app where you can merge things like a parakeet with a bubble. 17024009+ images and counting. [BV]


Observed | January 31

Saturday Night Live’s cue cards are still created by hand. And they pay attention to whitespace to make sure the cards are readable from a distance! [BV]

In 2014, microbiologists began a 500-year-long science experiment assuming that science—or some version of it—will still exist in 2514. [BV]


Observed | January 30

The World’s Writing Systems allows you to interact with the 292 currently-known writing systems as they are encoded in the Unicode standard. [BV]

A growing crowd-sourced gallery of crazy mass transit fabric patterns. [BV]


Observed | January 29

For six amazing years—from 2006 to 2012—I led the design advisory group on the Citizen‘s Stamp Advisory Committee, with a terrific group of people from all across the country. What a delight to talk about it! [JH]

The 52-year history of the Yale Building project: pushing architecture students out of their studios and into communities they can positively affect. (Support The Yale Herald‘s Kickstarter!) [BV]

Emily Gosling on the magical, imperfect grids of Anni Albers. [MB]


Observed | January 28

The Letterform Archive opened it’s doors in 2015. In 2019 they are opening their virtual doors to a curated collection of over 50,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy, and graphic design, spanning thousands of years of history. [BV]

How does one judge the historic 50 Books | 50 Covers competition? Our jury chair, and Design Observer co-founder, Jessica Helfand talks to The Monocle Weekly. [BV]


Observed | January 24

A talk with Olivier Kugler about his most recent book, “Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees”: a first hand record of the tragic souls who have been forced to leave their homeland and the disappointments, frustrations, and deprivations they’ve experienced as they attempt to make new lives. [BV]

Who owns collusion? In a case that’s a “Russian nesting doll of stupidity,” EFF’s Daniel Nazer defends against an unlikely trademark claim. [MB]

#TBT: 50 years of pizza coverage from the New York Times. [BV]


Observed | January 23

The understudied linguistic science of last words: what people actually say before they die. [BV]

A luxury sex toy industrial designer examines the unfortunate and obvious gender bias demonstrated by the Consumer Electronics Show. [BV]


Observed | January 22

A collection of mathematical typefaces inspired by mathematical theorems or open problems. Most include a puzzle font: reading them is itself a mathematical puzzle. (via Kottke) [BV]



Jobs | February 17