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 | April 03

Can computer chips design themselves? [JH]

From Frasier to Veep: Imagining your favorite television characters in a pandemic. [JH]


Observed | April 02

NASA’s “Worm” logo has returned! But the sad old “Meatball” remains the primary mark. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]

Annals of virus visualization: Center for Disease Control designers create branding coordinated to work with the now-iconic illustration. [JH]


Observed | April 01

Mad Max meets Little House on the Prairie: how to make your own face mask. [JH]


Observed | March 31

Michael Sorkin’s list of two hundred fifty things every architect should know. [BV]

Well, it took four years…but the Library of Congress solved another Mystery Photo Contest entry! [BV]


Observed | March 27

When the SXSW Film Festival was cancelled, many filmmakers were left without a way to debut their work—so our friends at Mailchimp stepped in. Watch them all now. [JH]


Observed | March 24

The final lecture in the Walker Art Center’s Insights Design Lecture Series with Amsterdam-based designer Ruben Pater will be streamed live and for free on March 31. [JH]


Observed | March 23

British experience designers Bomoas and Parr launch The Fountain of Hygiene competition, calling for designers to propose new forms of hand-sanitizer pumps as well as more creative hygiene solutions. [JH]

Los Angeles-based artists Juan Delcan and Valentina Izaguirre created an animated video (shot with a iphone) that uses matches to illustrate the impact of social distancing. [JH]


Observed | March 20

Emerging artists pay it forward during the health crisis by buying each other‘s work on Instagram. [JH]

Watch Charles and Ray Eames ‘Solar Do-Nothing Machine’ because ‘toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas’. [BV]

On this week’s New Yorker cover Christoph Niemann takes on the spread of the novel coronavirus, evoking a world in which the health of an individual and the health of the public seem, increasingly, to be interdependent. [BV]

“I can’t recall another time when a painting dominated headline news so incessantly; when the public came together to express love and hate for an artwork so passionately; or certainly, when curation was a nationwide discussion.” — George Millership on John William Waterhouse’s “Hylas and the Nymphs” [BV]


Observed | March 19

Graphic design for public health. [JH]


Observed | March 13

Seeing wonder in the small - looking at Ernst Haeckel found in his illustrations of microscopic life. [BV]


Observed | March 12

National Parks posters featuring quotes from one-star reviews. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]

Property of Opaqueness is a collaborative dance performance by artist and choreographer Takahiro Yamamoto and is part of The Unknown Artist, an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, curated by Lucy Cotter. [BV]


Observed | March 10

Photographer Larry Racioppo spent the ’90s capturing NYC’s makeshift streetball courts: ’the closer I looked, the more interesting they became. Many are really a form of folk art.’ [BV]


Observed | March 06

Friday afternoon eye candy (literally): Jonny Trunk’s book, Wrappers Delight, provides a window into classic sweet package design. [BV]


Observed | March 05

Process Music is the second Kenneth FitzGerald album (of writing) and so worthy of your support! [BV]

Erica Walker studies urban noise at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and her goal is to raise awareness about how constant sound is affecting people’s lives and health. (Spoiler: there’s a lot of noise and it’s not good.) [BV]


Observed | March 04

Do we need a completely new approach to marketing books? Part one of a thought-provoking series from Designers and Books. [BV]

Design fiction is a mix of science fact, design, and science fiction...it recombines the traditions of writing and storytelling with the material crafting of objects.” (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | March 03

Museums and the Duomo cathedral in Milan reopened Monday, but visitors are asked to stand three feet apart. [BV]

Beyond the Visible: Space, Place, and Power in Mental Health is a symposium later this month at Yale School of Architecture that seeks to make designers and architects aware of their capacity to improve access to and perceptions of mental health. [BV]


Observed | February 26

The current NYC subway map is one of the most consulted in human history. In 1979 Michael Hertz, helped design it. He died last week at 87. [BV]

Why are music-streaming interfaces becoming visually indistinguishable? (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | February 21

Katie Holten has created a New York City Tree Alphabet. Each letter of the Latin alphabet is assigned a drawing of a tree from the NYC Parks Department’s existing native and non-native trees, as well as species that are to be planted as a result of the changing climate. For example, A = Ash. [BV]



Jobs | April 03