Music

Debbie Millman
Shirley Manson
Debbie talks to singer-songwriter Shirley Manson about her career, her music, and the long road that got her where she is today.


Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand
Episode 85: Midsummer Music
Musical theater, soundtracks, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in D Minor, and more.


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.


Debbie Millman
Erin McKeown
Debbie talks to muscian, playwright, and activist Erin McKeown about the ups and downs in her career, and about writing a musical for the first time.


Jessica Barness
Dancin’ to a New Tune: The Subversive, Entrepreneurial Flexi Disc
The story of the flexi disc vinyl record is an intertwining of manufacturing, form, content, and publication.


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?


Debbie Millman
Kaki King
Debbie talks to musician Kaki King about her collaborations, her career, and performing and composing.


Michael Bierut
I Love the 80s
Miami Vice: the quintessential postmodern design artifact, in all its glory and all its disgrace.


Mark Kingsley
The Old Taylor Can’t Come to the Phone Right Now
Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation, may aspire to high art; its cover design is most definitely a step toward the middle.


Lilly Smith
New Album, Old School: Branding The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach
“The appeal of my stuff is that it isn’t perfect. I don’t know how to use Illustrator. Some people are stoked by and some people are turned off by it.”


Debbie Millman
Design Matters from the Archive: Nico Muhly
Debbie talks to composer Nico Muhly about his music and about the musicians who interpret it. "I always feel like they appreciate something that’s detailed on the page to indicate that I know what I’m talking about, but with room for them to continue the conversation when I’m dead."


Debbie Millman
Design Matters from the Archive: Amanda Palmer
On this podcast Debbie talks to Amanda Palmer about her wild and wandering path to the rock stage, and about how behind her artistic ambition is the drive to feel real.


Lawrence Azerrad
Remix, Repeat, and Rediscover: Amplifying the Impact in Art and Music Through Change
Design, like music, is accustomed to remixing.



Steven Heller
I Still Wish I Were a Beatle
The Beatles have, over the course of my lifetime, become attached to my nerve endings. It’s a curious sensation, but one I’m glad I still have.


Adam Harrison Levy
An Interview With Philip Glass
In 2005, Adam Harrison Levy interviewed Philip Glass for a BBC documentary film about Chuck Close. Glass was seated in front of the monumental painting Phil. This is their exchange.


Michael Bierut
All That Jazz: Posters by Niklaus Troxler
Niklaus Troxler’s jazz posters can be viewed as a single, self-initiated project that has developed over five decades, a body of work with few precedents.


Rob Walker
Listening to Retail
Disquiet Junto has been listening to retail, and it’s changing my ears.


The Editors
King of Pop
Alex Steinweiss


Véronique Vienne
When the Soundtrack is the Message
Music supervisor Beth Urdang


Steven Heller
Mad Music
Back to a time before art, design, and humor had to be sophisticated to be good.


Blake Eskin
White Lines
Shared Earbuds


Rick Poynor
The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic
Punk has two graphic histories: Punk: An Aesthetic and The Art of Punk. What conclusions do they draw?


Jessica Helfand
The Karaoke Effect
The illusory bubble populated by thousands of fame-seekers who fervently believe in their own righteous, if highly fictional talent.


Debbie Millman
Nico Muhly
Debbie talks to composer Nico Muhly about his music and about the musicians who interpret it.


Adrian Shaughnessy
Innovation in banality
Searching the stacks of "library music"


Debbie Millman
Amanda Palmer
Debbie talks to Amanda about her wild and wandering path to the rock stage, and about how behind her artistic ambitions is the drive to feel real.


Adrian Shaughnessy
Music by the Numbers
Listening in the Digital Age


Rob Walker
An Album-Packaging Feast
A delicious viral tribute to a gut-bomb ZZ Top album-packaging image from the vinyl era


John Foster
Accidental Mysteries
This collection of underground music and culture events flyers come from the personal online collection of Chicago collector Marc Fischer.


Rick Poynor
Exposure: Cabaret de l'Enfer by Harry C. Ellis
The ghoulish cavern in the villa of Ormen


Rick Poynor
Exposure: Grace Jones by Jean-Paul Goude
Beauty, androgyny, and threat


Debbie Millman
Morley
On this episode of Design Matters Debbie Millman talks to Morley about her songs of social change.


Rick Poynor
Exposure: Luigi Russolo’s Noise Machines
Sonic conjurors of experimental music


Rob Walker
The Music Video, Rebooted
How digital-era aesthetics are making music videos worth watching again


John Foster
Blues, Baptisms, and Prison Farms: The Lomax Snapshots of 1934-1950
Blues, Baptisms, and Prison Farms: The Lomax Snapshots of 1934-1950


Rob Walker
Personal Packaging
Fondly revisiting the look and feel of the mixtape.


Debbie Millman
Terry Teachout
Terry Teachout discusses the early days of blogging, the poetics of theater and what it's like to be a drama critic for The Wall Street Journal.


Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light
An early profile of ambient musician and producer Brian Eno’s parallel career as a visual artist.


Rick Poynor
Soft Machine’s Dysfunctional Mechanism
An alternative cover for the French release of The Soft Machine’s first album alludes to the history of the machine in 20th-century art.



Observed
Classic Albums Reimagined as Books
Christophe Gowans re-imagines well-known album covers as book jackets.



Observed
Speculative Sound Performance
On Tuesday, November 27, at Apexart in NYC: an exercise in sonic branding.


Rob Walker
On Dapper Dan
A look at the spectacular logo-remix aesthetic of rap-culture style pioneer Dapper Dan.


Rick Poynor
True Stories: A Film about People Like Us
Ambiguous but prescient, David Byrne’s film True Stories is a classic piece of postmodern pop anthropology.


Rick Poynor
It’s Smart to Use a Crash Test Dummy
The image of the crash test dummy has traveled from the subcultural fringes to the pop culture mainstream.


Rick Poynor
Brian Eno’s “Music for Films”
On Brian Eno and a competition to design an alternative sleeve for Music for Films


Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Graphic Metallica
Heavy metal’s extremity, as a set of aesthetic choices and as a way of life, exerts an enduring fascination.



Debbie Millman
Roman Mars
Radio producer Roman Mars discusses the connection between ’zines and radio, why he ditched science and the reason he named his show “99% Invisible”.



Debbie Millman
John Flansburgh
John Flansburgh on being the son of a modernist architect, designing album covers for They Might Be Giants and of course, making music.


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.


Michael Bierut
At the Movies with Javier Mariscal
Chico & Rita is a new animated film by Spanish designer Javier Mariscal and director Fernando Trueba.



Adrian Shaughnessy
Minotaurs in Suburban England
English designer Vaughan Oliver met Adrian Shaughnessy to show him preliminary work on a deluxe Pixies box set called Minotaur.



Rob Walker
Hearing Things
I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it’s merch. Of course, band-branded merchandise has been a major part of the music business, big and small, for years.



Rob Walker
The Song Decoders
Pandora, is convinced it can guide you, to music that you like. The premise is that your favorite songs can be stripped to parts and reverse-engineered.






Rob Walker
Hitting Rewind on the Cassette Tape
The romance associated with vinyl seems to apply to its longtime analog rival, the cassette.






Alexandra Lange
The Tigertones
I was thrilled by the metion of the Tigertones in this week's episode of Mad Men.



Teddy Blanks
Teddy Blanks on Figurines
Significant Objects is a much-discussed experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker. This story by Teddy Blanks is recorded as an MP3...



Teddy Blanks
Significant Objects: Porcelain Scooter
Significant Objects is a much-discussed experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker. The fourth of five stories is by Teddy Blanks...



Mark Lamster
Theirs Go to Twaalf
Meet Lamster (no relation), Belgium's ascendant metal goliath.



Mark Lamster
Michael Jackson, Automotive Designer
I know, Michael Jackson has done some terrible things. Tax evasion. Absconding with the Beatles catalog. Child molestation. We Are the World. But this — is design even the word for it?



Mark Lamster
A Horrible Machine
Check out my essay on the classic scout song "Dunderbeck" in the latest issue (no. 6) of the always gnaw-worthy Meatpaper.


Tom Vanderbilt
Fanfare for the Common Commuter
I’ve become a regular morning commuter on the city’s splendid Metro — the first in the world to employ only rubber tires on its cars. It didn’t take long for me to notice, as the trains departed, a curious trilogy of tones that echoed, along with the hum of the engine, through the concrete-chambered station. The notes, I realized with a start, were the beginning of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.



Debbie Millman
Michael Hodgson
Michael Hodgson is a DJ and a designer and is co-founder of the design firm Ph.D.



Debbie Millman
Gordon Hull
An all-music show with DJ and designer Gordon Hull, co-founder of the firm Surface to Air.



Dmitri Siegel
Taking Things Seriously II




Adrian Shaughnessy
Tony Wilson: The Postmodern Mythmaker
Tony Wilson, founder of Factory records, died August 10. Wilson had many claims to fame: he was a successful television presenter; a music industry impresario of flawed and maverick genius; and he was one of the shrewdest patrons of graphic design there has ever been.



Liz Brown
Phil Spector vs. The Wall of Sound
Until 1966, producer Phil Spector was an unstoppable machine, churning out "symphonies for little kids." Then came "River Deep, Mountain High," where the combination of Tina Turner’s raw, unbridled passion and Spector’s orchestral swoon was a total disaster. Spector’s career was over, but the song goes on and on.



Richard Turley
Off the Grid
When you abandon most of the rules, how do you define a mistake? How to art direct a newspaper from the middle of the muddy Glastonbury music festival.



John Corbett
Sun Ra, Street Priest and Father of D.I.Y. Jazz
Before the 1950s, artist-owned record companies were unheard of, but Sun Ra pioneered the idea along with a couple of other musicians and composers. Sun Ra and Alton Abraham helped define the do-it-yourself ethic that came to be a central part of the American independent music industry, designing and in some cases manufacturing the covers themselves. In the process, they maintained a previously unimaginable degree of control over the look and content of their jazz releases.



Adrian Shaughnessy
Are JPEGs the New Album Covers?
An audio file with a thumbnail JPEG of the album cover will never have the resonance — not to mention the commercial value — of a well-made piece of packaging. But if the corporate providers of downloadable music have their way, this is the future of recorded music. Who ever had a love affair with a JPEG?



Michael Bierut
Cheap Music and Commercial Art
You wouldn't know it from Dreamgirls, but Motown staff songwriters Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland were examples of how art is created under pressure.



Jessica Helfand
I'm Not Ready to Make Nice




Alissa Walker
War Is Over! If You Want It
When the star of the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon is asked by a reporter what he thinks Nixon should do to end the Vietnam War, Lennon stares incredulously into the camera. "He should declare peace." As if this was the most obvious solution in the world.


Michael Bierut
Vinyl Fetish
A meditation on the joys of vinyl.



Dmitri Siegel
More Rules
The artwork for Beck's new album The Information immediately brings to mind the work of Sol LeWitt and the question of where the creative act is situated: in making the work or making the rules.



Dmitri Siegel
Broadcast vs. Broadband
Viral video is on the rise, spreading from broadband to broadcast and back again. What are the opportunities for designers in this new genre?



Michael Bierut
Wilson Pickett, Design Theorist, 1942 - 2006
Wilson Pickett's advice on hitmaking, "Harmonize, then customize," would make good advice for any designer.



Michael Bierut
Designing Twyla Tharp's Upper Room
Jennifer Tipton's lighting design for Twyla Tharp's dance piece, In the Upper Room, creates a magical experience for the audience and brings her often unseen art to the foreground.



Adrian Shaughnessy
Self-Initiated House Music
It is perhaps stretching definitions to say that Julian House has become a musician, but with the help of sampling technology and an array of digital audio tools, he makes striking and compelling audio assemblages, which have strong stylistic parallels with his collage-based graphic design.



Adrian Shaughnessy
Decoding Coldplay's X&Y
At a time when invisible data streams of binary information fed straight to our desktops are doing away with the need for album covers, it's odd to find a record sleeve as the subject of media comment and speculation. Odder still that the album cover in question — Coldplay's X&Y — should contain binary data as its central motif. Prophetic or what? The X&Y cover is agreeably eye-catching. You wouldn't call it a classic, but it has an unexpected severity that lifts it above the anodyne and cosmeticised design currently favoured by multi-platinum selling artists. It has dark echoes of Peter Saville's ephocal Factory covers.



Rick Poynor
But Darling of Course it’s Normal: The Post-Punk Record Sleeve
There have been collections of post-punk music and now, finally, there is British music critic Simon Reynolds' 500-page history of the genre from 1978 to 1984. It's a brilliant book. He argues that post-punk music's explosion of creativity equals the golden age of popular music in the mid-1960s, but that it has never received its full due. I think he's right.



Lawrence Weschler
The Aural As An Architectonic Challenge
What are the people over at Transom.org up to? As it happens, this month is a very good time to pay them a visit: for the next several weeks, Walter Murch — the phenomenally smart and inspired film and sound editor — will be continuing to hold court there.



Tom Vanderbilt
Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design
Has heavy metal graphic design run its course? Is the band logo as a species dead? And is there much of a future for the graphic representation of popular music itself?



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.



Observed | December 14

In 1976 John Foster bought fiberboard art boards for an art class he taught in a school in St. Louis. In 2018 he returned to the school to find the art boards still in use—a visual palimpsest of 40+ years of aspiring artists.
[BV]


Observed | December 13

The third edition of In Our Time: A Year of Architecture in a Day, The Met‘s take on the best architecture, art, technology, photography and design projects of the year will take place on 19th January, 2019. [BV]

#TBT: Spot the ashtray in these groovy pics of mid-sixties interior décor [BV]


Observed | December 12

Gossip,” the newest issue of AIGA Eye on Design magazine, gives us the inside scoop on all the need-to-know design deets of the past year—designer feuds, workplace woes, and more—and it’s out now. [LS]

On fifteen years of reading Design Observer and helping Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand make a new book. [BV]


Observed | December 10

What a new retrospective reveals about Andy Warhol, and about our swerve away from humanism. [BV]

The 1st printing of the Bolted Book sold out so fast that it’s going into a second printing in January 2019. Sign up now to receive a free custom-designed book display stand. [BV]


Observed | December 07

The boozy and violent story behind America‘s Eggnog Riot. [BV]


Observed | December 06

#TBT: Vintage tech: the ballpoint pen. [BV]

#TBT: The beauty of a well-designed knob. [BV]


Observed | December 05

The competitive book sorters who spread knowledge around New York. [BV]

What do Dick Bruna’s covers have to do with Japanese matchboxes? This exhibition finally answers that question. [BV]


Observed | December 04

During World War I, in the ensnarled disputes about wartime deception and the equal rights of women, conspicuous “dazzle-painted” ships were condemned as “painted women.” Social Repercussions of World War I Ship Camouflage. [BV]

Rumsey Taylor, from the New York Times, on All of It from WNYC, about his story “The Mystery Font That Took Over New York.” Joined by Steven Heller about the history of storefront signs in NYC. (17.00 mins or thereabouts) [BV]


Observed | December 03

Mourned by many: Glamour magazine is gone. [BV]

The new font Berthe, from Abyme, is featured in the new online publication of Caractères ordinaires. [BV]


Observed | November 30

Beautifully-designed Bauhaus books and journals by Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy and more, now available for free download. [MB]


Observed | November 29

We live at the end of an era characterized by relentless anxiety around the self as a product: what it means, who owns it, what it costs, what it’s worth. [BV]

Three innovations that started out as inclusive design solutions. [BV]


Observed | November 28

A new model for social design? The NYC Democratic Socialists of America offers an interesting example for systematizing volunteer political design work. [BV]


Observed | November 27

Likely the United States’ first woman employee, Mary Katharine Goddard signed the Declaration of Independence and was a key figure in promoting the ideas that fomented the Revolution. [BV]

Fighting an outlaw biker gang by...seizing the rights to its logo? [MB]


Observed | November 26

A working guide to the repair of rust, dust, cracks, and corrupted code in our cities, our homes, and our social relations. [BV]

In this age of data and its manipulation, it’s important to remember algorithms are opinions, not truth machines, and demand the application of ethics. Don’t believe us? Watch this short animated video. [BV]


Observed | November 23

With 26 million TONS of plastic ending up in the ocean every year, we’re thankful for entrepreneurs like this who can turn a plastic bottle into a fashion statement. [BV]

Ever wondered where Hogwarts is located? Or the Castle of Aaagggghhhh? Check out Fake Britain: a map of fictional locations in England, Scotland and Wales. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | November 21

Glenn Gould’s heavily marked-up score for the Goldberg variations surfaces, letting us look inside his creative process. [BV]

A visual indulgence: Brassaï, the outsider who photographed Paris after dark. [BV]


Observed | November 20

Prolific title designer Pablo Ferro is recognized for introducing narrative and nonlinear dimensions to films spanning from Dr. Strangelove to Men in Black. Ferro passed on Saturday. His legacy lives on. [BV]

Because bullshit is almost everywhere, we assume we know how to recognize it and thus what it is. Subjectivity and its discontents. [BV]



Jobs | December 14