We just posted the latest episode of the Sway podcast and I think it’s my favorite so far. Rory and I spend the entire episode talking about identity design, a topic that I’m endlessly fascinated by, and specifically two recent logo redesigns: Cooper Hewitt and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Episode 9: It doesn’t have a penguin; it doesn’t have randomness; and it doesn’t have a house

In this episode, we critique the new identities for Cooper Hewitt and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, both designed by Pentagram, and the growing trend of designing evolving logo systems. Looking back and looking ahead, we speculate about the future of the identity design and remember some of our favorite logos of recent years. This all wraps up with a debate on clever versus smart work and what type of work we want to do.

Like I said, this one feels like a good one. Have a listen and I hope you enjoy.

The latest episode of the Sway podcast is now online. We had no plans for this episode and the conversation moved into all sorts of unexpected places including a nice argument because Rory and myself on the purpose of design:

In an emotionally charged episode, Rory kicks it off talking about the Group Material monograph, Show and Tell, that leads to a discussion on art and design and how to define them. The conversation meanders through a variety of topics including the public’s perception of graphic design, the idea of multiple publics, who design is for, and what is the goal of our work. The episode wraps up with both of us reflecting on why we find design so interesting in the first place and some thoughts on why we started Sway a year ago.

And as I mentioned after the last episode, we now have all the episodes available to download through iTunes, so you can now enjoy Sway through your favorite podcast client.

Mitch Goldstein and Namdev Hardisty were kind enough to have me on the most recent episode of their podcast, Through Process, to talk about design criticism, using my essay What Do We Want From Design Criticism as a starting point:


  Design criticism — what is it, where is it, and why does everyone want it so bad? Inspired by his essay “What Do We Want From Design Criticism?”, Mitch and Namdev welcome Jarrett Fuller to the show to discuss the supposed dearth of critical writing about graphic design from every angle. We have a lengthy talk complete with unhinged speculation, full-circle conclusions, and an irresponsible call for everyone to write and publish about their work, filter-failure be damned.


It’s a long one—clocking in at an hour and half—but Mitch and Namdev are smart guys and the conversation took us into some interesting territory. I hope you like it.

Mitch Goldstein and Namdev Hardisty were kind enough to have me on the most recent episode of their podcast, Through Process, to talk about design criticism, using my essay What Do We Want From Design Criticism as a starting point:

Design criticism — what is it, where is it, and why does everyone want it so bad? Inspired by his essay “What Do We Want From Design Criticism?”, Mitch and Namdev welcome Jarrett Fuller to the show to discuss the supposed dearth of critical writing about graphic design from every angle. We have a lengthy talk complete with unhinged speculation, full-circle conclusions, and an irresponsible call for everyone to write and publish about their work, filter-failure be damned.

It’s a long one—clocking in at an hour and half—but Mitch and Namdev are smart guys and the conversation took us into some interesting territory. I hope you like it.

On Twitter, Roberto Greco surfaced this old interview with Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby from OK Do. I was only vaguely familiar with their work before, but I loved this bit on critical design:


  The question of art and design is problematic. A lot of people want to see us as artists, but we definitely see ourselves as designers trying to push the discipline forward, asking questions about design and through it. In fact, we launched the term critical design ten years ago in order to describe our work. Sometimes people think it simply means criticism; that we are negative about everything, anti-consumerist and against design. Some people relate it to critical theory; to Frankfurt school and anti-capitalist thinking. We are definitely aware of it, but then again not in that category either. Critical design is about critical thinking – about not taking things at face value. It’s about questioning things, and trying to understand what’s behind them. In essence, our objective is to use design as a means for applying skepticism to society at large.


This circles a lot of the themes we talk about here on the blog: design as a language and a form of inquiry. I was drawn to their manifesto of sorts on how they frame their practice: problem finding as opposed to problem solving.

On Twitter, Roberto Greco surfaced this old interview with Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby from OK Do. I was only vaguely familiar with their work before, but I loved this bit on critical design:

The question of art and design is problematic. A lot of people want to see us as artists, but we definitely see ourselves as designers trying to push the discipline forward, asking questions about design and through it. In fact, we launched the term critical design ten years ago in order to describe our work. Sometimes people think it simply means criticism; that we are negative about everything, anti-consumerist and against design. Some people relate it to critical theory; to Frankfurt school and anti-capitalist thinking. We are definitely aware of it, but then again not in that category either. Critical design is about critical thinking – about not taking things at face value. It’s about questioning things, and trying to understand what’s behind them. In essence, our objective is to use design as a means for applying skepticism to society at large.

This circles a lot of the themes we talk about here on the blog: design as a language and a form of inquiry. I was drawn to their manifesto of sorts on how they frame their practice: problem finding as opposed to problem solving.

Nicholson Baker was the keynote speaker at this year’s DCrit conference and he delivered a lovely talk on his life in design and the struggles with wrapping using words to describe moments. Highly recommended.

The Five Obstructions

A few months ago I watched The Five Obstructions, a Danish film by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth. The film is a documentary that see von Trier approach Leth with a challenge to remake Leth’s film The Perfect Human five times with various constraints—or obstructions—imposed by von Trier. The movie follows Leth’s creative process as he is forced to remake his film over and over. It’s an interesting study on constraints and a fascinating look at the creative process. After watching it, I couldn’t help but draw connections and influences for my own design work.

In a recent episode of the Sway podcast, I mentioned to Rory King that I thought The Five Obstructions could be an interesting framework for a class assignment by having students remake one of their projects five times with various constraints and rules put on them, forcing them to experiment, look at their processes, and start to think of designing in a different way. After discussing it some, we realized that we could do it ourselves and over the following few weeks, we conducted our own version of The Five Obstructions.

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“Graphic design probably isn’t getting the attention it deserves (both positive and negative). Mainstream design criticism includes graphic design as an occasional one-off story with the rest dominated by architecture coverage. Of course, all the design fields complain of a lack of coverage. It’s not so much about getting credit as it is about understanding the importance of design in visual culture. Graphic design gives form to the message space or the mediascape, which compared to other environments tends to be amorphic. Its importance is diffuse and the products of graphic design don’t typically compel the kind of public attention that a new building or car design does, for example.”
“It is my fear than in our exuberance to embrace online publishing, we’re forgetting to use these same tools for the betterment of the design discipline, for starting our own conversations. We no longer have to worry about how, where or if design writing will be published — the audience and outlets exist. What we do have to worry about, however, is that the community that produces this work continues to feel supported, inspired, and connected.”

What Do We Want From Design Criticism?

“So what exactly is graphic design criticism?” asked Rick Poyner in 1995 in a conversation with Michael Rock, “Who practices it, or ought to practice it, and what are its aims? And can it, in the sense that we might talk about art or film criticism, be truly said to exist at this point?”

The call for graphic design criticism began a decade earlier when Massimo Vignelli penned the forward to the 1983 Graphis Annual, stating decisively, “Graphic design will not be a profession until we have criticism.” Vignelli called for a greater discourse surrounding design to not only frame our theories and processes, but also to look toward the future and set a course for the profession:

It is time that theoretical issues be expressed and debated to provide a forum of intellectual tension out of which meanings spring to life. Pretty pictures can no longer lead the way in which our visual environment should be shaped. It is time to debate, to probe the values, to examine the theories that are part of our heritage and to verify their validity to express our times. It is time for the word to be heard. It is time for Words and Vision.

Vignelli’s call was prescient as the years following proved to be a pivitol time for graphic design. Designers started to see their work as part of the cultural zeitgeist—artifacts interacting and living amid a general public. As designers struggled to find their place in this new global landscape, design criticism started to blossom in an attempt to canonize the field. In 1994, Michael Beirut, William Drenttel and Steven Heller published the first book in the Looking Closer series, an anthology of the best design writing of the past few years. Over the next decade, the series would grow to include four more volumes. Publications like Emigre (founded in 1985, but reformatted in 1995 to be a critical journal),Eye (founded in 1990 by Poyner), and Dot Dot Dot (founded in 2000) also sought to bring a higher level of discourse to the profession. Even mainstream magazines like Print and I.D., traditionally only publishing designer profiles soon started including op-ed and investigative reporting pieces within its pages. And in 1996, Ellen Lupton organized the second major graphic design exhibition with the show Mixed Messages at the Cooper Hewitt.

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“I think that one goes through phases as a writer. Young critics are often more negative, more confrontational. I think that was certainly true of me. You think that there’s a sort of rot in the world and you have to get rid of it, attack it. As you get older you realise that criticism doesn’t really change things, time is what changes things; time sorts out the good from the bad.”