Other, Typography, UX/UI

Launched in 2003, Design Observer has been one of the most influential sources for design thinking and criticism on the web. It was founded by four outspoken design critics at a time before the web really cared about design, inspiring an almost cult-like following among many readers. Today it remains a cornerstone of the online design community.

Yet Design Observer has never been a model for web design, and until recently, it had the look and feel of a website a few years out of time. This week, Design Observer is rolling out a new design, which puts an emphasis on being mobile- and social media-friendly in an attempt to increase page views. Will it hold up to the gimlet eye of the design-savvy Internet that Design Observer itself helped to create?

“When we started Design Observer, we had this dream: what if everyone really cared about design and voiced those opinions and argued about them?” Design Observer co-founder and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut tells Co.Design. “To a large degree, that world has now come to pass. Everyone cares about design now.”

The fact that everyone cares about design now makes it harder than ever to ignore the fact that Design Observer looks decidedly dated. The most recent version of the site resembled an old-school blog even when it was released in 2009: a slim column of content sandwiched between two massive, link-heavy side bars. Traffic to Design Observer is up 45% since 2009. But that isn’t tremendous growth for such an influential site: over the past year, the site has only pulled in around 4 million page views. Modernizing the look, feel, and reach of the site was critical.

“The way it looked up until now we felt was overwhelming and confusing,” Bierut says. “In this day and age, having a really dense, multi-channel site doesn’t really seem appropriate anymore.” The trick was to modernize and simplify the Design Observer while maintaining its focus on critical, long-form conversations about design. All while keeping the new design in-house.

The most obvious change is that the new look abandons the old design’s Pee Chee lemon color for a bolder blue design, while focusing the homepage from a river of blog posts into the three big stories of the day.

“We’re not trying to be always on,” says Bierut about the new homepage. “The role we want to play in our readers’ lives is that when our readers get up in the morning, come home from school, or read the site after dinner, there’s worthwhile new content for them. We want to establish real intimacy with our readers, with an expectation and respect for their times.”

In addition to the new front page design, posts on Design Observer are now organized into mosaic-like portals of stories centered around certain topics, an approach to archiving that’s designed to make Design Observer more of a reference tool.

But the biggest practical change about the new Design Observer might just be the way it is doubling down on the community, and concertedly spreading the site’s tendrils into social media for the first time.

“One thing we learned recently was that Facebook and Twitter were not really the ancillary publicizing arms to Design Observer that we thought they were, but people’s primary entry into the site,” says Jessica Helfand, another co-founder. “I guess everyone else already knew that, but when we realized it, it was kind of a big moment.”

To address Design Observer’s new social reach, the site is doing more than adding the ubiquitous social media buttons you expect from a modern site. They are also putting a new emphasis on the Design Observer community, allowing users to register to not only comment on articles, or link their own social media feeds and websites, but link their design influences as well, which Helfand hopes will prove an “interesting benchmark” that will turn Design Observer into a social media network of some of the movers and shakers in the world of contemporary design criticism.

Design Observer knows it will have it share of critics, but for his part, Bierut feels that that is just par for the course in a world where everyone cares about design. “I’m sure we’ll be criticized for continuing to favor a design that is beholden to the legacy of print,” Bierut says. “We live in a world where you can’t even redesign a logo without a pile-on. But I’m grateful to live in a world where at least now people who are thoughtful will figure out why they hate it.”

Helfand doesn’t seem to quite share his serene outlook. “There’s a part of me that really wishes I could just get out of the country for the week, maybe buy a ticket to the moon,” Helfand laughs. “I want to really dig my head in the sand. Democracy and design can be very strange bedfellows.”

Correction: Based upon statements made during our interview with Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand before the site was officially relaunched, the original version of this article incorrectly stated that the new Design Observer is fully responsive. That is incorrect. In keeping with the site’s idiosyncratic tendency to be a few years out of step with the rest of the design world, the new Design Observer is not responsive. The article has been edited to correct the error.

From FastCoDesign.com

Other, Typography

License: All Rights Reserved. 

I share a workspace with Pat Snavely of Partly Sunny and we talk about soccer. A lot. Leading up to the World Cup we’ve been wondering how many lunches will be spent at a bar. We looked up game times online, used the ESPN FC app, flipped through World Cup magazines, and searched for charts that show all of the matches together. But most are overwraught and don’t deliver the pertinent information immediately. For example, seeing match times in the context of Groups isn’t helpful at all.

We needed something that we could post on the wall and easily reference. Time and day, that’s what matters. Except for one game, the Group Stage is based around four start times — for us in Seattle it’s 9am, 12pm, 1pm and 3pm. So they’re the boldest element on the page. The rest is straightforward; the Groups are there for reference, and room was left to fill in scores by hand. This was designed for Tabloid (11×17) and fits well on Super B (13×19).

Titling Gothic was chosen because it has 49 styles, something that is extremely helpful for schedules and charts. And sure makes it easy to whip up something like this at the last minute. Here I used 4 widths: Condensed, Narrow, Normal, and Wide. As well as 4 weights: Light, Regular, Medium, and Bold.

This is available for download, with four time zones included (PDF, EDT, UTC/GMT, and CET). If you see any errors, let me know and I’ll update it. After the Group Stage, I’ll make a schedule for the Knockout stage.

Now excuse us, we have some soccer — football — to watch. And some beers to drink.

License: All Rights Reserved. 

License: All Rights Reserved. 



Original Article


‘Content marketing’ that you might actually want to watch: The Unquiet Film Series celebrates the historical and cultural impact of The Times and The Sunday Times, including one on typeface Times New Roman

The series is a collaboration between News UK, ad agency Grey London, production company Betsy Works, exec producer Peter Maynard and creative and commercials director, Phil Lind in order to celebrate “the historical and cultural impact of The Times and The Sunday Times …. and explore the values, beliefs and behaviours of past and present editors, journalists and readers”. The first four films of the series are housed in a website, Forever Unquiet, developed by GreyPOSSIBLE and How Splendid. DBLG designed the identity.



Designing The News, directed by Steven Qua, surveys current designers’ opinions about Times New Roman (and also features CR editor Patrick Burgoyne). “After many years of working in design for television I’ve not had much chance to use Times New Roman. As a general rule it’s San-Serif for on screen work and Serif for print,” Qua says. “Times is a serif font, and I don’t work in print. I wanted to know what other designers thought of Times New Roman, and speak to those who do get a chance to use it in their work.”


Simon George explores the Sunday Times’ history of commissioning photojournalism in his film


In Power of Words, Liz Unna speaks to some of The Times’ leading columnists and writers


While Will Clark’s film Question Everything focuses on the papers’ investigative reporting


Ex-ITV Creative ECD and 4Creative head Phil Lind was creative director on the project with Peter Maynard (once of 4Creative and Fallon) as executive producer. The films, Lind explains, arose from 10 themes identified by the editors of the papers as those that they hold most dear. As Lind says, it was a case of “If we had to say something about ourselves, this would be it”.

Those themes were then translated into ten films which will be released in stages through the Forever Unquiet site.


From CR Blog

Graphic Design, Typography

Italian design legend Massimo Vignelli, best known for designing an iconic-yet-controversial version of the New York City subway map in the 1970s, died in his New York City home Tuesday morning at age 83.

Working firmly within the modernist tradition, Vignelli aimed for design that was “visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless”–a slogan of sorts for his New York design studio, Vignelli Associates, which he founded in 1971 with his wife, Lella.

“If you can design one thing, you can design everything,” Vignelli had been known to say, and he lived by this maxim. He helped shape the visual and cultural landscape of the 20th century with work ranging from branding for the likes of American Airlines, IBM, and Bloomingdale’s, to housewares, signage, books, furniture, exhibitions, architecture graphics, and interiors.

As one of the most influential designers of the past century, Vignelli won some of the industry’s most prestigious awards, including the AIGA Gold Medal (1983, with Lella), the first Presidential Design Award, presented by President Ronald Reagan (1985), the National Arts Club Gold Medal for Design (2004), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (2005).

Born in pre-World War II Milan in 1931, the young Vignelli and his classmates would regularly have to leave school after hearing bomb alarms and run to a shelter. “I don’t know how I existed,” he told theEpoch Times in 2012 of his life before discovering design but “children grow up no matter what.” Vignelli also remarked on his luck, believing that if he had been born in the generation before or after his own, he would have either been part of the war or part of the national rebuilding effort, and not a designer.

Vignelli first became design obsessed as a teenager, after visiting the home of his mother’s interior designer friend. He’d never fully realized that most everything around him had been dreamt up by a human being, and became captivated by the idea. He started reading all the design books and magazines he could get his hands on, and sketching ideas for furniture he wanted in his room.

At age 16, he began studying and working in the office of a local architect. Since design schools didn’t exist at the time, at 18, he left Italy to study architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, then the Universita di Architettura in Venice. Soon, he was running in the same circles as architecture greats like Le Courbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, and Charles Eames. In an interview with Bigthink, he called his young self an architecture “groupie.”

Vignelli met his future wife, Lella, at an architecture convention and they married in 1957. Three years later, they opened an “office of design and architecture” in Milan, designing for European firms like Pirelli, Rank Xerox, and Olivetti. The pair moved to New York City in 1965, and by 1971, they’d established Vignelli Associates.

He made his arrival in New York known in a big way, with his drasticredesign of the New York City subway map. After the map’s introduction by the MTA on August 7th, 1972, complaints from straphangers started flooding in–about stations that seemed misplaced, about its weirdly square-shaped rendering of Central Park, about water that was beige instead of blue. (Vignelli was strongly opposed to focus groups, and they’d released the map without prior consumer research.) Instead of striving for geographical accuracy, Vignelli had turned the labyrinthine tangle of subway lines into a neat, clear diagram. Color-coded lines ran at 45- or 90-degree angles, and each station was represented as a dot. Design geeks loved this elegant translation of a messy reality into a sleek “System Map,” as Vignelli called it. Michael Bierut, now a partner at Pentagram, remembers keeping a copy as a souvenir on a trip to the city. Though the MTA ultimately opted for a new design in 1979, Vignelli was tasked in 2011 to create an interactive interpretation his System Map for the MTA’s “Weekender” program.

Vignelli was as skilled at articulating his design philosophy as he was at actually designing–his aphorisms are as distilled and elegant as his visual work. “The correct shape is the shape of the object’s meaning,” he once said, describing his preference for a creative process that investigated its subject from the inside out. He wrote books aimed at sharing his wisdom with younger creatives, such as The Vignelli Canon(2009) and Vignelli A to Z (2007). Speaking to Debbie Millman for her book How to Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, he offered an eloquent explanation of what design, in its broadest sense, is really for:

It is to decrease the amount of vulgarity in the world. It is to make the world a better place to be. But everything is relative. There is a certain amount of latitude between what is good, what is elegant, and what is refined that can take many, many manifestations. It doesn’t have to be one style. We’re not talking about style, we’re talking about quality. Style is tangible, quality is intangible. I am talking about creating for everything that surrounds us a level of quality.


In his last, gravely ill days, Vignelli’s son, Luca, sent out an unusual and touching request: that anyone who had been influenced or inspired by his father’s work send him a letter. Designers from all over the world penned notes of appreciation, awe, and gratitude to the man who’s been called the “grandfather of graphic design,” and many posted those letters online as well, with the hashtag #dearmassimo. The outpouring of love from the design community is perhaps a stronger testament to Vignelli’s influence than even the most prestigious award.

[Photo by John Madere]
From Co.Design
Graphic Design, Typography

Massimo Vignelli in Gary Hustwit’s film, Helvetica

Sad news reached CR from the US earlier today – the great designer and teacher Massimo Vignelli died this morning at the age of 83…

Earlier this month, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut informed us that Vignelli was very ill and was spending his final days at his home – and that the designer’s son Luca had a request. He wanted to ask those who had been either inspired or influenced by his father’s work to write to him in New York.

The reaction was unprecedented. While intended as a means through which to send hand-written notes of thanks and appreciation to the designer, news of the idea spread online and soon people were also leaving their thoughts on blog posts, in comments, and on social media. Such was his influence.

As a graphic designer, Vignelli’s place within the history of the great practitioners has long been assured. He and his wife Lella had initially established the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan in 1960, with Massimo becoming design director of the pioneering Unimark International Corporation, with its offices in New York, Chicago and Milan, five years later.

New York Subway Guide, via MoMA

The subway sign system created for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1966 – along with the modernistsubway ‘diagram’ – remains one of the studio’s most well-regarded projects among designers (the signage manual now even has its own website at thestandardsmanual.com).

In 1971 Massimo and Lella co-founded Vignelli Associates, which became Vignelli Designs in 1978. As Vignelli Associates, the Vignelli’s continued to produce work for a range of iconic US brands – from Bloomingdale’s to American Airlines – as well as working on interiors, packaging designs, furniture and products, such as the much-loved Hellerware system (another client which continued a relationship with the designer since the Unimark days).

Identity for American Airlines, via vignelli.com

Yet many of the comments on our own post last month mentioned Vignelli’s generosity and engaging manner; the amount of time he gave to young designers, particulary on their portfolios; or what he conveyed when he gave presentations and talks. It’s a reputation that Vignelli had for many years.

Indeed Bierut, who worked for Vignelli Associates from 1980 to 1990, today posted a moving recollection on Design Observer of his time spent with the designer.

“Today there is an entire building in Rochester, New York, dedicated to preserving the Vignelli legacy,” Bierut writes. “But in those days, it seemed to me that the whole city of New York was a permanent Vignelli exhibition. To get to the office, I rode in a subway with Vignelli-designed signage, shared the sidewalk with people holding Vignelli-designed Bloomingdale’s shopping bags, walked by St. Peter’s Church with its Vignelli-designed pipe organ visible through the window.”

It is fitting that the last project to surround Vignelli at his home was one that came out of a connection with so many people. We hope he got to see as many of the letters as possible.

The AIGA biography honouring Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s joint award of the AIGA Medal in 1982 is at aiga.org.Michael Bierut’s post on Vignelli is here. For an overview of his work see vignelli.com.

In March The Architectural League gave its President’s Medal to Lella and Massimo Vignelli – above, the designer is holding untrimmed press sheets of covers for the evening’s programme (designed by Michael Bierut) which featured a series of five Vignelli quotes. Photograph by Hamish Smyth, via pentagram.com.

From CR Blog