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Change Observer: A New Site Covering the Growing Field of Social Design

A hub for serious design commentary takes on the design field’s new emphasis on problem solving for the people.

Online design coverage usually means an endless scroll of new products and zoomed-up homes with little discussion of what it all means.

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Design’s corner of the blogosphere got a little more serious over the weekend with the launch of a new site called Change Observer, one of four sites now aggregated under the auspices of Design Observer, a six-year-old site known for its interviews and essays on visual culture. With these new components Design Observer stakes a claim as the dominant site for weighty design commentary.

change observer

Change Observer is a response to the design field’s new do-good spirit. The long spree that propelled designers like Tord Boontje and Marcel Wanders to the forefront of our cultural lives is over, at least for now, leaving designers to figure out what role they might play in a new economy more intent on innovation and problem solving than the platinum baubles of prosperity. Change Observer, takes that shift as its beat, with an emphasis on design’s impact on housing, infrastructure, health, education and climate change.

It will cover “anything that improves the lot of people.” said Julie Lasky, the site’s editor.

Lasky’s husband, the design journalist Ernest Beck, will serve as editorial director of a Change Observer conference to be held in Aspen this November. Both ventures are launched with a $1.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

design observer

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Also bundled with the Design Observer is a subsidiary site on urban planning with 1300 articles from the archives of Places Journal, and a multimedia site with 100 hour-long designer interviews by Debbie Millman.

Design Observer, which has 1.5 million page views a month, was started six years ago by a group of designers and critics that includes Michael Bierut, a partner in Pentagram, and the husband-and-wife team of William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand whose portfolio includes the design of The New Yorker Web site. “Design Observer is fundamentally different than sites that purport to tell you what’s cool in 200 words or less,” Drenttel said. “The intent is to create a hub for serious editorial content.”

Read more of Michael Cannell’s blog

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