As the writer of a blog that focuses, in part, on design and designers, I would be remiss by not acknowledging the recent redesign of the great uncle (or aunt) of all design blogs, Design Observer. Founded in 2003 by Bill Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Michael Beirut, and Rick Poynor, Design Observer established itself as the online bellweather for serious critical writing about design, design history, and design thinking. Through a steady stream of long form essays by the founders—and, over time, a growing posse of notable guest contributors—D.O. has bridged the gap between the traditional design publications of past generations and today’s mostly scattershot design blogosphere.
In 2008, Design Observer, under Drenttel’s leadership, was awarded a $1.5 million grant by the Rockefeller Foundation to develop collective action and collaboration for social impact across the design industries. Hence, a sister entity called Change Observer was born and the Design Observer media empire began to expand. Indeed, the new website, on which Change Observer is prominently featured, begins to feel like a mainstream media site (albeit with very tidy typography). A new audio channel has been added which features the complete archive of Design Matters podcasts—the pioneering design “talk show” by Debbie Millman—and video content has been promised soon.
Of course, like any popular brand that undertakes an image overhaul (think: Tropicana, Pepsi, AT&T), the critics are howling about this transition (it’s interesting to me that designers, who like to consider ourselves forward-thinking and change-friendly, would get so wound up about this). But I congratulate the founders for all the steps they’ve taken to push this vision forward. Design Observer could certainly have continued in it’s tried and true form for quite some time and still have been the undisputed industry leader, and now the bar has been raised (and the rules of the game have been changed). Click here to read the announcement posted by the D.O. founders and the associated reader comments.
The entrepreneurship angle here is a bit oblique, but bear with me. Design Observer began as a side project for the four founders—each of whom had a strong career in design, and/or design education when it was launched. I’m fairly certain that, leading up to the 2003 launch of the site, none of them envisioned the type of success, reach, and prominence they have achieved with D.O. But somewhere along the line, they found themselves at the front of the pack, and some serious entrepreneurial planning took place. I applaud Drenttel, Helfand, Beirut, and Poynor for their continued leadership, vision and strong, loud, opinionated voice.