Design Observer Celebrates Five Years of Keen Design Observations

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Photos: UnBeige

It was a dark and stormy Wednesday night in Manhattan, but those who made it to the doors of Element, a 19th-century bank turned 21st-century nightclub, needed only to utter the not-so-secret password (“Design Observer“) to be welcomed into the whirl of designers, drinks, music, and residual election glee that was the eminent design blog’s fifth anniversary party. Editors Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, and Jessica Helfand were on hand, with Helfand signing copies of her exquisite new book, Scrapbooks: An American History (Yale University Press), which made us want to go straight home and collage. Meanwhile, Bierut looked poised for service in a novel cabinet post (Interior gets its own Department, why not design?) in a dapper orange tie, an Obama-themed “Mission Accomplished” badge, and a non-partisan USA lapel pin of his own design. We told him about all the positive feedback we had heard about the Men’s Vogue-commissioned pin’s slightly subversive flair, and he confessed to having had a bit of designer’s remorse (read: endearing modesty). “I sent them three designs and then was about to go back and say, ‘Forget the third one,'” he told us. “And of course, that’s the one they picked.”

Speaking of selection processes, Drenttel helped us to understand how the Zon Hearing Aid could possibly have bested Design Observer in the competition for this year’s People’s Design Award, which is decided not by an esteemed jury of design stars but by online voting. Blame it on Facebook. After several failed attempts to send a last-minute e-mail about DO’s front-runner status for the award, Drenttel gave up, only to have the e-mail arrive in the inboxes of all approximately 1,500 members of DO’s Facebook group—in quadruplicate and on the day after voting had closed. When hundreds of members abandoned the DO group in frustration and/or complained about the (accidental) e-mail barrage, Drenttel went about sending notes of apology to each person who contacted him. The result? “Facebook suspended my account,” he said. “They thought I was spamming. I couldn’t access my account for three days.” There’s always next year.