2023 Year in Review
At the beginning of last year’s year in review, I wrote that 2022 was supposed to be a quiet year. It was not, but in the best ways possible. 2023, however, felt like what I was imagining for 2022. For the first time in years, there were no big life events: no moves, no new babies, no new jobs. It was a year of settling in. But that is not to say that big things didn’t happen.
The highlight was probably the release of my new book, Where Must Design Go Next?, a collaboration with the Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Tech and published by Oro Editions. It was released in December, after my year as ID’s Latham Fellow. The year opened with the release of a podcast mini-series I created for ID called With Intent where I hosted a series of round table discussions with the faculty about the big questions in design education, practice, and theory, in coordination with the school’s 85th anniversary. Those conversations proved especially generative that we decided to publish them as a book. I edited and designed the publication and am proud that it is now available for purchase wherever you buy books. This is a book that uses the work happening at ID to think about the state of design generally but it is also a book that asks so many of the questions behind my own work and teaching. I hope it proves valuable to a larger audience too.
Hot off the heels of that book, I also spent the first part of the year working on another book. What It Means To Be A Designer Today is a collection of previously published and original essays from AIGA’s Eye on Design. Though I left EoD late 2022, I continued to edit this collection with my colleague Liz Stinson this year. It’ll be out from Princeton Architectural Press this Spring and I’ll have more to say about that soon.
In addition to working on those two books, I tried to write for a variety of publications this year. I put together a series of book roundups for Fast Company: best books of the summer, best books of the Fall, and best books of 2023. I love doing these and look forward to collecting these lifts all year.Also for Fast Company, I interviewed Manuel Lima about his important new book, The New Designer. I also wrote two reviews of Eye Magazine, the pre-eminent graphic design publication that I’ve been reading since I was in high school (!!): a review of the book Graphic Events was in Eye 104 and a review of Nancy Skolos and Tom Wedell’s monograph, Overlap/Dissolve, was published in Eye 105. For Untapped, a new design journal from the folks at HenryBuilt, I wrote a review of The Advanced School of Collective Feeling, a fascinating revisionist history that looks at the influence of physical culture — sports, exercise, aerobics — on modern architecture. In March, Princeton Architectural Press published my friend Mitch Goldstein’s book How To Be a Design Student (And How To Teach Them), a book I was honored to write the foreword to.
In October, I went back to New York for the first time (!!) since I moved away to attend the AIGA Design Conference and give a talk at SVA’s Design Writing Research and Criticism program. At the design conference, it was so, so nice to reconnect with old friends. I co-led a discussion on what we should teach design students today. My talk at SVA was a highlight this year. It was a way for me to reflect on both my work generally and the growth of Scratching the Surface. It was my first time giving this particular talk (I think it went well) but it did pull from some lectures I gave this year on the relationship between design and publishing. I was honored to speak (remotely) to students in the graphic design program at Otis College of Art in March and to the department of graphic and industrial design at the Shenzhen International School of Design in April. Also in March, I was part of a panel on design writing and publishing hosted by Andrew Shea’s design writing class.
Speaking of Scratching the Surface, the show continues to be central to my work. When we returned from our summer break, I was excited to debut new album art and new, original theme music by Jeremiah Chiu. I released 19 episodes this year and focused on expanding the types of conversations I have on the show, talking to administrators, art critics, filmmakers, and urbanists. I have some great guests already lined up for 2024. The biggest initiative from Scratching the Surface this year, however, was Scratch, a new platform for experimental, interdisciplinary design writing. I intentionally started this quietly and want to build upon it slowly and methodically. It was nice to be an editor again and was happy to publish original pieces from folks like Kenneth FitzGerald, Eric Heiman, Anne Brownfield Brown, Liam Spradlin, Minami Hirayama, Randa Hadi, and Victoria Gerson. I also published one piece of fiction, a short story by former podcast guest Brian LaRossa. I want to do more that — I think we need more fiction in design publishing. If you’d like to publish something — fiction or otherwise — I’m always accepting new pitches!
I continue to use my own blog for personal writing and for working out ideas in public. I wrote about Wes Anderson’s short films, the new documentary aesthetic, the shearing layers of graphic design education, experimental paperbacks, and how the few years that I lived on a summer camp may have pushed me into design.
It hasn’t been announced/released yet, but I did do one mid-sized editorial and branding project back in the Spring that I’m very excited about and can’t wait to share. It was an ideal client/subject and I had a blast working on it. It made me think I want to do more client design work again.
All of this work, of course, happens in and around my main job. Somehow, I’m already into my third year as an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. In September, I was up for reappointment — essentially a marker of halfway through my tenure process — by submitting a dossier and giving a public presentation. I think it went well? I still have a job. I taught my Publishing and Distribution class again — this is a class I wrote and led for the first time last year — zeroing in on what worked well the first time. I added a brand new section at the end, focused on publishing as a framework for democracy that felt like an important addition and honestly could have been the whole class. There’s more in this space I want to work on.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the thing I was most proud of this year: our garden. I more than doubled the size of the garden this year and planted a variety of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and herbs. The peppers and cucumbers, especially, did great. I have jars upon jars of pickles and homemade hot sauces! I might be crazy but I’m thinking about adding yet another bed this summer…
One of the outcomes of a quiet year is that as I look to 2024, I feel like I’m in a transition: a lot of things have ended and new things are beginning. I have one (possibly two) big projects hopefully coming up early this year. I want to do more writing for a variety of publications and commit to commissioning and publishing more on Scratch.
As I mentioned, I have a new book with Eye on Design and Princeton Architectural Press coming later this year. I’ve also been slowly working on another book project for the last few years that I’d like to finally find a publisher for and get out into the world. It’s a subject that listeners of Scratching the Surface will likely know I’m interested in and a topic I continue to be excited by. I’m hoping 2024 can be a year to finally bring that to fruition.
In between projects, I tried to find time to paint again, a long-time hobby I found myself returning to often since moving out of New York. I’d like to spend more time in 2024 away from my computer and in front of canvases.
Like I said earlier, I’d like to begin taking on some small and mid-sized design projects after taking a year off from client work. If you have a project that you think I might be a good fit for, send me an email! Let’s talk!
And as always, I find public lectures/talks to be a way for me to work out ideas and connect with folks outside my immediate circles. I’d love to give more talks this year so if you’d like me to visit your school, organization, institution, community, either remotely or in-person, we should talk.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued support and interest in my work. Wishing you much happiness and love in 2024.