Want to Know What the Future Holds? Look No Further Than the Nearest Crossword Puzzle

Want to Know What the Future Holds? Look No Further Than the Nearest Crossword Puzzle

The grid, full of restrictions and possibilities, has entranced graphic designers for hundreds of years. This story isn’t about them.There’s another kind of grid whose black-and-white beauty has bewitched a different group of equally meticulous problem solvers: the crossword puzzle.

It first ensnared David Steinberg when he was 12. He holed up in his bedroom to create a set of clues inspired by a board game (Clue, natch) and sent it off to the New York Times crossword editor, Will Shortz. The answer? “‘No’, as it deserved to be,” Steinberg recalls. But the rejection came with an encouraging note. Precociousness turned into perseverance, and Steinberg waded back into wordplay. “After my 17th submission, it was a ‘maybe,’” he says. “Finally, a different answer!” Eventually, the 14-year-old Steinberg became one of the youngest constructors to publish in the Times.

Unlike many other freelance creative gigs, the hallmark of the crosswords world is moments of encouragement, like a lukewarm note from a Times editor. Instead of vying for a tiny number of publishing slots while editors keep the doors locked and their emails unlisted, crossword puzzlers thrive on mentorship and collaboration.

Each week, 70-100 puzzle submissions are driven from the Times’ Manhattan office 30 miles north to Shortz’s Pleasantville home. For one summer, the door might have been answered by David Steinberg himself, grown from child prodigy to 19-year-old college sophomore, and living on Shortz’s couch during his Times internship. Every morning, Steinberg would pour out a bowl of Alpha-Bits (yes, you read that right) for breakfast and dig in to the submissions. As Shortz’s gatekeeper, Steinberg coded grids with check marks for “good” or “TDEME” for “Theme Doesn’t Excite Me Enough.” Exclamation points were best of all: language that was fresh and lively—the X-factor. Sometimes literally. One of Steinberg’s favorite puzzles used a Battleship game theme to scatter the grid with Xs, indicating how many hits it took to sink answers like DESTROYER or SUBMARINE.

Now 22, Steinberg has published 74 puzzles in the Times with answers like SASHAFIERCE and RAPBATTLE and swapped his major so he could edit for a local newspaper. His goal is to be one of the few cruciverbalists who work full time in the business, just like Shortz. At the Times’ rate of $300 for weekday puzzles and $1,000 for the weekend grids, most constructors are in the business for the laurels, not the paycheck. Jeff Chen, who’s published 78 Times puzzles and oversees a stats database called XWord Info, estimates that fewer than 10 constructors are full time. Instead of money, everyone chases that career-defining puzzle—their own “Battleship” grid, a one-song-glory puzzle that people will talk about for years to come.

Back in the day, crosswords were a hand-gridded, dictionary-fueled endeavor. Now, computer programs with built-in dictionaries are an industry norm. Constructors add lists of new words to their personal dictionary so the program’s algorithm can suggest it for a future puzzle. It’s a generous gesture for an expert to share their dictionary so a newbie doesn’t have to start at square one. As more software programs find a space in the industry, some publications are using the programs and the algorithm to auto-construct puzzle grids. Daily newspaper puzzles, though, are still bastions of the human hand.

XWord Info tracks a gold standard metric for constructors—the number of words they’ve debuted in the Times crossword. Elizabeth Gorski learned puzzling and code-cracking from her military cryptologist father. In the eight-person contingent of constructors who have pushed over 1,000 new words into the Times’ lexicon, Gorski ranks #3 with 1,514—from CLASSACT to MOTHERSOFINVENTION. “I want to incorporate new words to entertain solvers the way a chef adds new dishes to a menu,” Gorski explains.

Answers can be a barometer of the times. According to Chen, AMA used to point to the American Medical Association. Now, AMA points to the Reddit interview. Major themes can be subsumed from the data about the words our society is comfortable with, the ones we find unspeakable, and the inflection moments when that shifts. For example, for decades of the New York Times crossword, CHASTE was as much the watchword as it was at a local bible camp. THEPILL was called into action in 2013 and then used again with a doozy of a clue by XWord’s Chen: “Medical product with no conceivable use?” A sophomore at Brown University successfully inserted NUVA, for the birth control brand, into the lexicon in 2010. And, in October 2017, CONDOM burst onto the scene.

Clues are a reflection of societal norms and where they’re heading. “The industry is sometimes locked in the Mad Men era,” Gorski says. In a recent puzzle, Gorski clued AMAL as “Barrister/Activist Clooney” and was disappointed to see the editor update the clue to “Mrs. George Clooney.”

“I want to eliminate outdated, gendered ways of describing women and men,” she says. Gorski uses clues to literally redefine our cultural norms. NUN is a particular favorite. “I use “Convent manager” instead of the tired “Creature of habit,’” she says, noting that nuns have graduate degrees, and run schools and nursing homes. It’s hard not to picture Audrey Hepburn in a Givenchy lace mask in How to Steal a Million when Gorski confides that she and a band of likeminded constructors “meet in secret locations around the city… to avoid arrest.”

Once a year in late winter, a cadre comes together at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, run by Shortz at the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. Junkies for speed-solving puzzles pack the ballroom and shoulder into invite-only Jeopardy in the guest rooms. “Everyone makes puzzles and loves puzzles. You think: I have found my tribe,” says Brad Wilbur, a reference librarian by day who’s also the crossword puzzle editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education. And attendees only want that tribe to grow. Perhaps as a part of the effort to mentor new voices, there’s a growing trend in collaborative constructing where an expert will pair off with a newer constructor. Working in teams comes naturally to many. “Be a partner and a critic at the same time,” advises Wilbur. “Say, ‘I want as much of your work to survive the process as it can.’” 

Every constructor has their own puzzle point they want to get across, but at the end of the day, they’re working with one person in mind: the solver. “It’s the constructor’s job to set up the solver to ultimately triumph over the constructor,” says Chen. “You don’t want to create something that’s going to leave the solver defeated… It’s your fault if they don’t finish it correctly, not theirs.”

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2DOzSB0

Designing a Live-Work Studio? Copy/Paste This Dreamy Spanish Space

Designing a Live-Work Studio? Copy/Paste This Dreamy Spanish Space

His airy studio in located within the modern two-story house he shares with Maria and their dogs in Gaucín, an enchanting hillside village in the Andalusian mountains near Spain’s southernmost tip. The space has succeeded as a live-work space due to “the simplicity of its construction, the use of light through a large window that makes the landscape become part of the house itself, and finally, the adaptation to the topography of the landscape and the street,” says Zabaleta.

The walls of the open ground-floor workspace are white, the floor is concrete, and the space is flooded with light thanks to the double-height ceiling and an interior, glass-enclosed courtyard. Blond-wood partition walls and shelving echo the color of the wood easels at which Zabaleta works on his canvases. “I get up early and walk for an hour, alone, or sometimes with Maria and my three dogs,” says Zabaleta of his daily routine. “A bad habit of mine is not to have breakfast; the good thing is that I work every day, especially in the mornings. When winter comes, I like to light the fireplace and put on some music.”

A white steel staircase leads from the studio to a mezzanine bedroom, then up to the relaxed, open-plan living space with the picture window Zabaleta referred to that frames chockablock rooftops and a panoramic view of the mountains; a simple patio on the other side of the glass beckons, as does the surprise on the rooftop: an ultra-minimal swimming pool. Artwork, plants, and books – those distinctive signs of human life – are everywhere. Back in the studio, it’s easy to become entranced by the intriguing, sometimes apocalyptic paintings that line the studio walls, which are as hyper-realistic as they are otherworldly.

“I am not a painter, as a poet could be, of experience. My life is full of unforgettable moments, but there is something that makes me look in that other direction in which the human being seems to disappear,” says Zabaleta of his work. Clearly the studio is just what allows him to go there. “It doesn’t take much to paint; not in my case at least,” he says. “I have good light, even though the studio is not oriented to the north. Many times the light is too much and I close the window. Then in the darkness I turn on the electric light as if lighting a candle. Despite the white walls, it becomes the best refuge, in the best cave.”

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2rRu2xe

Can Russia’s “Neutral” Olympics Uniform Pave the Way for More Radical Redesigns in the Future?

Can Russia’s “Neutral” Olympics Uniform Pave the Way for More Radical Redesigns in the Future?

Despite their ban from the Olympics for systemic doping, Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in the games—they’re just not allowed to represent Russia. Wait a minute, you say. What does that look like? Or, as the case may be, not look like? Banning a Russian athlete from representing Russia means neutralizing the uniform and the insignia they wear, creating a provocative design challenge: How do you take the Russian-ness out of Russia?

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies is one of the biggest branding showcases in the world, where countries communicate their current mood to the global community. “Fashion is a huge part of soft power,” says Anastasiia Fedorova, a cultural critic in London.

This year, Russia, a country that goes to great lengths to project its strength (gotta love those shirtless Putin photos), will see its athletes march in what look like knockoff red and gray Adidas track suits stamped with a circular “Olympic Athlete from Russia” mark on the chest. This adheres to the design guidelines released by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last December, which stipulate that the athlete’s uniforms can only have two wordmarks, “Olympic Athlete from Russia” or “OAR;” that Russia’s national emblems must be replaced with the OAR logo; and that only single or dual color elements are permitted on uniforms. And separate items of clothing are not allowed to create Russia’s signature red, white, and blue tricolor when worn together.

All of these requirements seem like a great effort to censure Russia, without really censuring them. They aren’t supposed to be representing their nation, but they’re clearly representing their nation. (See the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” logo.) 99U reached out to the IOC, but they declined to comment for this story.

Olympic, Russia, OL, costumes, 2018

Via the Olympic Russia Twitter page.

So what do designers think of the mark? “Whoever designed it was obviously told to make it as bland as possible,” says Steven Heller, author of Iron Fist, Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State. “It’s a seal without being a seal. You have to decipher it.” Heller likens the design to a 1980s supermarket trend, where product names were presented in black Helvetica type against a white background, to see if the most generic product design imaginable sold better. (It didn’t.)

Then there’s the circular type, with all the letters the same size, capitalized, and kerned to appear interconnected (and unreadable). “It’s only done in situations like E Pluribus Unum, where you know what it says,” says Bonnie Siegler, founder of Eight and a Half design studio. “This is daring you to read it in its illegibility.” And therein lies the rub.

Far from making them neutral global citizens, competing in clothing devoid of identifying features actually distinguishes these athletes from everyone else.

The neutral uniform design stands out only for its stark contrast to designs from previous years. From fur hats to intertwined khokhloma florets, past Russian uniforms have embraced opulence and the country’s folkloric history. But the Olympics that really made an impression? That would be the 1980 Summer Games held in Moscow, when Adidas was selected to design the Soviet Union’s Olympic team uniforms. The iconic tracksuit embedded Adidas in Russian national identity for decades. “Adidas was the first global brand Soviet people were exposed to,” says Fedorova, “It was so prestigious to own a pair of trainers or a tracksuit, people would wear them to the theater or a lush restaurant.”

Look closer at this year’s rush job, pulled together by Moscow-based athletic wear company Zasport in less than a month for Pyeongchang: the simple red-and-gray tracksuits sport double white stripes running down the arm and pants leg. Look familiar? They’re not unlike the Adidas suits that stole Russia’s heart at the 1980 Olympics.

“Graphic design is not neutral,” says Heller. “It has a point of view and the designers who make it happen are either given that view, drive that point of view on their own, or copy that point of view from others.”

(99U reached out to Zasport for comment, but at the time of publication, had not heard back.)

summer-olympics, russia, OL, adidas, uniforms

XXII Summer Olympics. The Soviet field hockey team (women) wins bronze medal of the Olympic Games. Photo by TASS / Yuri Nabatov; Mikhail Potyrnike.

Extranational teams have a creative history at the Olympics. During the Cold War, East and West Germany designed a compromise flag that emblazoned the Olympic rings on top of a set of black, gold, and red stripes. In 2016, Syrian artist Yara Said created a flag inspired by the design of a life jacket that the newly formed Refugee Team competes under. And this year, North and South Korea have agreed to march as one team under a flag displaying a unified Korean peninsula. In all cases, graphic design was used to communicate an identity beyond a single nation-state.

“The Russians should be marching under a white flag,” says Siegler. “It’s like a surrender. They gave up their identity.”

If these groups are not bound by nations, are even more radical redesigns possible? “In the past years, more and more athletes have expressed themselves in terms of their gender identity or their political identity,” says Jilly Traganou, author of Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation. “Give individuals agency to have expression and affiliate with a group they feel strongly about.” Like Siegler, Traganou envisions a white flag at these post-national Olympics with every athlete walking behind it. “They would all wear white,” she says. “No states. No meaning. No identity.”

Until that day, let’s turn the focus back to what the Games are really about: winning (by which we obviously mean healthy competition and sportsmanship). “The Olympics is always a place where nations get together and try to out-muscle one another,” says Heller. “Whether they out-muscle with the physical prowess of their athletes or their graphics.” May the best identity win.

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2BvL3MJ

Off-the-Grid Yet Totally Connected, Designer François Chambard is an Old-world Atelier for the Digital Age

Off-the-Grid Yet Totally Connected, Designer François Chambard is an Old-world Atelier for the Digital Age

A Frenchman turned New Yorker buys a vintage Airstream trailer. It’s pristine on the outside, trashed on the inside, and restoring it is going to a pet project of his – or rather, one of many.

“Ultimately,” he says, “I am envisioning a compound with the trailer, one or two Quonset huts, solar panels, windmills, and other structures. An off-the-grid yet totally connected outpost somewhere on planet earth, for creativity, inspiration, resourcing, and amazing work.”

Coming from anyone but designer François Chambard, this statement might come across as grandiose and, let’s face it, a bit utopian. But the founder of design studio UM Project not only doesn’t reveal his intentions lightly, but is as much of an artist and maker as he is a dreamer.

99U jumped at the chance to visit the UM workshop, a well-outfitted space inside a massive industrial building on a desolate stretch of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Chambard took us through the evolution of the studio’s design principles via its signature breakthroughs; introduced us to the cast of characters in his most recent creative project, the Ultraframe series, which had just come back from New York’s Design Week exhibition; and shared the remarkable story of UM Project’s genesis, which has everything to do with Chambard’s realization in his late twenties that after doing what he could to ignore it, it was time to finally act on his lifelong wish to design and build things with his hands. “Sometimes it takes a long time to find your calling, or you know your calling and it takes a long time to embrace it,” Chambard told us. “I’m glad I found it and embraced it.”


Francois Chambard photographed in and around the UM Project workshop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

How did you, a Frenchman, end up establishing your business in Brooklyn rather than, say, Paris?

Well, there’s a very simple answer. It’s because of my then girlfriend, now wife: I moved to the States 23 years ago because I had met Kathleen in Germany, when we were both exchange students in Germany. We lived two or three years in Germany and in Paris. And she had to move back to the U.S., so we had a long-distance relationship for one or two years. Then I moved here; that’s it. I moved out of passion, you know: out of love. I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time, only I’m still here, with kids and family.

And you moved to New York straight away?

Yes. I hated it.

Do you still?

No. I love it. When I moved here, I spoke English like a French high school student, which is not much. I knew nobody but my wife. I had $1,500 in my pocket, so I had to make money. I was actually a bike messenger for almost a year to make a living, which was fun. It was a rough learning curve. It was more the learning curve that I didn’t like than New York City. It seemed that the city made it harder to get my bearings, grow a network, get a job. But at the same time, maybe it made it easier, too, because I found a good-paying job after eight months.

How did UM Project come into being?

When I was 13 or 14, I already wanted to be a furniture maker. I told my parents and they were not too crazy about the idea. In my family, everybody has a proper, classical education. Everybody’s like an engineer or a doctor. They convinced me it maybe wasn’t the right choice. You have to put things in context; it was in the early 80s. Design wasn’t what it is today. Now it’s much more a part of popular culture. At the time, it was not.

So I just followed the more traditional path. I went to business school. The way for me to reconcile my creative aspirations and my business background for 10 years was by working for so-called strategic design firms, brand constructing companies, more on the corporate design side of things. I learned a lot, but I was a consultant. I was doing nothing with my hands. And in my late 20s, early 30s, I decided to finally commit to what I wanted to do, which was work with my hands: make things. Design and make things.

I went to RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design), and it is a wonderful school. But I went there when I was 31, not 18 or 19. I was with much younger people, and it felt like that wasn’t the right place and time for me. I had thought about design for like 16 or 17 years, and I just I had to do it my own way. I was eager and impatient. I left on really good terms, and after that I apprenticed one year with a very old-school, classic furniture maker, Hank Gilpin. Because what I really needed was a transition period between being a consultant and being a designer-maker; a way to embrace what I had been wanting to do for a long time. Being an apprentice, doing work with hand tools on the bench, a very humbling task, was a centering experience to the transition phase. From there, I just started doing projects.


Do you design mostly digitally, or do you also sketch?

We sketch a lot. The work by hand is very important – let the hand imagine and think for you. When you start to draw, things happen which you don’t necessarily expect or know how to explain. Some kind of sixth sense. So I always steer clear of computer work, at least in the early phase of the work. I don’t go straight into computer rendering or 3-D modeling. When you see a hand sketch, it’s really about a more personal process. When we have an idea, we do a beautiful hand rendering and color it. Then the design is chosen and this is when we actually start to work with the computer. We do a ton of detailed drawings, small models, mock-ups, and prototypes for fabrication needs. That is when we segue to the computer. I’m not against computer or digital work. I mean, we’d be silly not to use it. But at the right time, for the right thing.

And then we make things. It’s a combination of all the old-fashioned techniques and totally new digital processes. Often we like to think of UM Project as an old-world atelier for the digital age.

What are the actual building blocks?

We use wood, metals, plastics, composite materials, glass, Corian, leather, cork – we are material-agnostic. The tools are basic, which is part of the process. When you look at the design solutions we develop, there is no secret. A practical eye would understand pretty quickly how things are made. It’s about pushing economy of means to its very essence, to its maximum, by making the most of simple, limited ingredients. We’re about combining, layering, connecting materials, shapes and colors, redefining basic products and functions for specific uses. A collage process. The result is a design vocabulary articulated around strong moments or connection points that are graphic, functional, or structural, or all of the above.

That certainly seems to describe Ultraframe, the series of quasi-furniture pieces that debuted late last year.

Ultraframe is all about pieces that have a subframe or substructure. They are covered by a skin, a shell, an envelope, a small building. Because there are different layers between the subframes and the top covers, all of the pieces have an interesting relationship between the inside and the outside. There’s a lot going on. Also, it’s much more restrained than our typical work, which is more colorful. We tried to develop material structures and textures as opposed to relying on color in this collection. One piece is covered by fabric, almost like a winter coat. It took Megan, my close collaborator, over 10 days just to make the fabric cover: sheering, folding, gluing, applying and layering, fitting and stitching – endless work!

We do these collections first to push the boundaries, to experiment. By participating in shows or in galleries, it gives us a timeframe and deadline. Ultraframe was one of these breakthrough projects for us where we just did new things, and it was really well received; we got a lot of press. We’re prepping to show it in Europe in the spring.

So they are not for sale? 

Not necessarily. I have a secret – I’m a terrible businessperson. Usually the showpieces are hard to sell. They’re hard to price. Often when we do something, we have an original concept but we don’t know the specifics. So we proceed by experimentation. We do all kinds of tests and experiments. We actually waste a lot of time and material and probably money. But at the same time, after a few tests in two or three weeks we know what we’re doing and then we build the thing pretty quickly.


There is definitely something anthropomorphic about them.

They all have human-body scale. They’re held on dollies, so they’re higher now, but usually they’re about five to six feet. They’re like little characters. This collection is inspired by automotive, boatbuilding, or even aerospace building. It’s a very technical and engineered project. However, in the end, the project doesn’t come across as technical at all. It’s not intimidating, cold, or mechanical. It is approachable, engaging, almost endearing. Often we have been labeled as playful because our work is playful. I argue with that. Playful may be the byproduct but it’s not the intent.


UM Project workspace. Photo by: Francis Dzikowski/OTTO.

Is there a fundamental difference between your collection pieces and your commissioned work?

It’s a blurry line. First, I’m at a point where I can choose my clients. It was not always the case. I started UM in 2004, so it’s been 13 years. The first six years were pure work, trying to survive. Then it was this transition of three or four years. For the last four years, I’ve been in a position where I can choose my clients, or even better, attract the clients who want to work with me.

Like everybody, I have to pay the bills, so client work is how I make most of my money. I always end up selling some showpieces in the longterm. Three years ago, I made a collection of theremins, unusual musical instruments that were the first generation of synthesizers. It was a milestone. That being said, it took me three years to sell all of the pieces. It creates a welcome residual income. Likewise I’m sure I will sell Ultraframe, but it might take me five years. That’s okay.

So that’s your personal work – work you do because you have to.

Yes – I must. It’s a way to really push the limits. I push the envelope much more on exhibition work because I am not accountable to any client. I can make mistakes and nobody has to pay for them. Conversely, it allows for grander gestures and unconventional creative decisions. It’s also great publicity: a promotion medium. The Ultraframe show, which we did for New York Design Week in May, is basically all of my “marketing money.” Some people spend money on advertising, trade shows, or PR firms. I spend money doing one or two shows a year.


Do you have a favorite piece of commissioned work?

One piece that we like doing is a custom, one-of-a-kind recording and mixing console for music studios. When I finally decided to be a designer and a maker of furniture, someone from the music industry invited me to create a sound design studio, a whole room with a big console, full of equipment – the speaker rack, the acoustic panels, the lighting. I worked for six months like a maniac and did something totally different than any other sound studio. This is when you produce your best work: when you have this luxury of getting lost in your work.

The new sound studio got noticed by the creative recording industry, a small world, and led to many more commissions, such as a keyboard stand for Mikael Jorgensen of Wilco, or the Odd Harmonics theremins I mentioned, in collaboration with Butterscotch Records and Moog Music. More important, that initial sound design studio was not only UM’s first project but also set the tone for all future projects, allowing us to develop and apply an original approach combining design and technology.

Your insistence on projects that are singular suggests you are an artist. Is that a designation you’re okay with?

I may be part artist but I’m also an artisan or designer or maker. I would say “industrial artist” as opposed to “industrial designer.” We’re living in a time where technology, digital tools, and processes are becoming so dominant. At the same time, we still crave something tangible – collectively. Look at the design world today basically as a spectrum: On one end, you have people yearning for the past: handmade, a vision of old-style luxury, vintage and reclaimed. On the other end, you have mostly tech companies who offer sleek, futuristic products like the iPhone, which represent a somewhat improbable, distant vision of the future. It might be too much of a caricature, but in many ways the design spectrum can be summarized as Brooklyn vs. Silicon Valley.

Today you have to be either/or. But it doesn’t have to be that way; there can be a third way, by creating new processes with designs or expressions which combine both – which embrace technology but are rooted in methods and memories from the past. I hope that when you look at my work, you can see it’s creating a new vocabulary, often using technology, for living in the 21st century.

To grow my practice and business, I have been hesitant to follow the investor avenue because I have always felt that it would compromise too much my creative independence and vision. Similarly, I get invitations by big manufacturers to design products for them. I usually turn them down because I feel that by doing that you become a design consultant for the brands, and somehow you’re not true to your own brand. To make an analogy with music, I see myself not as the top-of-the-charts pop music icon but very much as the indie band of design, with a small yet strong following, true to an original vision. I don’t want to dilute it by making the wrong choice, which can be rewarding in the short-term but will jeopardize the long-term trajectory.

You lose control, too.

You lose independence, definitely. Paradoxically, this may be what I love about being here in the U.S. It’s a new market culture driven by money and quick profit. But it’s also a culture driven by independence and self-reliance. It would be less possible for me to do what I do if I hadn’t stayed in New York because I have the luxury of pretty much doing what I love to do, offering my vision, and people don’t question that. 

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2rzvrIq

Speakers Announced for the 10th Annual Adobe 99U Conference

Speakers Announced for the 10th Annual Adobe 99U Conference

We love a challenge. 

Challenges ask us to think, work, and collaborate creatively. 
In curating this year’s Adobe 99U Conference (taking place May 9 – 11, 2018 in New York City), we considered what’s testing and motivating creatives most at this moment: the need for more inclusive work environments and online communities, the risks we take on the path to innovation, and the ambition to utilize our talent to affect real social good.

That’s why the theme for the 10th Annual 99U Conference is CHALLENGE EVERYTHING.

We’re pleased to announce the speakers and session hosts who’ll be joining us this May: a group of individuals and organizations finding their own creative solutions, and inspiring us to do the same. 

Challenge accepted.

99U Conference Main Stage

2017 speaker Steve Selzer of Airbnb

Main Stage Speakers

Learn from top thinkers and doers in a series of main stage talks over two days. 99U speakers offer pragmatic, real-world insights that transcend creative sectors.

Tina Roth Eisenberg

Founder & CEO, 

CreativeMornings & Tattly
One of our favorite creative doers and community galvanizers, Tina returns to the 99U Conference main stage following her 2014 talk that inspired thousands to ‘Create, Don’t Complain’. Among her many projects, businesses, and achievements, Tina is the founder of the global lecture series CreativeMornings, ubiquitous designer temporary tattoo brand Tattly, and beloved design blog Swissmiss.

Ashleigh Axios

Design Exponent 
& Head of Creative Studio,


After breaking ground in national government as the creative director and digital strategist for the Obama White House, Ashleigh now leads the creative studio at Automattic, a company with the mission to democratize publishing and commerce. She is a fervent advocate for design’s ability to break barriers and create positive social change.

Todd Yellin

Vice President, Product,


Few 99U speakers have a better window into your psyche than Todd. A former filmmaker, Todd joined Netflix almost 12 years ago, and in his current role as Vice President of Product, he leads the team that leverages vast amounts of data, sophisticated algorithms, and best-in-class user interfaces across numerous viewing devices to create easy, compelling ways for Netflix members to find something great to watch.

Katie Dill

Vice President, Design,


Katie is a creative leader at the intersection of interaction and industrial design, business strategy, and user research. As VP of Design, she oversees products for Lyft’s driver and passenger community and was previously the Director of Experience Design at Airbnb and the Creative Director at frog design.

Tiffany Dufu

Drop the Ball

Tiffany is a catalyst-at-large in the world of women’s leadership and the author of Drop the Ball, a memoir and manifesto on how to cultivate the single skill you really need in order to thrive: the ability to let go. Tiffany helped launch Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In initiative, and recently served as Chief Leadership Officer to millennial professional network Levo. Tiffany serves on the board of Girls Who Code and Simmons College and has raised nearly $20 million toward for women and girls worldwide.

Adam J. Kurtz

Artist & Author

The often humorous, sometimes dark work of the artist known as ‘adamjk’ can be seen everywhere from tote bags at New York’s iconic Strand Bookstore to enamel pins on the shelves of Urban Outfitters. Adam frequently speaks and writes about the realities of creative work, notably in his latest book, Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives.

Tea Uglow

Experimental Person in Charge,

Google Creative Lab Sydney

Tea works on a range of projects with cultural organizations and practitioners to enable artists, writers, and performers to use digital tools to amplify or augment their artistic, theatrical, or musical practice. Her output includes seven books, 17 websites, six apps, a feature film, three plays, two concerts, four museum exhibits, and some teddy bears that talk. She is an AGI member, on the board of the Biennale of Sydney, D&AD’s 2018 Digital Jury President, and a mentor to young female creatives worldwide.

Vince Kadlubek

Meow Wolf

Vince is the visionary CEO behind Meow Wolf, the much-buzzed-about, hard-to-describe, immersive art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico (and its new locations, coming soon to Denver, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada). Vince raised $7 million from investors including author George R.R. Martin to create what just might be the future of experiential art.

Jason Mayden

CEO & Co-Founder,
Super Heroic

Jason is the creative CEO behind Super Heroic, a mission-driven business focused on providing quality play-performance footwear, apparel, and technology for children. An accomplished design leader, Jason previously oversaw products and innovations for the Jordan Brand as the Senior Global Design Director at Nike, and serves as an advisor to Stephen Curry’s Slyce platform, portfolio companies at venture firm Accel, and the College for Creative Studies.

Mona Chalabi

Data Editor,
Guardian US

Mona has attracted praise for her unique, illustrated presentations of data on everything from pay inequality to pet safety on airlines for the Guardian US. She previously worked with FiveThirtyEight and the Economist Intelligence Unit, hosted a regular data segment on NPR called The Number Of The Week, and co-created the Emmy-nominated video series Vagina Dispatches.

Christine Sun Kim


Christine harnesses the medium of sound in performance and drawing works to investigate her relationship with spoken languages and her aural environment as a deaf woman and artist. Through her practice, she challenges and deconstructs the politics of sound, and explores oral languages as social currency. 

She is a Directors Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, and her exhibitions and performances have been held at the Berlin Biennale, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Rubin Museum, PS1, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Jamie Myrold

Vice President, Design,

Jamie has led large-scale design efforts at Adobe for 13 years, leading the company’s development of the next generation of design tools. 

In her role, Jamie aims to inspire the next wave of design leaders, encouraging her teams to push boundaries and develop leadership skills. She is a key contributor to Adobe’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, leading the charge among creative businesses worldwide.

99U Conference Breakout Session

99U attendees at a 2017 breakout session with Refinery29 executive creative director Piera Gelardi

Breakout Sessions

Spend time with some of our favorite creative individuals and organizations in a series of interactive sessions exploring creative methodologies, disciplines, and technologies that will supercharge your work:

Adobe Creative Residents
The Design Gym
Dirty Bandits
Duncan Wardle
General Assembly
Good F***ing Design Advice
Jon Burgerman
Man Made Music
A Mighty Oak
Red Antler

and more!

Register now to join 1,000 fellow creatives at the 10th Annual 99U Conference. Want to learn more? Head to the 99U Conference site for the full lowdown.


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2G4CcFz

Hop Down My January 2018 Design Rabbit Hole

Hop Down My January 2018 Design Rabbit Hole

A monthly trip through a land of design and nonsense with executive editor Perrin Drumm. Opinions are most definitely her own.

Let me be the 3,759th person to wish you a Happy New Year. HNY! We’re already three weeks deep into 2018 so maybe you’re tired of hearing it, but by now you’ve probably discovered that some people have nothing better to say to one another in passing than HNY!, and frankly there are worse things to wish upon someone. Also, I bet there are people, close friends even, who you still haven’t seen since 2017. So it’s valid. Okay? HNY will be perfectly acceptable next week, too. Within 48 hours I guarantee it will be said again to you. Be nice. Say thanks.

We’re also three weeks into all our resolutions, which means I already have six-pack abs—what have you done? Fine, it’s a four-pack, but I have a short torso so that’s all there’s room for. Actually I have no idea how my torso length ranks on the global average. Where does a torso even start (top of shoulders? under boobs? below ribs?) and stop? This is probably very Googleable, but this year I’m resolving to invite more mystery into my life. Last year was good practice; I think we all got better at living with the question, which was What the hell is happening to the world?!? but now that we know there isn’t an answer, we can all chill. That’s something I could stand to get better at, too: chilling out. Never been a strong suit of mine, though I am amazing at the art of distraction. Some people call this procrastination, but those people are wrong (and rude). They are two different things, and I happen to be incredibly gifted at both.

Click to view slideshow.

One thing that is helping to distract me is the latest issue of Rubbish Famzine, a biannual magazine lovingly created by the even more lovable Lim family, a mother-father-son-daughter team from Singapore. Issue #7 is a multi-format experience that tells the family’s story through its photographs, unfolding as a series of mini booklets of various sizes, and stuffed with fun little stickers, Cyanotype paper for making photo prints, and handmade tip-ins (like a teeny photo attached with the world’s smallest paperclip) all alligator-clipped together. The exposed Coptic binding alone will make you weep.

As with each issue before it, this one, titled “Flash and Blood,” is a meditation on a theme. Here the Lim family asks us to consider what the photos we take reveal, not of the subject, but of ourselves. All the photos are taken with a 35mm camera, which “in turn makes every single picture authentic, pure in its moment as we cannot ‘delete’ it nor try to recapture it again,” as one entry reads. It’s the perfect medium of choice for a family dedicated to all things analogue. There are errors in exposure, lens flares, blurs, and other inexplicable aberrations of development that every film lover will be familiar with. The most beautiful images in this issue are in the mini booklet called “My Private Universe,” a quiet ode to Claire Lim (the mother) by Pann (the father), who’s photos capture the small, intimate moments of domestic life. She is looking out a window, or across the room, unwitting that her picture is being taken. It’s a thoughtful pause in an issue otherwise packed with vibrant colors, busy patterns, and lively moments captured on film.

I bet Pann, an avid collector of weird, defunct, and outdated cameras, would love the Mick-A-Matic, a Mickey Mouse-shaped camera made by Disney in 1971, which is on display in MoMA’s fantastic exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work from the past five decades. Shore notes that when you take a picture of someone with a Mick-A-Matic, they always smile. You can’t not, right? I bought one on eBay after seeing the show, and I smile just looking at it on my shelf.

Illustrations from Rhyme Crime by doodle bear Jon Burgerman

Something else that’s making me smile (getting the hang of my seamless transitions yet?) is Rhyme Crime, the new kid’s book by self-described doodler Jon Burgerman, who I was lucky enough to get to work with a bit last year and has since become one of my favorite living people. Bright cartoony things are not usually my taste, so I think it speaks to Jon’s talents for all things weird and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek that I’m such a fan. Do yourself a favor and watch his Instagram Stories @jonburgerman. I promise you’ll never see your work commute the same way again.

Sweet nothings sent from death to me, via the WeCroak app

The only other worthwhile thing I’m doing on my phone right now is reading text messages from death, and paying for it. For just .99 cents, you too can download the WeCroak app and receive five daily reminders of the transient nature of your life and its inevitable end. These messages are sent “at random times and at any moment, just like death,” the app’s website explains. It’s apparently based on an ancient Bhutanese notion that in order “to be a truly happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.” Maybe it’s my dark sense of humor, but as someone who’s given all kinds of mindfulness apps and daily practices a fair shake, WeCroak is the only thing that works this immediately and this effectively. Uplifting messages make my eyes roll; but starting the day with, “The grave has no sunny corners,” just makes me smile (that and Mickey Mouse, apparently). Thanks to the miracle of modern technology in our busy lives, because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.

via the New York Times

If my new death-reminder app is the most exciting thing going on in my phone life, perhaps it’s a positive sign that I’m finally breaking my iPhone addiction? And just in time, too. I really didn’t want to have to go gray.

But let’s end this on an high note. How about something that looks really good gray (also published by the Gray Lady, no less), like these pencils. No dumb attempt at a witty comment here, just oohs and ahhs from one of the earth’s few remaining pencil users (and lovers).

Click to view slideshow.

See you next month for more seemingly random connections between design and other things that aren’t design. HNY!

from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2rvo8ld

From Berlin with Love

From Berlin with Love

Feel free to take your time, but make sure you stamp your ticket or beware the ticket collector’s unsympathetic wrath, representing just one side of the many sided Berlin. Berlin has a special, peculiar, and particular history, and although it’s described by countless guides as the design city of today, it’s always been a design conscious city. In the early 20th Century, it was the first place in Europe to slice ornaments from building facades in a committed embrace of streamlined modernism.

Much has changed across the city’s façade since, but underground on the U-bahn you can clearly observe the blended traces of Berlin’s design history: some stations are Art Nouveau and German Jugenstil in style, others Bauhaus, 70s futurism, or contemporary, pastel-colored minimalism. It’s been nearly 30 years since the fall of the wall and above ground any signs are mostly gone, but the Cold War era’s clash of opposites remains on the U-Bahn: austere Soviet designs adorn former Eastern stations, and elaborate floral motifs carved in stone are preserved in the former Western ones. The only period not present along the platforms is the Nazi era, when stations were used for bomb shelters. Then again, as you pass through the morose platform of Mohrenstraße, you might feel a little chill learning that the red marble encasing the platform is recycled from Hitler’s former Reich Chancellor Building.

Finding your way—way finding—in this design conscious city, with its design conscious subway, is no simple task, but the U-bahn’s network system, organized by the renowned German typographer Erik Spiekermann and his agency MetaDesgin since 1992, attempts to ease your way and get you to where you want to go. It’s a riot of colors, and a brew of squares, circles and pictograms: This noisy system inherits the chaos of 19 different S-Bahn and U-bahn lines. Berlin is not so much a city formed around a central core but a constellation of separate planets each with its own peculiar forms of life, abstractly linked together by the network of subway tracks.

Because it’s Spiekermann that first guides us through Berlin’s underground, our first stop will be Bhf Bülowstrasse, to take a stroll up Potsdamer Strasse to Spiekermann’s p98a gallery and letterpress workshop. The street was once the locus for the edgy ambiguities of 1920s Weimar cabaret culture and Marlene Dietrich androgyny; today, it houses galleries, non-descript office blocks, and one euro bargain stores, as well as a conspicuously slick Acne shop, and the workplaces of local design studios like the modern, sophisticated HelloMe and the riotous, ramshackle illustration duo 44Flavours. World’s apart in style, but neighbors here in Berlin, which loves to mix things up.

Spiekermann’s p98a is the area’s most popular destination for visiting designers, and plenty of agencies book master-classes in letterpress with this master designer. Glimpse through the window, and you might spy Spiekermann himself high fiving and punching the air with his fist: his old school “no-bullshit” attitude makes him the champion of many, and an irritation—the dad rock of design—to others.

A short walk away from this letterpress haven—or at U-Bahn station Nollendorfplatz—is the great Bauhaus Archive, perched above the canal like an impassive white wave rising from the water. Erected in the 70s, the museum’s architecture draws is loosely inspired by an archive conceived by Bauhaus founder and architect Walter Gropius in the 1960s. Inside, a study in patience and precision, hushed art historians and design researchers sit bent over books, and the permanent collection displays iconic relics from Germany’s early modern years: great weaves by textile artist Anni Albers, paintings by Paul Klee, steel armchairs by Marcel Breuer, and other objects of design from the 20s and 30s produced by the famed and influential Bauhaus school.

Bauhaus-arhive, Berlin, Bauhaus

The Bauhaus Archive. Image by BBB3viz.

Close by, on the other side of the sprawling Tiergarten Park with its dense cluster of pine trees, sits Berlin’s Hansaviertel. If German’s cool modernism emerged from the Bauhaus in the 20s, then this neighborhood was one of modernism’s climaxes: the housing development was built after World War II in a derelict area, constructed as part of the International Building Exhibition of 1957. Along the leafy, quiet streets are batteries of tower blocks, ribbon buildings, two modernist churches, and a glass library, designed by the period’s most significant architects.

After a morning at Spiekermann’s p98a, it makes sense to visit the Hansalviertel not only to see this plastic clad “city of tomorrow” but to seek out the Buchstabenmusum (called the “Alphabet Museum” in English) situated quietly under the tracks of the over-ground station Bellevue. The first museum in the world to preserve and display letters from public spaces and provide information about their origin and construction, the Alphabet Museum was founded 11 years ago by graphic designer Barbara Dechant, who began collecting after she first rescued from a dumpster a car radio sign reading “A U T O R A D I O”. Hundreds of letters destined for scrap heaps have been salvaged and preserved in a dusty storage unit; there’s neon, metal, and wooden characters in a variety of styles and colors— amidst the letters and dirt, you can construct a story of Berlin and sense a few ghosts.

Back on the U-Bahn, following the many symbols devised by Spiekermann, head to the station Kottbusser Tor, in the Kreuzberg district, for lunch. This bucolic, graffitied neighborhood teems with bars, co-working hubs, dentists, falafel shops, gambling houses, fruit markets, ice cream shacks, as well as concept stores like the stylish fashion destination VooStore, and the chaotic zine shop Motto books, but walking along the area’s wide pavements, you can easily ignore how packed together everything is. There is a kind of discreet harmony to it all, as though it was always meant to be this way; Berlin as energy, and disguise.

Berlin, kottbussertor, ina-hiehoff

The Kottbusser Tor transit stop and the market hall. Photos by Ina Niehoff.

From here, head towards Markethalle Neun, a market place or “culinary epicentre” situated under a large, broken roof and crammed with international food vendors advertising their fair on home-made posters and handsomely scribed blackboards. Today’s signs framing another Berlin: Cheese platters & Olives. Veggie Wurst. Craft beer. Kimchi Burgers. Ginger Lemonade. Freshly Baked Ciabatta.

This is a lunch spot for co-workers busying themselves behind the glass windows of storefronts, or trickling out from former factory buildings that have been converted into spacious offices. Spot a group of women who whimsically but provocatively call themselves “Parallel Universe” sat together in the market hall drinking ginger lemonade on a wooden picnic bench: this group of six female illustrators have gathered to swap advice on art directors—who pays on time, who is best to work with—and to collaborate on illustrations for an upcoming Antifa march. Since 2012, Cynthia Kittler, Kiikka Laakso, Kati Szilágyi, Laura Breiling, Ji Hyun Yu, and Barbara Ott have banded together to form this important all-female collective, using their social media platforms to promote and highlight one another’s output. Better together, stronger side by side. Another Berlin in motion, up-to-date, but part of its historic momentum.

Nearby, after sipping organic lemonade and planning with Parallel Universe, the Museum of Things. A small curiosity tucked above an art bookstore on Orienenstrasse, this collection of glass cabinets features simple, everyday but also marvelous things from the past and near present: every blue Nivea jar since the company first began, biscuit tins, plastic at the back of the museum as if it were no big deal at all—an original Frankfurter Kitchen, a milestone in domestic architecture that’s considered the forerunner of the modern fitted kitchen. All of this finds its home in Berlin, where the elsewhere, the other, the uncanny and the new, whether practical or impractical, always belongs.

The Museum of Things will inspire you make your own things, and luckily, there’s a place close by to help you. Towering above a roundabout near the U-Bahn station Moritzplatz sits the great Modular—the ultimate art supply store, artistically stacked with pens, markers, pexiglass, plywood, stationary, pompoms, and anything else that you’ll ever need to make any thing you’ve ever wanted to make, even objects from your dreams. The German designer and illustrator Sarah Illenberger is in Modular today, intently collecting bright colored supplies that she’ll use for her next still-life cover commission for ZEITmagazin. She and her intern pick up yellow paint and blue and pink cardboard, before heading outside to the community garden on the other side of the road, where they cut great leafs from bushes. Illenberger will paint these with geometric patterns and then photograph them against the bright card later today. Yes, signs of another Berlin.

Wherever you’re staying in Berlin—the boutique design hotel 25hours Bikini Berlin near Tierpark, a colorful and energetic hostel near Schlesische Tor U-bahn, or a relatively cheap Airbnb in the Neukölln district with tall windows, wooden floors and a sunny balcony—on your walks to and from the U-Bahn, you’ll notice the posters. Berlin is a city where posters really mean something to a neighbourhood: where people stop in the street to carefully write down the information on prints as if they were hung on a community billboard. Posters communicate what’s happening around the corner, maybe a new club night, an exhibition, or a vegan burger pop-up event. Posters wrap around street lamps layered over all old ones, becoming dense, ghostly rolls that echo event’s and fashion’s long lost—in winter, these rolls get heavy and wet, sliding down towards the pavement like pulp, only to get propped up again by kids on bicycles in the summer, who use glue trays slung over their shoulders and large brooms to slap up each month’s new run of prints. In 1855, the city began erecting rounded advertising columns on the street corners to house the continuous flux of new poster designs. If the U-bahn is Berlin’s design history, then these advertising columns—although built long ago—are home to the design of today. New Berlin constantly appears through its posters.

The Berlin poster is naturally an especially beloved medium for the city’s designers— it’s not simply a mundane advert that people indifferently stroll past but a vital activating communication tool necessary for navigating nightlife, the gallery scene, and local events. It’s why Berlin clubs, generating the city’s dancing heartbeat, invest so much in their creation: the fabled Berghain, which legend claims is the world’s best techno club with its weekly congregation of black clad regulars wearing BDSM studded collars and Adidas caps, plays careful attention to the design of its monthly fliers and listings. Each month’s new posters feature a dark and atmospheric slice of original artwork, articulating and amplifying the club’s mythical night-life pull. A call to action for the great Berlin night, where the city begins and ends.

Berlin, Mitte, Ina-Niehoff, building

Visiting Mitte, the central borough in Berlin. Photo by Ina Niehoff.

The walk back to the U-bahn, to start again after one of those nights, you’ll pass an advertising column featuring a particularly neat, eye-catching placard—the poised influence of Swiss design is unmistakable, and its gorgeous serif typography is paired with an elusive background image, hinting at yet another Berlin yet to come. It’s the work of graphic design studio NODE, based in Berlin and Oslo, Norway, an intellectual and meticulous studio whose considered and theoretical output is a hallmark of Berlin’s contemporary art world. On this modern poster, large letters read “HKW,” standing for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a conference hall and exhibition space that hosts art, culture, and design events. Depending on what month it is, perhaps the yearly Typo Berlin conference is taking place, or Transmediale, a cerebral technology and art festival. Berlin, where conferences never end.

HKW was constructed as part of the International Building Exhibition of 1957 project and resembles a bright orange oyster rising form the ground. An event titled Miss Read is typical of events held there; a busy art book and self-publishing fair that draws in book lovers from around the country. German publishers and independent magazine makers sit behind their make-shift stalls, showcasing intricately bound tomes, sleek poetry chapbooks, colorful manifestos, risograph comics, monographs with knitted covers, experimental type specimens, and endless other papery surprises. Berlin is made of paper as much as memory, metal, and concrete.

The magazines available at this crowded, popular event are similar to those you can purchase in a store in the Mitte district of the city, close to the Weinmeister U-bahn station, called Do You Read Me?! It’s niche assortment of magazines sit on minimal black shelving. There are magazines here for every mood and every taste: one for redheads, another for dog lovers, another for female soccer players, another that tells the history of a different street each issue, and also more enigmatic, challenging, consistently well-designed choices. Mitte is a tidy district, a place of cafes that serve impressive slabs of classic avocado toast and that’s home to ambitious start ups which dot the streets under the shadow of the TV tower’s vigilant orb. If there is a center to proudly centerless Berlin, then perhaps it’s Mitte, which literally means “center” and is, at least in the prosaic geographical sense, in the middle of the city. The tall office of Freunde von Freunden perches snuggly in one of the area’s clean streets; the ultimate go-to blog for motivated lifestyle dreamers, Freunde von Freunden records the energetic lives of Berlin’s creative scene with breezy, sophisticated photography. Berlin: always aware of itself, without giving too much away.

Lakes, Berlin, Ina-Niehoff

A swan chillaxing in Berlin. Photo by Ina Niehoff.

It’s while traversing the neat, methodical streets of Mitte (passing by the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, a four-story gallery with beautifully designed exhibition catalogues, and Viktor Leske, an avant-garde hair dressing salon where few leave without an undercut) that you stumble across the neat, methodical studio of international star illustrator Christoph Niemann. He works with his spectacles perched on his nose in his white and silver office behind a storefront’s glass window—a literal spectacle for passers-by; children press their faces up to the glass to watch him sketch. It’s so immaculately clean in his studio, a kind of comment on Berlin’s dirt, and he’s penning away on Post-It notes bought at Modular, devising a plan for his next New Yorker cover. From Berlin with love; design for the rest of the world.

After standing and watching, enthralled by process, by the materializing of yet more Berlin, you might then spot another poster, another message, and be directed somewhere else, somewhere new, the Berlin still being made, still being invented. Or you might dive back down into the U-bhan, taking refuge in the depths of history. Moving on, without rushing, because Berlin time takes its time, to another brunch, to a beer on the canal, to something crazy underground or enterprising on the streets—moving slowly, not quickly, surrounded by designs and designers, form and content, interpreting the language and style of Berlin, a city always becoming itself, where something new always seems to be starting.


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2DK2kF0