Skip to content

Essays On Graphic Design



AIGA: The largest professional design association in the U.S., which was founded as the American Institute for Graphic Arts in 1914 and today boasts over 22,000 members. (

Anti-design: A response to the “slow strangulation of design by ‘branding,’ and to the partial rediscovery of a political instinct among graphic designers.” (Adrian Shaughnessy)

Bleed: When an image or color extends beyond the trimmed edge of a page. 

Blobject: An object that is curvaceous and flowing in design, such as the Porsche 911 or the Womb Chair.

CMYK: A color system used for printing — usually referred to as four-color process; 

An abbreviation for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, which, in varying combinations, produce most colors. 

Designism: Design as activism, i.e. design that instigates social change. 

Design management: A methodology for approaching organizations to make design choices in a market- and customer- oriented manner. 

Experience design: A holistic approach to the overall experience of a design environment.

Faux-baroque: An attempt to bring a human touch to computer-produced design, through the use of swishes, whimsical drawings and various botanical elements. 

Font: A specific size and style of type within a  given typeface.  All characters that make up 10 point Helvetica italic comprise a font. (Not to be confused with typeface.)

Grid: An underlying structure of columns, rows, margins, and lines, that dictate the way information is organized on a page.

Hickey: Extraneous matter such as dust, splashes of ink or small pieces of lint that make marks on a printed piece.

Kerning: Adjusting the space between individual characters in a font.

Lorem ipsum: Used as placeholder text because it approximates a typical distribution of characters in English. A bastardization of  Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum (“Neither is there anyone who loves grief” — the perfect metaphor for graphic design), from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Point: A unit of measurement for fonts and line-spacing: 1 point equals 0.351 mm. (There are 12 points in a Pica.)

Serif: The small horizontal lines on the ends of each stroke of a typeface, e.g. Times Roman.

Sans Serif: Typefaces without horizontal lines on the ends of each stroke, e.g. Helvetica.

Squeeze-n-Tease: In broadcast design, the process of squeezing of a show’s closing credits into one-third of the screen in order to maximize the remaining space for promotional purposes. (James Gleick)

Typeface: A series of fonts and full range of characters including numbers, letters, and punctuation. e.g. Helvetica, Times Roman. (Not to be confused with font.)

Widow: The final word of a paragraph that stands alone, or the last line of a paragraph from the previous page flowing onto the top of the following page. 

WYSIWYG: Acronym for What You See Is What You Get; an estimated screen representation of how a final image will look.

An earlier version of article first appeared in Dwell, December/January 2009, Vol. 09 Issue 02. This new version is © William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, 2010. All photos are used here with kind permission of their authors.

In the gallery above, you’ll find 15 of our favorite essays that we published this year. Written by staff, freelancers, and designers, these pieces go in-depth on the design that fascinated us this year.

To forewarn you, this list is a little Apple heavy. During a year in which Apple completely changed the look of its popular iOS operating system, it’s probably natural that we spent as much time talking about the Cupertino-based company as we did, but we also covered other issues in tech design, such as the dangers of gadgets that can see beneath our clothes and ultrasound machines that brand our unborn babies.

We also ranged farther afield. We helped expose design piracy, traced the history of one of the Internet’s most ubiquitous typographical symbols, published the last interview with cartooning legend Al Hirschfield, waxed poetic about the smells emanating from an old 80s action figure, and more.

It’s the perfect time to curl up by the fire with some of the best design writing we published this year.JB