Design Week’s 10 biggest stories of the year

From controversial opinions on “design thinking” to the most influential female designers from the last 100 years, we look back at our most popular long-reads of 2018.

1. Pentagram’s Natasha Jen: “Design is not a monster you ‘unleash’ to fix the world”

Courtesy of Design Indaba and Pentagram

Pentagram partner Natasha Jen has strong views on jargon, and Design Week’s curation of her thoughts on the shortcomings of “design thinking” was Design Week’s most-read story this year.

Speaking at Design Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa, Jen explained why she feels design thinking, which was first coined as a business term by David Kelley, founder at Ideo, in the 2010s, “is bullshit”. First off, she analysed the simplistic nature of the five core steps ascribed to the concept – empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test – then scrutinised how the process is missing the crucial part of designers critiquing each other’s work.

She also questioned how a catch-all five-step process could be applied to every single problem in the world, and claimed that cheap, design thinking-based, online courses were “irresponsible” and undermined the work of trained designers.


2. The most influential female designers of the last century

Zaha Hadid, photo by Brigitte Laco

As part of our celebration of the 100th anniversary since women were first given the right to vote in the UK, Design Week ran a series of articles looking at inspirational women in the design industry.

One such piece, which garnered a lot of reader attention, brought together 10 of the most important female designers from the last 100 years, exploring their lives and work.

Those who made it into the list included Margaret Calvert, the graphic designer best known for transforming the typography, signs and symbols used on the UK’s roads and motorways, alongside textile designer Lucienne Day and modernist, mid-century product and furniture designer Ray Eames. Internationally-lauded Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016, also made it onto the list.


3. John Spencer: “There’s no bullshit like design bullshit”

This contentious piece on design and branding jargon, written by founder at design studio Offthetopofmyhead, attracted a lot of debate in the comments section.

In the article, John Spencer exasperates over the use of design “gobbledegook” terms, that confuse designers’ clients and audiences, rather than explain their work.

Rolling his eyes at phrases such as “touchpoints”, “brandscape” and “strategic rigour”, his humorous piece ends on a more serious note, as he proposes that communicating clearly should become part of a “design industry standard”, starting with teaching it to design students.

“If we use jargon, we reveal our insecurity, and if we use pretentious language, we expose our arrogance,” he wrote. “But if we use language that anyone can understand, people are much more likely to value what we do.”


4. Is the logo still the most important part of a brand’s image?

Paul Bailey, strategy director at WeLaunch, questioned the role of logos today in this popular piece, and looked at how there are many, sometimes over-looked, parts to a brand that are equally as important.

This includes the way a brand “sounds” – sometimes known as its “sonic branding” – through to what its app icon is, and the naming and marketing copy around it.

He concluded his piece by emphasising the importance of putting thought into all these elements, rather than jumping on brand bandwagons of “clean, sans-serifs” and “cool understatement” and minimalism.

Readers got involved in the comments section, with some stating the logo is only important as a “visual trigger”, while others argued that “logos are still hugely important to a brand”.


5. How the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics was designed

All images courtesy of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We looked at the different design elements of this year’s Winter Olympics, which took place in South Korea throughout February.

From an abstract logo made up of pillar and star shapes and cuddly animal mascots, through to the white-and-gold torch and the controversially unsustainable stadium which was demolished shortly after the games, we tried to tackle all parts of PyeongChang 2018’s design story.

Design Week has put together similar pieces before, including one looking at how the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games were designed.



6. “I hate brand guidelines”: views on documenting the design process

IBM’s Graphic Standards Manual

Creating identity guidelines is an essential part of designing a new brand – how else will a client be able to continue applying the brand consistently to future print and online materials without the design studio’s help?

Despite their importance, many designers find compiling them and reading other people’s laborious and down-right boring. Others, however, are fascinated by them, and want to delve into the guidelines of brands as broad as McDonald’s and Butlins.

In this popular piece, designers shared their feelings about design guidelines, and for those who love them, told us about which sets of guidelines they would love to see.


7. Fabric to Ministry of Sound: the new book on the graphics of clubbing

British clubs of the 1980s and 1990s were known for their colourful, eye-catching and often psychedelic graphics, mostly seen on advertising posters, but also found in clubs such as Fabric and Gatecrasher themselves.

We interviewed designer Rick Banks, who this year compiled a book called Clubbed, which explores the last 35 years of graphics used on the UK clubbing scene.

The project took Banks 10 months, as he collected as many old flyers, posters and merchandise he could get his hands on, in some cases going back to the original design studios and retouching worn out print materials digitally.

Banks spoke to us about his obsession with dance music, despite much of it being before his time, and how clubs have lost their creative spark over the years, as the music industry has lost much of its funding.


8. Could a new brand design have saved Toys R Us?

While Design Week normally writes about rebrands that have actually happened, this story looked at a new identity that was never meant to be.

High-street retailers have floundered in recent years, and colourful, toy megastore Toys R Us was not immune to the trend. It filed for bankruptcy in the US and Canada in 2017, then by the end of 2018, had closed all 100 UK stores, as well as its online shop.

Design studio Lippincott candidly spoke to Design Week about rebranding the toy store chain before it went under, revealing how the studio was hoping to revive the brand with a new look that encapsulated child-like “play”.

Brendán Murphy, senior partner at Lippincott, told us how, although the rebrand was an essential part of revival, design on its own could never have saved the brand, adding that any company needs a “concrete business strategy” to survive.


9. Michael Bierut: “I used to think: ‘No one gives a f*ck about your new logo”

Michael Bierut © Jake Chessum

US-based Pentagram partner Michael Bierut is known for his out-spoken nature, and in January this year, we interviewed him about his latest book, Now You See It and Other Essays.

Rather than purely design-focused, the book is a compilation of Bierut’s writing and short essays, where he has previously tackled topics such as the growing popularity of critiquing design through to the role of designers today.

He spoke to us about how, with the birth of social media, graphic design and branding has taken on a life of its own, becoming of interest to more people than ever before.

“Clients used to ask me to send out press releases about their new logos and I would roll my eyes and think to myself: ‘No one gives a fuck about your new logo’,” he told us.” Now, a lot of the work that graphic designers do is worthy of widespread comment.”


10. The talented female designers you should be following

Aleksandra Gosiewski

To mark International Women’s Day 2018 in March, we compiled a list of up-and-coming women in design who we thought our readers should know more about.

From Lorna Allan, who started the Hidden Women of Design talks programme in London, through to prolific graphic and digital designer Lucy Hardcastle, we found 10 women who spanned disciplines including product, industrial, graphics, animation, fashion, and social and political design.

In fact, many of them, regardless of discipline, have a social purpose to their work – London-based Aleksandra Gosiewski is a fashion designer but also entrepreneur who started her own company AlgiKnit, which uses seaweed as a sustainable, alternative material to make clothes and shoes, while product designer Renata Souza has created a prototype for an insulin injection kit for diabetic kids, which looks to make the process fun rather than painstaking.


Also: The Design Week Awards 2018 – the winners in full

 Passchendale Centenary Event, by Kate Dawkins Studio, for DCMS/BBC

Alongside our editorial content, our list of winners from this year’s Design Week Awards was among our most-read articles this year, detailing who won what at our annual event.

This year’s Best of Show went to Kate Dawkins Studio for its ambitious projection project in Belgium’s Ypres Market Square to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, while the late Jon Daniel, a former advocate for diversity in design and Design Week columnist, was entered into our Hall of Fame.

See all the award winners here.


What was your favourite design story of 2018? Let us know in the comments below.

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