Image by Beatrice Sala.

Another year passed, another season of “best ofs” is upon us. It’s time to look back at the last 12 months, reflect on all we’ve published, and wrap it all up with a big batch of roundups. It’s always fun for us editors to dig back through the most popular stories, and this year’s correlated pretty directly to the big events of 2020: there was Lucienne Roberts’ history of public health design, Olimpia Zagnoli on creativity during Covid, the story of how Democrats branded the first virtual national convention, a guide to self-isolation, and a list of resources in support of Black lives. There were also the dispatches from designers in Hong Kong, Beirut, and Delhi that chronicled the protests there over this year and last. The topic of our most read story, though, was smaller in scale: Zoey Poll’s lovely essay on the illustrations that Swiss cartographers have been hiding in maps for decades topped our charts, with pieces about burn-out and K-Pop album design trailing close behind. 

And there were other stories that were just plain fun to write and edit. We’re lucky enough to work with contributors from around the world, with seasoned writers, educators, and designers from all corners of the industry. Some of these pieces are months in the works and some we commission quickly in order to provide testimony to the moment. Here, we share our favorite stories of the year.

Various Instagram posts by Manassaline Coleman, creator of the “Virtual Guide to Protesting.”

Black Lives Matter Instagram Carousels Are Changing the Shape and Longevity of Protest Graphics by Jennifer Rittner 

At its best, design writing is able to articulate a cultural moment through a very particular lens and make it feel relevant to not just designers, but to anyone who reads it. This summer, as people took to the streets to protest yet another incident of police brutality towards Black lives, a movement was happening online, as well. For this piece we asked Jennifer to document how activism and action manifests through visual mediums, and she wrote us a deeply thoughtful analysis of the power and pitfalls of social media activism. —Liz Stinson 

Image by Benedetta Crippa.

Can We Teach Graphic Design History Without the Cult of Hero Worship? and Can We Teach Graphic Design History Without Chronology? by Aggie Toppins 

This one started out with a Tweet. I’d worked with Aggie before and always followed her work with interest, so when she shared a presentation entitled “Four Counter-Narratives for Graphic Design History,I figured it would be good. The seven-minute video was brief but comprehensive, and it felt like any one of those four counter-narratives could be fleshed out into a compelling essay. When I brought it up to Aggie, she gave it some thought and pitched me the ideas that became these two pieces. Both are rooted in her own teaching experience, and both start with thought experiments that spiral out into richly researched, beautifully imaginative essays exploring alternate ways of teaching, and knowing, design history. Aggie’s gift is her ability to ground big, somewhat abstract ideas with concrete examples, and make a convincing argument while being so much fun to read. (I also love the illustrations by Benedetta Crippa.)—Meg Miller 

Image by Chloe Scheffe.

Design Criticism is Everywhere — Why Are We Still Looking for it? By Jarrett Fuller

For the last five years, I’ve been hosting Scratching the Surface, a podcast that began with my interest in finding new forms of design criticism. This piece—my first for Eye on Design and still probably my favorite—summarizes what I’ve learned from the podcast and my own thoughts on design criticism. Contrary to what you might hear, design writing isn’t in trouble, I argue, but is actually flourishing now more than ever.—Jarrett Fuller 

Image by Tala Safié.

Spotted: chiseled type + fruit sticker decals

One of the best parts of our job as editors is that we get a front row seat to the work designers create. Every so often we’re able to follow a visual thread as it winds its way through the design community and becomes a full-fledged trend. Spotted is our best attempt at articulating those visual whims. We like to think the columns are written with a wink—a way to acknowledge the silliness of trying to capture something that’s inherently fleeting. —Liz Stinson 

Image by Anoushka Khandwala.

What Designers Can Learn from Indigenous Communities Fighting Climate Change by Anoushka Khandwala 

I always enjoy Anoushka’s incisive writing on diversifying the industry and decolonizing design practice. In this piece, she focuses on decolonizing our understanding of climate action by looking to the Indigenous communities who have already been doing this work for centuries. She gathered together Julia Watson, author of Lo—TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism, Klee Benally of Indigenous Action, and Demian DinéYazhi’, founder of Radical Indigenance Survivance and Empowerment (R.I.S.E) to talk about the links between design, Indigenous knowledge, and the climate crisis. In her introduction, Anoushka does a great job of framing why this topic is crucial for designers in particular, but the conversation itself goes so much broader and so much deeper than the design industry. An incredibly valuable read.—Meg Miller 

Image from This Is What Democracy Looks Like by Alicia Cheng.

The History of Ballot Design is the History of Democracy by Alicia Cheng

Every designed artifact — a piece of graphic design, furniture or building — is a reflection of the culture that it was created in. In her timely book, This What Democracy Looked Like, designer Alicia Cheng explored the history of the printed ballot—looking not only at their typography, paper stocks, and illustrations but also at how they reflect the United States’ sometimes uneasy relationship with voting. This fall, just as millions of Americans went to the polls, we asked Alicia to share some of the ballots from her book. Through these artifacts we can see not simply a history of graphic design but also a history of the country.—Jarrett Fuller