Yes, yes, it’s that time of year when we take a look back at the last 12 months, reflect on the lovely things we accomplished, and wrap it all up with a bow in a bunch of nice roundups for you. Of the 400+ stories we published this year, there are some real standouts (if we do say so ourselves), like our survey of gender equity at design conferences, our continuing coverage of decolonizing design, and our recent efforts around salary transparency (add yours if you haven’t yet). There are the crowd-pleasers, like our most-read article of the year, a surprisingly popular story about beer, and our beloved (if sometimes misunderstood) quizzes about your typographic know-how, your design industry IQ, and your secret design crush.

But there are also stories that were just plain fun to write and edit. In our weekly pitch meetings, there are the stories that are shoe-ins, and then there are ones that spark friendly debates. Sometimes, when we’re undecided or divided on an idea, we pull the plug. And sometimes we plunge ahead. After these five stories were greenlit, they took some unexpected twists and turns before they were published, which only makes us love them more. Here, the Eye on Design editors get misty-eyed on their favorite stories of the year.

Illustration by Lina Ehrentraut

Perrin Drumm, director
My pick: “The UX of Porn Tube Sites Are Designed for the Ultimate Money Shot,” by Madeleine Morley

It’s not always easy to pin down the subject an interview—there’s scheduling, accessibility, and of course their general willingness to be interviewed in the first place. But for companies whose job it is to be as easy-to-access as possible, we were surprised by just how difficult it was to get in touch with someone, anyone, from leading porn sites like PornHub and RedTube, especially for something as seemingly innocuous as a story about their UX design. But Maddy is nothing if not intrepid in her outreach efforts, and she finally penetrated their PR shield… and got some very PR-washed answers in return. She was undaunted.

The real a-ha moment came later, after she spent hours visiting porn sites in the name of researching the usability, the interactions, searching for any deceptive design tricks, and appraising the general look and feel of the most successful sites on the internet. What she found there led to some true insights about the what “good design” means for the future of our online lives. 

Also, it was fun to make the sex anatomy sub headers that are scattered throughout the text.

Liz Stinson, executive editor
My pick: “How Rated Rookie, Baseball’s Favorite Logo, Stood the Test of Time,” by Cory Matteson

Here at Eye on Design we don’t do much sports coverage. And by much, I mean any. That’s why this story about an iconic Rated Rookie logo that was plastered on baseball cards starting in the 1980s was so intriguing to me. The writer Cory Matteson is a big baseball fan, and he channeled his unwavering passion for America’s favorite pastime to unravel a big mystery: Who designed the Donruss Rated Rookie logo, and what were they thinking? 

What ensues is a delightfully wonky look at the history of a logo that bridges the gap between design lovers and sports fanatics. Cory was able to track down some of the original designers as well as the guys who updated the logo. In telling their story, Cory’s palpable love of the topic (in this case, baseball… and a little design) shines through—and that is often what makes for the best, most engaging reads. 

Meg Miller, senior managing editor
My pick: “Against Free Pitching,” by Sarah Boris 

This one started out as a “design debate,” a format that, so far, we’ve only done in the print magazine. The idea was to find one person to speak against pitching to clients for free, and another to speak “for” it—or at least to speak about why someone would take on spec work. Sarah Boris immediately came to mind for the former, as she’s spoken out against free pitching before and is, in general, a vocal proponent of fair pay for designers. 

As it turns out, nobody wanted to speak for free pitching (which, frankly, we took as a good sign), so we decided to make it an op-ed. Sarah came prepared with a well articulated argument—honed from years of experience explaining to clients why her studio refuses to participate in free pitching—and a load of resources to help guide designers on how to say no to clients that want to run a free pitch with multiple designers or studios before commissioning the project. 

Her piece struck a chord—it was one of our highest read stories for weeks. It’s also the kind of op-ed that I love, because it takes a strong position but is also informative, giving readers a bit of a blueprint for doing the same. 

Emily Gosling, senior editor
My pick: Simon Hanselmann on Dealing With Addiction, Depression, Darkness + the Bleak Comedy of It All Through Comics

Chatting with the Tasmania-born, Seattle-based comics artist Simon Hanselmann—best known for his Megg, Mogg and Owl series, about his latest book Bad Gatewayquite literally made me laugh and cry. Half way through what can only be described as a total shitshow of a year, it was refreshing to speak to someone who’s both so incredibly sharp and dry-witted while being so frank and open about tricky subjects like mental health, addiction, and death. While most people shy away from such things, Hanselmann’s garnered a cult following for his ability to weave semi-real situations into art that’s dark, fantastical, and hilarious. As he put it, “I don’t hold back, and people connect with that.”

Maddy Morley, senior editor
My pick: “In the Late ’70s in the Bronx, PHASE 2’s Party Flyers Created a Visual Language for Hip-Hop,” by Jerome Harris

I first came across the party flyers by PHASE 2 while speaking with graphic designer Jerome Harris about his exhibition on the history of African-American design practitioners, which featured a number of PHASE 2’s 1970s hip-hop designs. While there are histories available online about PHASE 2’s influence as an aerosol artist, Harris emphasized how there are no written accounts of PHASE 2’s flyers from the perspective of graphic design. So Harris and I decided to try and track PHASE 2 down for a longform interview on the site; we emailed record labels PHASE 2 had designed logos for and magazines he’d been interviewed by, but all our potential leads went cold. We had no choice but to change tactics, and opted for a story about his influence instead. 

I’ll always remember the email that I got from Harris a couple weeks later. It just said: “Call me.” After speaking with so many people who were inspired by PHASE 2, he’d managed to connect with the man himself. Their resulting conversation is one of my favorites on the site, an amazing account of what it was like to design hip-hop flyers in the Bronx during the ’70s and ’80s. 

PHASE 2 sadly passed away this month, and I’m so thankful that we were able to feature this aural history on his work as a graphic artist.