Image by Beatrice Sala.

Writing about design is never just writing about design. Oftentimes, the language of design creeps into other parts of our lives—the way things look, the way things work, how the things we care about are presented to the world. Viewed through that lens, design writing isn’t just the purview of website like our own. Good design writing happens everywhere, and in places where you might least expect it. Throughout the year, we keep tabs (yes, literal tabs) on the stories that we wish we’d written ourselves. It’s always a good lesson for us to keep our brains open to the various ways we can cover the world of design. You can read them below.

What is Lifestyle? by Daisy Alioto
I am endlessly fascinated by stories that examine why culture and taste flow in certain directions. So when fellow EoD editor Meg Miller brought this piece by Daisy Alioto to my attention, I dove straight in. In a series of short essays Alioto unpacks the definition of “lifestyle” and its naturally thorny implications. The piece plays with format—it’s a single serving website that folds in recommendations and a social media experience. It feels a little like the digital equivalent of picking up a 12 page zine at a book shop. I appreciate its textured approach to the subject, which Alioto treats as vignettes that examine the various corners of what lifestyle means in the context of history, photography, and contemporary culture. —Liz Stinson

Graphic Design’s Factory Settings, by Jacob Lingdren
“A school becomes a factory producing designers,” writes Jacob Lindgren in this essay published by the Walker Art Center. “One that, in keeping with the principles of ‘good design,’ turns them into efficient and interchangeable parts ready to hit the market.” Lindgren goes on to examine how design education creates a specific type of designer, that then creates a specific type of design, creating a stasis in the profession. Looking through history and looking ahead, Lindgren proposes new ways of teaching design, resetting our ‘factory settings.’ —Jarrett Fuller

The Rape Kit’s Secret History, by Pagan Kennedy 

This hybrid investigative design history/ interactive op-ed by Pagan Kennedy, who’s been reporting on inventors for over two decades, is both fascinating and infuriating, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone since I read it in June. Kennedy takes us along on her six month quest to find Marty Goddard, a long time advocate for sexual assault survivors who transformed the criminal justice system and—though it’s almost always credited to Louis Vitullo—inventor of the rape kit. I won’t spoil it, because this is a true mystery story with all sorts of twists and turns, but one detail to peak your interest: the development of the first rape kit was underwritten in part by the Playboy Foundation—where Goddard’s friend Margaret Standish was working at the time—the first kits assembled by volunteer Playboy bunnies, and the logo designed by the magazine’s graphic designers. —Meg Miller

Emily in Paris and the Rise of Ambient TV, by Kyle Chayka
This isn’t a design story in the most literal sense of the phrase, but it is an astute observation of visual culture. In his piece, writer Kyle Chayka unpacks the rise of the vanilla-flavored genre of television he calls “ambient TV.” These are neutral pieces of content meant to float along in the background of our lives; everything about them, from the aesthetics to the words being spoken, is perfectly engineered to be as inoffensive as possible. The story struck a nerve with people, primarily because it’s something we’ve all experienced in this past year—the desire to disengage and be distracted—while giving it a name. —Liz Stinson

Going Postal: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Social Media and the Death Drive, by Max Read

I admit that I haven’t read The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour, haven’t quite steeled myself for it, but I have read a review of it by Max Read in Bookforum, which opens with an incredibly accurate description of early pandemic social media usage: “Instagram, cut off from a steady supply of vacations and parties and other covetable experiences, had grown unsettlingly boring, its inhabitants increasingly unkempt and wild-eyed, each one like the sole surviving astronaut from a doomed space-colonization mission, broadcasting deranged missives about yoga and cooking projects into an uncaring void. Twitter, on the other hand, felt more like a doomed space-colonization mission where everyone had survived but we had to decide who to eat.” He then goes on to review the book, which boils down our “addiction” to social media to a compulsion to write, “rendering legible, analyzable, and profitable nearly all our basic social interaction.” During a lockdown, make that all of our interaction, period. —Meg Miller

The Tyranny of Terrazzo: Will the Millennial Aesthetic Ever End? by Molly Fischer
One of my favorite genres of design writing are the stories that observe a latent trend, force us to see it too, and then give it a name. Earlier this year, Molly Fischer, in The Cut, coined the term ‘millennial aesthetic’ to contain the aesthetics found on Instagram — monstera plants, terrazzo tiles, and photographic still lines — as well as the branding of direct-to-consumer companies — pastel colors, sans-serif typography, and motivational ad copy. But more than that, Fischer interrogates the systems that promote these aesthetics and looks for a way out. “In this era, you come to understand, design was the product,” she writes. “Whatever else you might be buying, you were buying design, and all the design looked the same.” —Jarrett Fuller