Master of Space Gravity
Wednesday, April 20th, 2022

David Stairs Courtesy of Lucien Stairs You don’t have to look very far these days to see designers talking about the brave new world of Design AI. Helen Armstrong is out stumping her AI monograph, Big Data, Big Design. Mariana Amatullo is referencing it in the summer 2019 issue of Dialectic. And designers everywhere have […]

Slogging Toward Relevance
Monday, February 21st, 2022

David Stairs Thomas Carlyle called economics the “dismal science” in response to Malthus’s writings about exponential population growth. Carlyle was a Victorian and did not live in an era dominated by design. It would’ve been interesting to see what he would have made of our times. Frantic? Overwrought? Or maybe just predictable?

A Poke in the Eye
Saturday, September 18th, 2021

David Stairs As the AIGA gears up for its annual conference, I find myself pondering. In a year of magical thinking, like everyone else the AIGA has reinvented its conference schedule for online delivery. If this is just a matter of the new normal, obviously this cannot be an issue. What, then, makes the organization […]

On Outliving an Institution
Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

David Stairs When Thomas McNeill was made pastor of St. Margaret’s parish in 1948, he inherited little more than a twenty-year-old mission church in a growing suburb north of Syracuse, New York. McNeill had been a Navy chaplain in the Pacific during the war, but his dream was to expand Catholic education, and he would […]

The Design of Summer
Friday, August 21st, 2020

David Stairs A wild back yard Except for a couple of thunderstorms, it hasn’t rained much in central Michigan this summer. It has been quite hot, and as usual, very humid. After aggressively mowing the grass in late May and June, it’s growth abates and it mostly browns off. The only way to keep grass […]

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

David Stairs I thought I was speaking truth, but now I’m not sure that it wasn’t simply “my truth” rather than something absolute. Maybe absolute truth doesn’t exist, no matter how much we’d like to believe in it. But, if this is the case, then we’re really doomed.

Friday, November 1st, 2019

David Stairs Have you ever been in a super loud environment? I don’t mean the usual sort, like a kindergarten classroom or a football stadium on an autumn weekend— a scene of audio cacaphony— I mean a visually loud room. The Victorians were sometimes guilty of visual clutter, with their knick-knack trophies and flowered wallpaper, […]

Monday, July 1st, 2019

David Stairs Since when did coding corner the market on the definition of “smart”? I recently attended a UCDA design conference where Helen Armstrong was one of the keynoters. Ms. Armstrong, a multiply-credentialled academic with deep ties to the AIGA, talked about Big Data, and how designers can/should employ it to their benefit. Yellow-cyan-indigo paint […]

Branding Academia
Friday, May 24th, 2019

David Stairs While most people these days don’t think much about cattle when they discuss branding, they also probably don’t focus on Apple’s iconic 1984 Superbowl ad as the catalyst for a whole new generation of brand differentiation. Yet, the upsurge of interest in brand fascination is traceable to the 1980s and its emphasis on […]

Nature’s Geometry
Monday, June 4th, 2018

David Stairs Nativity façade of Sagrada Familia If you are planning to visit Barcelona for reasons other than seeing the FCB, Futbol Club Barcelona, chances are you will visit a site designed by Antonio Gaudi. Gaudi is the city’s favorite son, and his works are among the town’s best-known tourist attractions.

Celebrating Michigan’s Totem Animal
Monday, September 19th, 2016

David Stairs Downtown Mount Pleasant, Michigan on the morning of July 16th, 2016 Some things about the Michigan summer are a certainty: mosquitoes, humidity, and recreation vehicles. Summer’s the season when snowmobile trailers are swapped out for boat hitches, and the weekend traffic going north on Michigan’s highways likely includes people from Ohio, Indiana, and […]

Friday, August 19th, 2016

David Stairs I’ve written the past couple of summers about Portland, Oregon and its environmentally-friendly culture. I visited my family again last month, as I normally do in July, just in time for the unveiling of a major new corporate/municipal project. On July 19th Portland launched the Biketown bicycle-share initiative. With a fleet of Dutch-designed […]

The Peter and Anna Richmond House
Friday, July 15th, 2016

David Stairs When I first saw the house, a big old Victorian three-story I thought, “This place is great, but it’s way too big.” I’d been living abroad for a couple of years, and returning to rental space in a college town, where rentals are either of the townhouse variety, or student-destroyed older homes, had […]

Rust Belt + memory
Monday, June 13th, 2016

This is the third in an annual series of essays by students of the Ball State University Architecture program. Previous works by Jesse McClain and Phil Borkowski appeared in 2014 and 2015. —Ed. Kenna Gibson I am from a small town 10 miles away from Muncie, Indiana. Muncie: home of Ball State University, former home […]

Design Criticism as the Cruelest Joke
Thursday, April 7th, 2016

David Stairs Last week I was talking with my 16-year-old about his piano lesson when I asked him whether his tutor had emailed him before rescheduling a recent lesson. “Dad,” he chuckled, “I can’t believe you said that.” Translation: no one of sound mind uses anything but text as a means of communicating these days. […]

Design As Self Expression
Friday, January 1st, 2016

David Stairs If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: design is not supposed to be about self-expression. It’s iterative. It’s altruistic. It’s problem solving. But it’s not supposed to be self-expressive. Considering the number of huge egos in the design world, this feels less and less plausible with the passing of […]

Publication Bias
Monday, June 30th, 2014

David Stairs There is a concept in science, known as publication bias, that suggests editors of scientific journals prefer to publish positive test results over the results of failed, or negative tests. It’s human nature, one supposes, to prefer good news to no news, and it certainly is better for circulation. The only problem is, […]

On Using the Mouth as a Third Hand
Saturday, April 19th, 2014

David Stairs At 10:02am on Saturday, February 23, 2014 I officially became old. X-ray of surgical plate to correct a comminuted fracture of my right distal radius As I left my house to take my dog Asali for a walk I noted that the front steps were blocked by snow. I’d been working hard throughout […]

Everything But Love
Friday, March 7th, 2014

David Stairs Looking for love? It doesn’t matter if you have specialized tastes. Not only the “fetish-friendly” or the “transgerdered” are searching, but single moms, cancer sufferers, BBWs, middle-age widowers, cheating wives, and sugar daddies, too. The internet caters for all races, ages, and economic levels, no sexual preference too kinky or niche group too […]

Life at the Corner of Clever and Inane*
Sunday, September 1st, 2013

David Stairs “Tool hedonism is in ascendance.” —J. Robert Oppenheimer Imagine a world where waste is more significant than thrift, where advertising trumps taste, and where novelty is the be-all end-all of existence. Not hard, is it? You’re living the dream everyday. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman’s 1985 look at the effects of […]

On Authenticity
Friday, March 22nd, 2013

David Stairs Winter Park, FL. train station I’m having this printed on a t-shirt in 100 pt. demi-bold letters: I survived Universal Studios Over the Christmas holidays I was invited to Florida by an old friend I hadn’t seen since 2005. Never mind that I have purposely avoided the “Sunshine State” my whole life. Each […]

Four Tools for Ivan Illich
Friday, January 4th, 2013

David Stairs Cutting Corners One of the most gratifying experiences is having one’s observations corroborated, especially when they are about another culture. Not one, but two Indian acquaintances responded to my last Indian post, Why India Does Not Need Me, with the same remark: it reminded them of a famous speech by Ivan Illich, “To […]

The Once and Future Brand
Thursday, August 11th, 2011

David Stairs This essay was originally published in Speak Up October 26, 2004. It seems just as timely as ever. Branding. From the pages of Print and Communication Arts to the sessions at the AIGA biennial conference, this is what can only be called a hot button issue for graphic designers. The AIGA even sponsors […]

Ethics 101 for Graphic Designers
Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Ed. note. This piece recently appeared as 21st Century Ethics for Graphic Designers in Sophie Krier’s anthology I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I Want To Be There published in December 2010 by BIS David Stairs What does it mean to be a citizen designer anyway? Years ago Rick Poyner drew attention to it […]

Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

David Stairs I never thought I’d get so old that I’d begin to sound like Andy Rooney. What is he, about 95? But I realize now that the infernal buzzing of human electronic communications media has me longing for the quietude Obi-Wan enjoyed in his adobe hut on Tatooine.