Hi, friends! Jarrett Fuller here. Maybe you know me as the host of the podcast Scratching the Surface or the proprietor of readings.design. Maybe it’s from my design writing reading list or my video essay on design criticism. Or maybe it’s from my photography on Instagram or my #windsorinthewild Twitter series. Or maybe you know my small design studio, twenty-six.design. Maybe we’re friends IRL or you were one of my students. Or maybe you’ve followed my work for years and know me for all of those things! Whatever the case, I’m glad you are here! (And, by the way, there are way more of you here than I was expecting!)
Welcome to the first edition of my new newsletter! I’ve been posting content — ugh! is that best word we have — online for fifteen years across blogs, social media, podcasts, and other forums. My hope for this newsletter is to be a place to bring all of those together: to share news and updates on recent work, yes. But also to sort through in-progress thinking, share the links, books, movies, and music, etc I’m enjoying. A place to gush about my other enthusiasms, design or otherwise.
The main idea behind it, however, is a desire to get off social media. My relationships to Twitter and Instagram are complicated — I owe a big part of my career to connections I’ve made on Twitter — but lately I’ve found my time on these sites more frenetic and less substantive, more distraction than additive. (I’ve written about this before.. Instagram — the place I’ve housed my photography since Flickr turned into a ghost town — no longer feels like a place for serious amateur photographer like myself, as they’ve moved towards the Snapchat market.
So where do I post my stuff? How do I keep people updated on what I’m working on, share recent photos? Email newsletters, as retro as they are, seems like the place to do this — a way to carve out a tiny corner of the internet the way blogs used to. (I’ve been publishing a monthly newsletter for my podcast’s paid subscribers for a year now and have grown to love the ritual of it.) I’ve been taken with Robin Sloan’s weekly newsletter this year and have long subscribed to my friend Jack Cheng’s Sunday Letter. I hope this is like those. Remember Berg’s week notes? Maybe it’s like that too.
My hope is to send these out monthlyish. Each issue will feature some recent photography, a quick update on what I’m working on and thinking about, links and recommendations, and whatever else feels relevant. There will be lots of design, obviously, but who knows what else will turn up. Are you excited? I’m excited!
If, for whatever reason, you’re not into this. It’s easy to unsubscribe. Just one click. No big deal, it won’t hurt my feelings. I’m just happy to be here. Here goes nothing…
“I don’t write when I’m teaching. “Teaching is about taking things apart; writing is about putting things together.”
—Toni Morrison, from this excellent 2003 New Yorker profile by Hilton Als.
In the last month, I:
- finished the design for Jessica Helfand’s new book Face, to be published by MIT Press later this year. Jessica and I worked closely on the design, which is a jam-packed, highly illustrative history of the face. It’s unlike any book she’s written before and it was a blast to work on with her. Proofs just came in and it looks 🔥!
- approved the final proofs for Haunted Bauhaus, the other book I designed this year for MIT Press. This is a simpler design than Face, but was a fun experience. Written by Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus looks at the queer, feminist, and haunted stories of the Bauhaus — my conception of the famed art and design school has been completely turned upside down. The images in this book are incredible.
- Published two episodes of Scratching the Surface, my podcast about design, criticism, and practice: one is with Mark Foster Gage, an architect and theorist interested in aesthetics and another with — omg! — Rick Poynor! I’ve been trying to get him on the show since it began and so honored it finally happened.
- More on the podcast: I’ve made headway on a new, completely rebuilt from the ground up StS website. I’m finally moving the site off Tumblr and rebuilding it with Jekyll (a static site generator and my go-to web building tool these days) thinking about what a podcast site should look like in 2019. I’m hoping to launch it in October, around the three year anniversary of the show.
- Classes start up again on Monday. I’m again teaching four classes this semester: Intro to Type at Parsons, Advanced Type at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and Seminar and Thesis at Pratt. I’ve taught all these classes before but/and am mixing it up a bit this semester, trying some new things, rewriting lectures, generally being more experimental and having fun.
- I also joined the board of directors for AIGA NY, the New York chapter (and largest chapter!) of AIGA. I’m serving on the education committee, to help shape design education both here in New York and nationally and how we should talk and think about training the next generation of designers. More to come on that front soon.
Two of my favorite musical artists released new, long-awaited albums this year: Chance the Rapper and Vampire Weekend. Both of them are following up, in my opinion, perfect or near-perfect albums (Coloring Book and Modern Vampires of the City, respectively). Both of their new albums are sprawling, 20+ track albums that feature some of their best tracks. But it also has some music that I’m like really? This made the cut? Did it need to be TWENTY tracks? This is especially strange for Chance’s album because he’s released some singles over the last few months that are amazing and none of them made the album.
It makes me think about how one follows up a masterpiece? The pressure there must be. It reminds me of Fleetwood Mac following up Rumors with Tusk, another perfect album followed up by something more experimental. (TBH, I think I like Tusk more than Rumors) There are tracks on both Chance’s new album and Vampire Weekend’s that are easily some of their best work. But in the end, both albums could have benefited from another edit, I think. I do like how they are both experimenting, pushing themselves, trying new things and seeing where it takes them. (Interestingly, Taylor Swift’s new album is also 18 tracks and feels much closer to her perfect album, 1989. I like it a lot!)
Here’s Zadie Smith in her excellent essay, Some Notes on Attunement:
I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t have been one of those infamous British people who tried to boo Dylan offstage when he went electric, but on the evidence of past form I very much fear I would have. We want our artists to remain as they were when we first loved them. But our artists want to move.
Speaking of artists, I watched the newish documentary on artist Andy Goldsworthy last week, Andy Goldsworthy: Leaning into the Wind. Directed Thomas Riedelsheimer, this is a sequel of sorts to his 2001 documentary on Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides. Goldsworthy is a tricky artist to describe: he’s kind of a sculptor, kind of a photographer, kind of an environmental artist. He makes work in nature, often ephemeral, with leaves and branches and dust. I first watched Rivers and Tides back in 2007 when I was a freshman in college. The architecture students watched it and made work inspired by Goldsworthy on campus. My friend in the architecture department told me I had to watch it. I’ve been a fan since. I mean, come on:
I’ve also been loving the new Bon Iver album (and accompanying videos!), the new season of GLOW (this season is a bit uneven but when it nails it, it shines!), and finally reading Walden.
If you haven’t seen Hassan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act, can I recommend you start with his excellent look at public transportation?
I did not expect to cry in the middle of reading Helen Rosner’s tribute to the late, great Anthony Bourdain but there I was, in the middle of the 3 train, with tears across my face.
There are many reasons I want Elizabeth Warren to be our next president, but one, admittedly small, reason is her life as a teacher. Rebecca Traister (you are reading everything Traister writes, right?) wrote about how this influences her politics and it left me both more convinced she’ll make a great president and forcing me to rethink everything about how I run a classroom.
While we’re talking about the 2020 race, I enjoyed this New York Times feature on each candidate’s event playlist and walk-on song but I still standby think Bill Clinton choosing Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow is the best campaign song of all time. (Didn’t think there’d be two Fleetwood Mac references in this newsletter, but here we are!)
That’s it for today! That was kinda fun, right? An earlier draft of this was almost 3x as long! What did you think about this length, by the way? (I had a whole section on cooking I decided to save for next time!) Also, they won’t always be this light on design for those looking for designy stuff. If you have thoughts, questions, notes, feedback, just hit reply to this email. Thanks for following along.
Until next time,