Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

My first-grade reading tutor gave the best stickers. Puffy, smelly, sparkly — she even had a few that were fuzzy. At that age I was a tornado of excitement. The last thing I wanted to do was settle down and sound out words, but the promise of tiny trophies on my spelling notebook proved to be persuasive. I remember how it felt to run my finger over the fuzzy stickers, but I can’t remember how it felt to struggle with reading. As a father I see clearly now just how…


My design career began during a recession — here’s what I learned

Note: this essay may also be found on AIGA’s Eye On Design.

A month ago, the brilliant designer Bobby C. Martin spoke to my typography students at Fordham University about his storied career. Everyone oohed and aahed. After class, my students poured back out into the crowded city. Bobby and I walked to the subway together. Parting ways at the turnstile we went to tap elbows but a sense of camaraderie overcame the Coronavirus advisories and we fell into a handshake and a hug.

A month later, my typography class meets exclusively via video chat. My students are scattered —…


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer. I read the following statement during a five-minute spotlight slot at this year’s Typographics conference in New York City.

This Fall I’ll be teaching a design theory and media studies course at City College. Right now I’m really excited about writing the syllabus and so I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of it with you.

I’ve long wished for the chance to give reading and writing assignments to designers, but in working on the syllabus I’m realizing that I’ve signed up for a daunting task. I’m a…


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

In the early days of the United States, roughly 120 years before the term “graphic designer” was coined, heated tensions between the typeface and publishing industries reached a boiling point. In 1802, 26 short years after John Dunlap produced the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence, Congress chose to establish a 7.5% tax on European metal printing type. The tax was meant to expand on the recent elimination of an existing duty on European-mined antimony — a metal that is alloyed with tin and lead to make metal…


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

A short walk from the building where I design books for a living is Centre Market Place, a one-block street in Manhattan where my family lived for three generations. My great-grandfather started out shining shoes for his father, who was a cobbler. One day a regular customer went well beyond a regular tip and offered him a job as an elevator operator. The facts sound casual but make no mistake this opportunity was an earthquake. …


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

For the first eleven years of my career I worked under the same creative director in the same design department with largely the same group of designers, editors, and marketers, most of whom had worked together for ten years before I started, making me “the new guy” up until the very end. We had our own traditions, myths, and fables and it was sharing these stories that made us more than coworkers. Our collective friendship led me to forget that business was the why of our togetherness.

Then one day…


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

Founded in 1973 and with roughly 17,000 current members, the Park Slope Food Coop is one of the oldest and largest food coops in the United States. Unlike with many other food coops, buying your way out of working is not an option — everybody works. This means I walk for the privilege of fairly priced food. “Walk” because my job is to walk with people and their groceries to their homes, cars, the bus, or train, and then return to the coop with their pushcart. …


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

In the summer of 2010 I took Milton Glaser’s storied summer intensive. It was 80 hours of lectures and assignments — which Milton had refined for over 30 years — peppered with luminary speakers. All of it was squeezed into into five short days. During one of the lessons Milton rested his coffee on the table and filled a pause by looking at each of us. then he said, “please come forward and try to lift the cup.” The first few volunteers lifted it with ease, after which he calmly…


Note: this essay may also be found on Design Observer.

Once a year, my family would drive seven hours for a weeklong glimpse of the sea. My mother’s eyes twinkled as she solved the puzzle of squeezing more than could possibly fit into our weary station wagon. Channeling her father, an engineer, she maneuvered old towels, paper bags, hard-shell coolers, and beach chairs against all odds and with a can-do spirit. This is one of my earliest memories of witnessing the design process in action. Years later, standing before a similarly strained vehicle, stuffed with everything I needed to begin…


In January of this year I wrote an essay about mentorship the day after Russ D’Anna passed away. Yesterday I spoke these words at his memorial.

Every designer believes in design. Russ believed in designers. He started The Design Forum as an expression of that belief. The organizational embodiment of his spirit. It was a small idea. Deep down he simply wished to bring designers together. But like Russ the idea was larger than its stature. Junior, senior, print, digital, trade, education, different teams, different divisions, even different publishing houses. Russ wound our dividing lines into a filament. He flipped…

Brian LaRossa

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