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Jessica Helfand
Blog | Biography | Articles & Essays | Books | Contact


book cover Scrapbooks: An American History
Jessica Helfand
Yale University Press, 2008

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Combining pictures, words, and a wealth of personal ephemera, scrapbook makers preserve on the pages of their books a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Highly subjective, rich in emotional meaning, the scrapbook is a unique and often quirky form of expression in which a person gathers and arranges meaningful materials to create a personal narrative. This richly illustrated book is the first to focus close attention on the history of American scrapbooks — their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American culture.

Jessica Helfand, a graphic designer and scrapbook collector, examines the evolution of scrapbooks from the nineteenth century to the present, concentrating particularly on the first half of the twentieth century. She includes color photographs from more than 200 scrapbooks; some made by private individuals and others by the famous, including: Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle and Carl Van Vechten. Scrapbooks, while generally made by amateurs, represent a striking and authoritative form of visual autobiography. Helfand finds when viewed collectively they offer a unique perspective on the changing pulses of American cultural life.

Published with assistance from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.

A Winterhouse Edition. Designed by Winterhouse Studio.

book cover Reinventing the Wheel
Jessica Helfand
Princeton Architectural Press, 2006

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As inventive as instructive, information wheels — or volvelles — have been used since the fourteenth century to measure, record, predict, and calculate everything form time and space to military history and recipes. In this fascinating book, designer and critic Jessica Helfand offers an in-depth look at these unique artifacts, which are not only clever and amusing-where else could you dial-in ingredients to concoct "Creamed Oysters and Celery"? — but, Helfand argues, relevant as a model for modern interactive design.

From circular mathematical slide rules to Captain Marvel phonetic decoders; from nuclear bomb blast calculators to gestational breeding planners; and from astronomical planispheres to presidential trivia plotters, Reinventing the Wheel demonstrates the astonishing range and remarkable utility of these ingenious "interactive" tools.

This book was designed at the Winterhouse Studio, Falls Village, Connecticut, by William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Rob Giampietro and Kevin Smith. The typeface used is Hightower, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones.

Published by Princeton Architectural Press & Winterhouse Editions. 9.5 x 7.5 inches — 160 pages— 180 illustrations

book cover Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
Jessica Helfand
Princeton Architectural Press, 2001

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Jessica Helfand has emerged as a leading voice of a new generation of designers. Her essays—at once pithy, polemical, and precise—appear in places as diverse as Eye, Print, ID, The New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. The essays collected here decode the technologies, trends, themes, personalities, and visual phenomena that frame contemporary design theory and practice, addressing topics as far-ranging as talking Barbies, mindless manifestoes, scratchy typography, reality television, de Stijl geometry, chicken nuggets, and sex on the screen. Her first two books, Paul Rand: American Modernist and Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media, became instant classics in the field. This new compilation looks critically at "the new media" and provides a road map of things to come. Designers, students, educators, visual literati, and anyone else looking for an entertaining and insightful guide to the world of design today will not find a better or a more approachable book.

This book was designed at the Winterhouse Studio, Falls Village, Connecticut, by William Drenttel and Kevin Smith. The typeface used is Thesis, designed by Luc(as) de Groot in 1994. 8 x 5.25 inches. 2001. Published by Princeton Architectural Press.

book cover Paul Rand: American Modernist
Jessica Helfand
Winterhouse Editions, 1998

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These two long essays explore one of the most influential modern American graphic designer's and his crucial role in the new visual language which revolutionized design in America as both a service and as an art. Helfand's fresh research into Rand's tenacious interests in the European avant garde, art history, and the enduring relevance of his theory for "Play Instinct" bring to light fascinating contradictions that make his legacy all the more distinct.

Jessica Helfand's first book, Six (+2) Essays on Design and New Media was published in 1995. A contributing editor to Eye and ID magazines, she is visiting lecturer in graphic design at Yale School of Art; formerly an adjunct assistant professor at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications program; and has lectured at The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Columbia University School of Journalism and The Netherlands Design Institute. She lives in Falls Village, Connecticut.

This edition is set in Filosofia, a font designed in 1996 by Zuzana Licko of Emigre based on a geometric interpretation of Bodoni. Book design is by William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Jeffrey Tyson. It has been imaged from a Macintosh file by Red Ink Productions, New York City, on Mohawk Options. Printing and supervision is by Michael Josefowicz. 7 x 4.5 inches. 1998.

Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.

Recent Essay

East Meets West

Or collaboration vs. “one person making one thing at one time”

Recent Book

Scrapbooks: An American History
Jessica Helfand
Yale University Press, 2008
More Books >>

Design Observer Essays


Inside the Lines

Michael and Jessica discuss the The Grid, which uses artificial intelligence to design websites, the history of grids, and the unlikely success of coloring books for adults.


The Observatory: The Inevitable

On this episode, Michael and Jessica talk about death (not taxes): how designers have to think about preventing death and representing death, and whether death is “just another design challenge.” Also, the color blue.


The Observatory: Land, Rand, Mad Men

Michael and Jessica talk about a panel they participated in at the Paul Rand exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, plus the return of Mad Men and the fate of photography giants Kodak and Polaroid.


The Observatory: Such Watch

On this episode of The Observatory, Michael and Jessica talk about Jonathan Ive, the rollout of the Apple Watch, and Michael Graves


The Observatory: FYI We Are Graphic Designers

This week, Michael and Jessica talk about graphic designers on screen, highlights from What Design Sounds Like, and Michael’s trip to Design Indaba.


03.06.15: License to Risk: The Square Revisited
02.27.15: Making Change 05: Why Design Matters
02.26.15: Making Change 04: Why Vigilance Matters
02.25.15: Making Change 03: Why Pictures Matter
02.24.15: Making Change 02: Why Warning Matters
02.23.15: Making Change 01: Why Character Matters
02.18.15: The Observatory: Words, Pictures, Sounds
02.16.15: Fantasy: Do Not Attempt
12.30.14: Ordinary People
12.23.14: The Observatory: Our Favorite Things
12.19.14: Fifty Shades of Cynicism
12.16.14: What’s Wrong With This Picture?
12.11.14: Visual Diagnosis
12.10.14: The Language of Torture
12.05.14: Questionable Inheritances
11.26.14: The Observatory: Dollars and Change
11.04.14: The Observatory: Epidemics and Theater
09.30.14: Deathiquette: A Design Problem
09.22.14: Howard Paine: 1929–2014
09.03.14: La Grafica
09.01.14: To Thine Own Selfie Be True
08.14.14: Logocentrism
06.15.14: A Day for Fathers
09.02.13: Jessica Helfand on Brevity
05.08.13: Our Shopping Lists, Our Selves

Complete Essay Archive >>