What is Design Observer?

Design Observer was founded in 2003 as a collaborative platform for independent thinking and provocative conversation about design and the larger world, bringing that conversation to an audience including—but not limited to—designers. 

For nearly two decades, Design Observer’s commitment has served to provoke, sustain, and elevate conversations about design. Offerings have included traditional publishing ventures to alternative media projects to podcasts and live events. All of these enterprises are rooted in the original mission to engage a broader community by sharing ideas on ways that design shapes―and is shaped by―our lives.

Throughout it all, we’ve maintained a diverse global perspective while striving to cultivate local, personal, and meaningful engagement with our audiences. The Design Observer Cooperative is the next evolution of this work.

What is The Design Observer Cooperative?

In countless feedback surveys over the past two years, you’ve asked us for more. More access. More engagement. More ways to go deeper, learn more, and participate more fully with our network of contributors and collaborators.

So here is our offering to you. 

Each month, we will bring you curated content, threaded conversations, and diverse dispatches from a range of voices, on topics that you determine to be of value. With your participation and input, we will build out a suite of offerings based on community interests and collective needs. 

The model of the cooperative is at once community-based and community-supported. 

Design Observer was originally conceived of as a way to broaden the conversation both within and beyond the design community. It’s time to broaden the conversation again, and we can’t do that without your involvement.

Why should I subscribe?

To support yourself.

The world around us is uncertain. You have more questions than answers, but you’re not quite sure how—or even where—to ask them. You’re ready to participate in conversations that feed your mind and encourage you to think more expansively about your work, your future, and the consequences facing both. 

To support someone else.

Over the years—and particularly in our Design Observer Studio Sessions this spring—we’ve witnessed firsthand how transformative these conversations can be for emerging voices: newly-minted practitioners, students, young leaders of all kinds. We need them. 

And they need us.

Therefore, with each subscription of $30.00, we will provide one free subscription to an emerging artist, architect, designer, or photographer. This introduces an ongoing framework for mentorship, extends the reach of education, and proves, most critically, that leadership is about generosity of character, something we all can—and must—offer to others, and the best way to build a more diverse and equitable future for us all. 

If you know someone who might benefit from our community, have them introduce themselves to us at cooperative@designobserver.com.

What exactly do I get for $30 each month?

There are a number of intangible benefits that create real value—from critical conversations, to access to cross-disciplinary leaders—but there are also things you can expect each month as a subscriber.

  • Observer Cooperative Community Boards (Weekly, beginning May 4) Building on our founding principles, we’ll be actively curating subscriber-only conversations via Substack’s community boards. The responses and conversations will become part of a curated digest and regular feature on the Observatory elevating members of the Cooperative.

  • Monthly Insiders Dispatch (15th of every month beginning in May) This subscriber-only email will be curated each month by a diverse leader from DO’s inner circle. A reading list. New business insights. Suggestions for an alternative curriculum, observations on creative strategy, personal and professional reflections on work and life, delivered to you here across a broad, lively, and diverse spectrum of voices, perspectives, and areas of expertise.

  • Design Observer Studio Session Plus (Monthly) Our Design Observer Studio Sessions are currently a paid, live-only event capped at 100 people. Subscribers will be granted early access to recordings of these sessions, which won’t be available elsewhere. 

  • Design Observer Community Sessions (Monthly) This is a subscriber-only version of our popular Design Observer Studio Sessions, which are held, typically bi-monthly, via Zoom. These private sessions will be co-hosted by special guests, with a focus on topics (and invited guests, as we are able) drawn directly from the suggestions you make and the challenges you face.  

  • In addition, we’ll feature experimental content that will vary month to month with plenty of other surprises along the way.

What is a Founding Member?

Design Observer has always been a platform driven by a desire to connect and passion for critical conversations. 

While we intend to continue to publish on DesignObserver.com without a paywall, we need to diversify our efforts with revenue models that are sustainable.

As we launch this cooperative platform, we hope to identify a small circle of founding members willing to contribute at a higher level this year, to provide the boost that this effort will require. 

With a commitment of $600 annually (equal to $50 per month), we will recognize all Founding Members on an episode of The Observatory and a special page on DesignObserver.com.

Subscribe to The Design Observer Cooperative

Welcome to The Design Observer Cooperative—a new destination for engaged and emerging leaders—featuring hosted conversations, collaborative exchanges, and a range of new professional and inspirational resources by and for our community of peers.


Jessica Helfand

A founding editor of Design Observer, Jessica Helfand is a designer and artist who has written numerous books. A 2013 AIGA medalist, she lives in Los Angeles.


Writings and podcasts on design and culture. Founded by Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut.