Helfand, Jessica

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HELFAND, Jessica


Female. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1982, M.F.A.


Office—P.O. Box 159, Falls Village, CT 06031; fax: 860-824-1065.


Graphic designer and writer. Freelance writer for National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), 1982-85; Designers Three, New York, NY, designer, 1985-87; Roger Black Studio, senior designer, 1989-90; Philadelphia Inquirer (magazine), Philadelphia, PA, design director, 1990-93; Jessica Helfand Studio, Ltd., principal, 1993-97; Jessica Helfand/William Drenttel, Inc., Falls Village, CT, partner, 1997—. Visiting professor, lecturer, or critic at Yale University School of Design, New York University, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Columbia University School of Architecture, and North Carolina State University.


Philadelphia Inquirer magazine was named the nation's best-designed Sunday magazine by the American Association of Magazine Editors, 1993; Gold Medal in New Media, New York Art Directors' Club, 1996, for Discovery Channel online; more than seventy-five awards in design excellence from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Society of Newspaper Designers, Society of Publication Designers, American Institute of Graphic Arts, Type Directors Club, I.D. (magazine), Print and Communications Arts regional design annuals, and American Illustration.


Six Essays on Design and New Media, William Drenttel (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with D. K. Holland and Chipp Kidd) Graphic Design America Two: Portfolios from the Best and Brightest Design Firms from across the United States, Rockport Publishers (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Michael Bierut, Steven Heller, and Rick Poynor) Looking Closer 3: Classic Writings on Graphic Design, Allworth Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture, Princeton Architectural Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Reinventing the Wheel, Princeton Architectural Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Writer of column "Screen" for Eye magazine, 1996—; contributing editor to I.D., 1994—, and to Print, 1993-95; contributor to books, including Paul Rand, Phaidon (London, England), 1999, and to periodicals, including New Republic, AIGA Journal of Graphic Design, and Philadelphia Inquirer.


License to Risk: The Square Revisited.


Graphic designer Jessica Helfand began her career writing for daytime television for several years before joining a small New York design firm. In her position as senior designer with the Roger Black Studio, she redesigned more than fifteen American and international magazines, including Mother Earth News. She then moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer's weekly magazine and was responsible for the redesign that ultimately garnered more than five dozen awards for design, illustration, and photography during her three years there. In 1993 it was named the best-designed Sunday magazine by the American Association of Magazine Editors.

In 1993 Helfand became a freelance designer, whose projects now included Web design for a number of large clients, including the Discovery Channel and America Online. Traditional print clients included HarperCollins publishers. Helfand and William Drenttel, formed a partnership based in Connecticut in 1997.

During that year, Helfand was interviewed by Cary Murnion for Baseline: Journal of Parsons School of Design. Helfand said that she chose her cross-disciplinary major in resistance to being a fine arts major, "and because I was, and continue to be, interested in the theoretical foundation(s) of design as a series of smaller, complex disciplines. Lately, I am particularly interested in invoking models from other disciplines—such as architecture, music and film—as ideological templates in the development of interactive projects here in my studio."

Helfand called new media "the gold rush of the 1990s. In an environment that grows this fast, and moves this fast, it's really difficult to think, reflect, create, and design. The climate simply won't support it. For this reason, I have consciously down-sized my studio to focus on fewer projects and (hopefully) to do them better. I also find it increasingly important to concentrate on theoretical and experimental projects, to teach and to write—to extend this thinking through opportunities other than those brought in by my clients." Helfand emphasized the importance of design history in design education and commented that she does not believe "that print is dead or will die anytime soon, nor do I think that the tenets of design as they have been taught to us traditionally are without merit in this new world. But it's a highly selective process—I would argue that while the visual manifestation of the work, and its incumbent parameters may change, the process—that is, the rigorous intellectual conceptualization and reflective form-giving—that characterizes graphic design is as important here, if not more so." Helfand noted that most new media designers are young, because older designers haven't had the software training. "But ultimately," she said, "the thinking, the idea, is always the most important thing, whether you're young or old, working in traditional or new media."

Helfand teaches design and has written a column and published several books, as either writer or editor, including Six Essays on Design and New Media, in which she both celebrates and questions the new technology in six articles previously published in Print magazine. She explores the history of design in literature and film, as well as within her own discipline. A reviewer for I.D. felt the volume "ought to be required reading for anyone even considering working in multimedia."

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture is a collection of twenty-three articles written by Helfand between 1994 and 2001. Most were first published as columns in Eye, while others come from various publications. Tim Rich said in Print that the opening article, titled "One, Two, Three, Faux: The Myth of Real Time," "won not just my attention but my admiration." Other sections include "Myth," "Virtuality," "Design," "Aesthetics," "Media," "Typography," "Film," "Cult of the Scratchy," and "Spin and the (Pseudo) Screen Event." A student of Paul Rand, Helfand includes two essays about him.

Rich wrote that Helfand "offers the views of an individual who experiences her subject while playing several roles—designer, writer, critic, teacher, citizen, friend, mother. This multidimensional critical perspective works well in Screen. " Rich called Helfand's prose "thoughtful, bright, and packed with compelling turns of thought. True, there are some exasperatingly long sentences and a trifle too much studio jargon …but these are far outweighed by the passion, curiosity, wit, and a rather charming impatience evident in the book. I found it refreshing to explore the essays of a critic who displays an underlying vein of common sense, a commitment to the value of clarity, and a love of reading. How unusual to see these supposedly old-fashioned values at large in the often painfully fashionable world of new media."

Reinventing the Wheel is Helfand's history of volvelles, or "information wheels." The earliest paper circles within circles were used during the Renaissance to chart celestial cycles, the tides, and the movement of heavenly bodies. Volvelles became popular during the twentieth century and were used for figuring taxes, remedies, breeding cycles, and other calculations. Helfand includes nearly 100 illustrations of the most popular, which, according to a reviewer for Scientific American, makes the book "visually intriguing." Library Journal's Michael Dashkin wrote that "readers interested in information design will seek this out, while those interested in book and graphic design will be thrilled by the surprise."



Baseline: Journal of Parsons School of Design, winter, 1997, Cary Murnion, interview with Helfand, pp. 15-22.

I.D., September-October, 1996, review of Six Essays on Design and New Media, p. 96.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Michael Dashkin, review of Reinventing the Wheel, p. 88.

Print, January, 2000, Denise Gonzales Crisp, review of Looking Closer 3: Classic Writings on Graphic Design, p. 40; March-April, 2002, Tim Rich, review of Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture, p. 32.

Scientific American, December, 2002, review of Reinventing the Wheel, p. 128.


Jessica Helfand/William Drenttel, Inc. Web site,http://www.jhwd.com/ (June 23, 2003).*

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