My 13 favorite stories of 2010

Alissa's desk

Forget resolutions, poo-pooing the past 12 months, or drinking heavily to delete the shortcomings of the year. 2010 was actually an incredibly fun, productive time for me as a writer, and I can only hope that 2011 will bring as much energy and excitement to my work. So instead of looking ahead, I decided to examine the dozen or so stories I’ve written in the past year that I really loved, add some context and backstory, as well as some of the response I got from them. The hope is that I can learn from what made them so good, and apply that to what I choose to take on in the future. And of course, I hope you’ll enjoy looking back, too. So here they are, in order of appearance…

The Fake Freeway Sign that Became a Real Public Service
GOOD, January 2010

Just after the new year I read a story in the LA Weekly and learned that one of my favorite pieces of public art had vanished from LA’s streets. Richard Ankrom’s fake freeway sign that he installed to help drivers find a tricky downtown LA exit had been a fixture of my life in LA, as well as one of the greatest design stories I had ever heard. And the postscript to the story—that essentially Caltrans had not only left up the sign but “accepted” his suggested change when they put up a new sign—is even more unbelievable. I wrote an essay about the story behind the sign for GOOD, and was amazed by the response to my piece: It was the top story on GOOD for weeks, and was then syndicated by Jalopnik. Later in the year, we invited Richard Ankrom to participate on a panel at the Dwell conference on alternative transit in LA. It’s still my favorite LA story.

iPad Name Not the First Choice for Women. Period.
Fast Company, January 2010

For years, we talked about the mythical “Apple tablet,” so when Steve Jobs finally stepped onto the stage and announced the actual product almost a year ago we could hardly believe our ears. iPad? iPad? Everyone was completely baffled that Apple had chosen such an, um, sanitary name. I started putting together a story about the comments (like the fact “iTampon” was trending on Twitter) as well as some thoughts about Apple’s man-centric design culture, and a link to an awesomely prescient Mad TV sketch. By the end of the press conference, the post was edited and up and being Tweeted around the world. It got the most traffic of any other story on the site that month. And funnily enough, a year later, we don’t even think about the name anymore. Such is the power of Apple.

Who Pood on the Hollywood Sign?
Fast Company, February 2010
My vote for the most ill-conceived publicity campaign of the year comes courtesy of the Trust for Public Land, who decided it would be a good idea to change the Hollywood sign’s message to help raise money to purchase the peak next door. I watched, in horror, as the sign changed from SALLYWOOD to SAVE THE POOD to finally SAVE THE PEAK throughout the weekend, adding to my story the entire time. Then I wrote another story at GOOD about how this was a huge missed opportunity to engage local artists in the cause. It all ended well, I guess, since Hugh Hefner ponied up the cash to buy the land at the last minute, and supposedly, we’ll all get 138 new acres of open space. But the most fun part of the entire experience was spending the day hiking around the sign as they started to drape the letters, which ended with me climbing over a fence and ripping open my pants. That made for a fun bus ride home.

Why Can’t the World’s Best Architects Build Better Websites?
Fast Company, March 2010

I’ve grumbled about the awfulness of architect websites along with the rest of the design world, but I’d never actually done anything about it. Until this year. When the new social network for architects named Architizer launched on the West Coast, I made some kind of offhand comment at the party like “this is so easy to use, why can’t all architect’s sites look like this?” So I used that opportunity to take top architects to task for creating slow-loading, Flash-y, unusable web presences. Reaction to the piece was mostly a widespread sigh of “finally!” and I even went to a USC class to talk about the piece with architecture students to help steer them towards creating their own user-friendly websites. Maybe the next generation will finally get it.

Here’s Why the Banksy Movie is a Banksy Prank
Fast Company, April 2010

The moment I walked out of the premiere of the Banksy movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, I started testing out theories on my fellow moviegoers that the whole movie was an elaborate art world prank. Two days later, I published my piece on Fast Company outlining my argument and immediately got bombarded with emails and comments from people on both sides of the theory, including a great exchange with Shepard Fairey. My article is cited extensively in the Wikipedia article for Mr. Brainwash, which is pretty exciting, and now that the DVD is out, I’ve been hearing from more people than ever, including someone who just today called my story “appalling” on Twitter. Who knew that people would feel so passionately about street art?

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Urban By Now
GOOD, Spring 2010

In late 2009 and early 2010, I went to the grand openings of two massive “green” developments: CityCenter in Las Vegas and the new W Hollywood in LA. Although both of them touted everything from natural materials to walkability, I had a really hard time believing that either of them were actually attracting residents with true sustainable lifestyles. This was my chance to finally speak out against all these “transit-friendly,” “urban living” developments that were basically promoting total bullshit to super-rich potential residents who couldn’t care less about bike parking. A year later, both developments are still getting slammed by critics, and still having trouble selling their residential units.

Why I Write About Design Now
GOOD, May 2010

It’s always irked me that New York’s “Design Week” is actually a few days in May timed with the presence of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the city’s convention center. In short, it’s a celebration of chairs, which ignores what the rest of what the design world is really about. Design needs to crawl out from the overdecorated living rooms and style sections of newspapers and establish itself as a driver for change, which is exactly what the Cooper-Hewitt’s Triennial, Why Design Now? attempted to do. I got all ranty in this piece for GOOD, which attacks a review of the show in the New York Times (they call it a “green design” show) and envisions a future of design coverage that’s not stuck in the Home section.

Redesigning Uncle Sam
Studio 360, July 2010

I was honored to appear on Studio 360 twice this year, once to introduce their Redesign Valentine’s Day challenge, and again to judge the winner of its Fourth of July Redesign challenge. The winner, Brendan Condit created a smart campaign based on JFK’s call for service, and spun it in a way that was endearing and intelligent. I love participating in these awesome little contests, but talking to the show’s host Kurt Andersen is especially fun, and a bit surreal since he’s in New York:  I get to go to this little studio in the backyard of a house just off Melrose and talk to his disembodied voice. Usually I start by mentioning how lovely the weather is in LA. I love radio.

Issue One: Comeback
Longshot, August, 2010

By far, the most incredible journalism experience of the year was working on the made-in-48-hours magazine Longshot. Spending a weekend in the real, live company of a few dozen brilliant, creative people—especially the issue’s art director, Keith Scharwath—working towards a shared, printed goal was such a treat to my virtual, digitized soul. You can read more about the nail-biting, non-sleeping weekend here. And you can still buy a copy of Issue One (which I sure hope you will) read some stories from Issue One. Look out for the next collaboration, and how you can contribute, over at the Longshot site.

Layer Tennis Commentary
Coudal, September 2010

Every Friday afternoon during the summer, my friends at Coudal pit two graphic designers against each other in a game of Layer Tennis. The designers pass a Photoshop (or Illustrator, or Flash) file between them, each getting about 20 minutes to riff on the other person’s work, for 10 full rounds. It’s difficult to explain, and even more difficult to provide real-time, play-by-play commentary, as I did for the third time this September during the match of Kate Bingaman-Burt and Frank Chimero. I include this “piece” because I absolutely love the challenge of writing live, which is essentially what I got to do, and I really enjoyed the interplay of Kate and Frank’s work with my words in this match. You can see each layer here by clicking the numbers to the right just under the banner, and my commentary on each page.

An Exclusive Interview with the New Gap Logo
Co.Design, October 2010

By the second day it had been revealed, it was obvious that everyone hated the new Gap logo. So when a Twitter account popped up claiming to be the “voice” of the new logo, I came up an idea that would set us apart from the other coverage: Why not conduct an interview with the logo itself? I reached out to the still-anonymous author, and he agreed to do his first official interview. To make the joke even more authentic, I conducted the interview pretending I was the voice of the new Co.Design logo, making it a simple conversation between two logos on the topic of the latest identity crisis. People loved this story. Ah, design humor.

The Rise of the Bus-Riding Celebrity
GOOD, October 2010

Earlier in the year, I’d read a story in the Huffington Post about Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete on the show. It mentioned that he didn’t own a car and liked to take public transportation everywhere in LA. In October, the New York Times trailed Kartheiser on a night out in Hollywood and Echo Park, where he takes the bus and train everywhere, and says some really inspiring things about the positive aspects of taking transit. It got me thinking:  With so many supposedly eco-minded celebrities in LA, why don’t more take public transit? I wrote this column about it at GOOD and then put a call out for more stories about celebrities who take transit (like Ed Begley Jr., who I visited at his super-green home and talked to about all this). I’m actually still collecting names and anecdotes and have some plans for including this in a new project that will launch next year.

USC/Annenberg Getty Fellowship
Gelatobaby, November 2010
If you wondered where I was for much of November, I was living in downtown LA, being immersed in the introduction to my USC/Annenberg Getty Fellowship, which you can read more about here. I was chosen as one of seven arts journalists from all over the world to participate in this program, and although I still haven’t written anything comprehensive about my experience so far (I promise it’s coming soon!) I can guarantee you it was probably the most life-changing experience of my career until now. I realized through this process that I want to write locally, focusing my efforts and my energy on the people and places that make LA what it is and what it will be. Look for more here on exactly what that will entail, but until then, you can read the posts I wrote each day and the essay I wrote as part of the application process.

Here’s to an equally prolific year in 2011, and all the best to you and yours. Happy New Year!

This entry was posted in Coudal, Dwell, Fast Company, Good, Studio 360, USC/Annenberg Getty, writing. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Margie

    Great stories. Love your writing. Think I'll have a slice of key lime pie to “toast” gelatobaby!

  • Alissa

    Thank you so much, Margie. Key lime is my favorite pie!

  • Christina

    This was a great post! I've been reading your blog since I moved to LA in August but it was nice to see this round up and anything I've missed.

    Heres to the new year!

  • Alissa

    That's awesome, thank you so much Christina! Happy new year to you, too.

  • Pam

    Alissa, a wonderful round up. It's so great to see you working on so many things you love and are passionate about. Wishing you all the best in 2011.

  • Alissa

    Thank you, Pam, and thanks for supplying so many great opportunities for me!

  • Anne Sherwood Pundyk

    I just learned of your writing via Jen Bekman via twitter and am enjoying your year-end favorite stories, especially your theory about Exit “Through the Gift Shop.” Shepard Fairey's prickly response strikes a false note: didn't he just settle with the Associated Press after lying about the use of one of their photos for his famous Obama portrait?

  • Anne Sherwood Pundyk

    Regarding Fairey's response to your excellent essay “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” didn't he just settle a lawsuit brought against him by the Associated Press where he admitted to legally “sloppy” use of one of their photographs: ?

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