Jill Singer and her Sight Unseen co-founder Monica Khemsurov were former editors of I.D. Magazine, as well as freelance writers, curators, and design consultants. In 2009, they founded Sight Unseen, an online magazine that uncovers what’s new and next in design and the visual arts, with a focus on independent makers working outside traditional disciplinary boundaries. In 2014, Jill and Monica launched Sight Unseen OFFSITE, a nomadic design fair that runs during NYCxDesign and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair and serves as New York design week’s most exciting platform for new ideas and talents. Jill’s writing has appeared in PIN-UP, New York, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, V Magazine, W, and more. She lives and works in New York City.
What was your pivot point?
Monica and I met more than a decade ago while working at a now-defunct design magazine called I.D. In many ways, it was our dream job — we learned the ins and outs of the design industry and we got to travel the world meeting its practitioners. We left I.D. eight months before it folded for good, and our last day at the magazine happened to be the Friday before we were set to attend the Milan Furniture Fair — the biggest happening in our industry each year. We didn't want to arrive empty-handed, so within 48 hours we'd thought of a company name, devised a framework for our brand, and drawn up makeshift business cards. We were officially the co-founders of Sight Unseen. We launched the site six months later. At the time, it was just an online magazine; seven years later, it's grown to be a shop, a design fair, a creative consultancy, and a recognizable brand with an extremely distinct point of view (to the point where we've heard people say, "That's sooo Sight Unseen!")
Photo: I just hung all the art I've been collecting for years — by friends and unknowns — and I love looking at it every day!
What's your advice for someone going through their own transformation?
I guess I have to be corny and advise them to stick with it if it's something you truly believe in, and listen to those who see something in your vision. Sometimes I think we brought Sight Unseen to life through sheer force of will. The audience for design was so much smaller when we started; Instagram and Pinterest didn't even exist. But we knew that we had something interesting to say and that people would want to hear it — if only they could figure out we existed! We have had a very fiercely devoted audience from the beginning even though it was originally quite small — those people always told us that Sight Unseen should be bigger than it was, so we listened to them until it became true.
Photo: A mother-son trip to LA included an obligatory stop under the big rock at LACMA.
Are you following the path of a trailblazer or being guided by a mentor?
I think we are following the path of a trailblazer. There are so many design blogs at this point, but they are all very very different from one another. And we have been editors for so long that we have an innate sense of what's going to be the next big thing. Occasionally it's something that some might consider crazy or ugly or just weird; that doesn't bother us. We've also blazed a trail in terms of our offline design events. We played a huge part in creating and codifying the amazing community that is now the American design scene.
Photo: Never not working on the homepage.
If you could do anything in the world, what would you do next?
Open a design gallery. We've been instrumental in finding, launching, and nurturing so many new talents, but at a certain point it's like babies leaving the nest — we must hand them off to the stores and galleries that will do the work of finding a greater audience for them.
All images used with permission of Jill Singer.