Photo: Matthew McKee Photography
It is with great sorrow that I share the news that Bill Drenttel, the creative visionary behind Teach For All’s visual identity, passed away on December 21, 2013. Bill was a legend in the world of design whose passion for Teach For All’s mission inspired him to take on the role of leading our design work. Bill was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago and only recently stopped working with us. He died at age 60 and leaves behind his wonderful wife and partner, Jessica Helfand, and two children.
I first got to know Bill when he was running one of New York City’s hottest design firms. I was looking for help with Teach For America’s graphic identity, which was a real mess. I still remember Bill spreading our stuff all over his desk and explaining, very nicely, that it was a bad state of affairs. Thankfully, he decided it was worth prioritizing our cause and crafted a strategic approach that put our identity in a different place very quickly. His brilliance was such a godsend for Teach For America, but it was his deep commitment to our mission and intuitive understanding of what it was all about that led him to channel so much energy our way and then make such a difference for us.
This same commitment led him to throw in his lot with Teach For All even before we officially existed. Bill has been one of the guiding forces in the design movement, and it was amazing to me—and so validating—that someone with his opportunity costs would decide to devote so much energy to our fledgling idea. He developed a beautiful identity and an elegant solution to the challenge of unifying the network while supporting strong national identities. I can’t begin to capture the ways in which his experience and perspective and skills took Teach For All forward in our foundational years.
As a way of honoring Bill’s legacy at Teach For All, we’ve decided to create the William Drenttel Award for Excellence in Design, to be given annually to the network partner responsible for utilizing design in the most impactful way. I’m excited about this way of honoring his service and encouraging excellence in design.
In Bill’s passing, Teach For All lost an important force in our development, and many of us lost a good friend and an important advisor. We mourn his loss and extend our sympathies to his wonderful family, taking heart from the fact that he lived to the fullest and contributed so much to the world in the time he was here.
(If you’d like to learn more about the life and legacy of Bill Drenttel, visit this moving tribute on Design Observer, the website he cofounded with his wife, Jessica Helfand.)