Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered

MIT. Mar. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9780262047951. $27.95. SOC SCI
Norman (founding dir., Design Lab, Univ. of California–San Diego; Living with Complexity) looks out on a world beset by climate change, inequality, and unconscionable waste. Nonetheless, he is optimistic. He believes that humans can change what they’ve created. Design is the key, for it can mobilize systems to address the complex interface that technologies, policies, and people have. However, the broad definition of design that this book deploys—“any deliberate decision to modify the way some activity is done”—muddles and weakens the claims that people can make their lives meaningful, sustainable, and humanity-centered when they’re supported by a multidisciplinary, multifaceted design anchored in psychology and collaborative with inquisitive non-designers. And, despite numerous examples, his argument and recommendations are often cast in quite general terms, such as the call for society to change everything, thus, weakly tethered to any real-world context. Norman’s advice consists mainly of good but paper-thin intentions with his most interesting proposals, such as that for a circular economy, scattered across a sprawling, meandering text.
VERDICT This is a book for a very patient reader, one willing to accept design as the most fundamental of human activities and good design as the panacea for society’s ills.
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