Shriyash Shete reviews Design for a Better World by Don Norman (MIT Press). see more
Shriyash Shete is currently working as a Senior User Experience Designer at Zscaler, a cybersecurity firm based in Silicon Valley. He holds a Master's in Human-Computer Interaction Design from Indiana University Bloomington. His work integrates a broad interest in design, technology, and innovation, informed by his unique background in data analytics, industrial engineering and social work. Committed to practicing sustainable and inclusive design, Shriyash engages with ongoing developments in design research, data visualization and emerging technologies.
In Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered, Don Norman once again proves why he is revered as a visionary in the world of design. The renowned design thinker, whose earlier works, like The Design of Everyday Things, have become seminal texts in design research, uses his new book to address broader and more urgent ecological and societal issues, such as climate change, inequality and global wellbeing. Norman collectively terms them as the ‘21st century’ design problems. Design for a Better World urges the design community to steer humanity towards a more sustainable, meaningful, and humane future by working with people, not for them.
In the beginning, Norman clarifies that the scope of this book diverges significantly from his previous works. While his earlier writings primarily focused on usability and human-centered design, Design for a Better World takes a macroscopic view. Norman stresses the responsibility of designers not just to users, but to society and the environment at large. He extends the concept of design beyond aesthetics and functionality, portraying it as a pivotal tool for systemic change.
The central thesis of Design for a Better World is that many of the issues facing modern society are fundamentally design problems that can be addressed through intelligent, systemic design thinking. Norman makes a compelling case that designers have a crucial role to play in tackling systemic challenges like climate change, poverty and more. He points out that while scientists provide key insights about the nature of problems, designers are uniquely skilled at finding actionable solutions.
Herbert Simon’s definition of design is well-known: To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. Norman’s argument throughout the book complements this definition by emphasizing the importance of change in human behavior to drive the course of action as it also envisions the preferred situation for a better world. Through this book, Norman highlights the significance of participatory design with various disciplines such as science, technology, economics, politics and design approach to expand its focus from human-centered design to humanity-centered design.
The book consists of a total of thirty eight short chapters organized into six parts that stem from three overarching themes: 1. Meaningful, 2. Sustainable and 3. Humanity-centered. The author outlines them as three critical causal factors that need to be priortitized and reconstructed with the help of design thinking to reduce many of the planet’s ecological ailments.
In the first part, the author introduces the notion of artificiality to explain the root of the many crises facing contemporary society. He takes the course of history into account that he then holds responsible for bringing us all in this crisis situation. He then adeptly categorizes problems into societal, environmental, and technological realms, stressing the interconnectedness and artificiality of these domains.
Part 2, 3 and 4 examine the current issues and gradually unfold the main themes of the book where the author discusses how we can transform our lives so that we achieve the goal of producing a meaningful, sustainable and humanity-centered world. Parts 5 and 6 focus on actions that must be taken and why they are not easy to achieve.
One of the highlights of Design for a Better World is how Norman moves fluidly between big picture ideas and pragmatic details. While he presents compelling arguments about design's role in shaping society, he also offers specific suggestions for how designers can incorporate social responsibility into their work. For example, he advocates for the use of design principles like co-creation and democratization to give people more agency over the systems that govern their lives. Norman provides actionable advice for designers, from emphasizing user needs over stylistic trends, to diversifying teams to include more perspectives.
Technology, a recurrent theme in Norman's earlier works, gets a nuanced treatment here. He acknowledges the power of technology in enabling innovative solutions but warns against tech-centric approaches that overlook human and environmental costs. The discussion on AI and automation is particularly insightful, balancing the potential benefits with ethical and societal implications.
A vital chapter of the book is dedicated to education. Norman proposes a radical overhaul of design education, advocating for curricula that foster systemic thinking, empathy, and ethical responsibility. He suggests that design education should not be confined to design schools but should be integrated into various fields, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the challenges we face.
In the concluding sections, Norman paints a picture of what the future could look like if his principles are embraced. He envisions a world where design contributes to solving pressing global issues like climate change, poverty, and inequality. This vision is optimistic but grounded in realism, acknowledging the challenges and complexities involved.
While the book offers plenty of optimism about design's potential, Norman balances this with thoughtful critiques of the field. He points out that designers frequently focus on incrementally improving existing products for individual gain, rather than addressing root causes of larger societal problems. For design to live up to its promise, the field needs more socially-conscious practitioners who prioritize public good over profit. Norman offers insights into how design education and practice could be reformed to nurture these types of designers. He also asserts that truly effective design requires collaboration across disciplines, since few problems can be solved through design alone.
Through this book, Norman has done a profound work of framing the complex, ill-defined and wicked global crises that our world is facing today, by keeping human behavior and humanity-centered design at its core. Norman’s thesis lies in his formulation of principles for impactful and humanity-centered design. These principles are not just guidelines but are articulated as moral imperatives for the design community. For instance, he advocates for ‘Inclusivity’, urging designers to consider the broad spectrum of human diversity in their solutions. Another principle, ‘Sustainable Design’, goes beyond the typical environmental focus, encompassing the need for designs that are economically and socially sustainable.
While Design for a Better World is a monumental work, it is not without its shortcomings. Some critics may argue that Norman's principles, though well-intentioned, could be seen as overly idealistic, particularly when confronting entrenched corporate and political interests. Additionally, while the book excels in breadth, certain areas could benefit from deeper exploration, particularly regarding the practical implementation of these design principles in resistant industries and governments.
Through this work, Norman reasserts himself as a guiding light in the design community, offering not just critique but a path forward. Design for a Better World is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the power of design to drive social change. This book is an urgent call to action, a blueprint for using design as a force for positive change in an increasingly complex and troubled world. Norman’s visionary perspective combined with pragmatic insights makes this work an essential read not only for designers but for anyone interested in the betterment of our global society.
Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered
376 pp., 6 x 9 in, 8 b&w illus.
Published in Hardcover: March 2023
Paperback: April 2024
Publisher: The MIT Press
Book Review: "Design, Empathy, Interpretation" by Ilpo Koskinen, Reviewed by Jules Rochielle SievertBook Review: "Design Empathy and Interpretation" by Ilpo Koskinen’s Reviewed by Jules Sievert. see more
Review of Ilpo Koskinen’s Design, Empathy, Interpretation
Review by Jules Rochielle Sievert
Jules Rochielle Sievert has been with NuLawLab since 2013. Jules is currently pursuing an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. at the College Of Art, Media, and Design. Jules was an Ambassador for Health Equity at Policy Link. From 2017-2019, Jules was Creative Placemaking Policy Fellow at Arizona State University through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Ilpo Koskinen is a respected figure in the world of design research, known mainly for his contributions from a Finnish perspective. In his previous work, Koskinen has explored a wide range of design research topics, including the relationship between design and social responsibility, the role of empathy and interpretation in design, the importance of user-centered design, and the use of participatory design and action research in design.
In his new book, Design, Empathy, Interpretation, Koskinen brings together elements of Finnish design history to explore the relationship between empathetic and interpretive design with the more grounded methodologies of participatory design and action research. He does this to show how these methodologies have been used to create products and environments that are both functional and meaningful, and to highlight the importance of user-centered design, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability.
Koskinen presents a perspective on interpretive design research by examining the historical development of an empathetic design research team based in Helsinki, Finland. He unveils a framework comprising four sensitivities central to interpretive design research: human sensitivity, technique awareness, collaboration acumen, and design proficiency. Koskinen underscores the capacity of empathic design to showcase the potency of interpretive ideas within the design realm. He also emphasizes that this approach complements scientific and artistic methodologies, resonating with the broader design research landscape. In the latter portion of the book, Koskinen broadens his focus to assess the wider implications of the empathic design practices. He explores its impact on research communities that have shifted away from their initial technological emphasis, probing how an interpretive framework can be applied to diverse topics.
Koskinen's approach in this book is to focus on one of these recurring themes, known as the interpretive framework. He scrutinizes how this framework has influenced individual studies and how it continues to impact research in different situations. The key strength of this book's methodology is its meticulous tracking of how this framework has evolved while staying sensitive to the unique contextual factors involved. This method enriches the book's analysis compared to earlier studies, including Koskinen's previous work, which might have missed the contextual aspects when examining research under similar conditions. Design, Empathy, Interpretation, builds on his previous work by providing a more in-depth exploration of the relationship between empathetic and interpretive design, participatory design, and action research. It also offers new insights into how designers can use these methodologies to create products and environments that are both functional and meaningful in the 21st century. Koskinen uses design history to provide a rich and nuanced understanding of the evolution of empathetic and interpretive design, participatory design, and action research. By tracing the development of these methodologies over time, he illustrates how they have been used to create products and environments that are both functional and meaningful. Empathetic design in Finland, characterized by its user-centric focus, dovetails with the ethos of participatory design. Its adaptive nature, informed by continuous user feedback and ecological considerations, mirrors the responsive approach of action research.
In this new book, Koskinen writes that by 2010, codesign had become the predominant approach for the Finnish empathic group, building on the foundations of user-centered design while evolving into a more collaborative research process. This shift involved relinquishing the traditional authority of the designer and adopting a more egalitarian process. The group began seeing itself as a facilitator of change rather than a driver, emphasizing a democratic methodology that downplayed the notion of designers as experts. Codesign also became more seamlessly integrated into various contexts, such as government agencies, medical settings, or global corporations. Unlike action research, it resonated well with designers, offering powerful tools for managing stakeholders, even though the exact reasons for its effectiveness remained unclear. Koskinen exemplifies the codesign approach with Katja Soini's Living Cycles of People and Buildings project (IKE; 2004–2005). Funded by the Ministry of Environment, this initiative aimed to transform major apartment renovations into a resident-centered process. Soini led a series of 17 workshops that brought together diverse stakeholders to innovate less invasive and costly renovation methods. The workshops effectively bridged industry and government collaboration, expanding the scope of stakeholders involved. Soini's innovative approach involved creating a community of stakeholders with disparate backgrounds and often conflicting interests. She achieved this through a series of workshops, reminiscent of user-centered design, where user data served as foundational material. Participants included inhabitants and their organizations, city and government officials, and builders. Over the subsequent two years, the project instigated changes in national renovation statutes. Government ministers adopted several ideas from the report, leading to 51 government-funded renovation projects and experiments.
Two additional influences emerge from the book: the profound impacts of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California and the visionary contributions of Grant Kester.
Grant Kester commands a prominent position in contemporary art theory, specializing in relational aesthetics, socially engaged art, dialogical art, and community-based practices. His particular interest lies in art forms that actively engage in direct dialogue and collaboration with specific communities or interest groups. His book, "Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art" (2004), meticulously dissects various interactive and community-based art practices. Kester asserts that these participatory art forms herald a novel, more inclusive model of aesthetic experiences, fundamentally shifting the perception of art away from conventional object-based analysis toward one firmly rooted in shared dialogues and collective experiences.
Koskinen describes how a research trip to the ArtCenter College of Design (ACCD) was instrumental in breaking away from the constraints of user-centered design. The ACCD is a revered institution that has consistently nurtured exceptionally talented individuals who have ascended to leadership positions across a spectrum of creative fields. Its unwavering commitment to a rigorous curriculum and the cultivation of innovation has yielded a cadre of graduates who have left an indelible mark on the realms of art, design, and associated industries.
Koskinen and his colleague, Tuuli Mattelmäki were particularly impressed by the Super Studio, a yearlong research class that emphasized design imagination over social science methods. Moreover, the ACCD's emphasis on fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and exploration has sent ripples throughout the creative world. Koskinen and Mattelmäki were particularly intrigued by the Super Studio's distinctive approach, which diverged from conventional social science methods and instead hinged on the power of design imagination. This unconventional pedagogy is evident in one project aimed at uncovering how people perceive nature in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. In a departure from the ordinary, students undertook an ingenious experiment: they adorned the windows of select homes with transparent film and equipped participants with markers, tasking them with capturing the essence of the natural sounds they encountered. The results were a symphony of diverse observations, ranging from the soft cries of babies and the playful barks of dogs to the rustle of the wind and the presence of coyotes in the distant foothills. This compelling example provides profound insights into how the Super Studio boldly challenged the conventional demarcations between design and research. It underscored that these students were not confined to the use of conventional social science methods for mere data collection; instead, they leveraged their design acumen to forge innovative pathways for comprehending the intricacies of the world around them.
Ultimately, Koskinen argues that design interpretation is about understanding the meanings that users associate with products and environments. He believes that every product or space tells a story, shaped by cultural, social, and individual narratives. His interpretive design methodology takes a deep dive into these narratives to understand how users interact with products and environments and what they mean to them. He defines design empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of users, arguing that empathy is essential for design interpretation, as it allows designers to see the world from the user's perspective and to understand the meanings that users associate with products and environments. For Koskinen, empathy in design is a deeper engagement with the user’s world, encompassing the immediate needs and the cultural, emotional, and social contexts that shape those needs. It’s about immersing oneself in the user’s environment, experiencing their world, and translating that experience into design solutions.
Building on Koskinen's definition and application of design empathy, which highlights the reciprocal nature of interpretation in design, it becomes evident that this approach lays the foundation for a more profound connection between designers and users. This connection extends beyond the initial design phase, permeating the entire product lifecycle. Designers, armed with a profound understanding of how users engage with their creations, are better equipped to iterate and refine their designs to align more closely with evolving user needs and desires. For Koskinen, interpretation is a two-way street. On the one hand, designers interpret the world of users, trying to understand the stories, values, and meanings that users attach to objects and spaces. On the other hand, once a product is out in the world, users interpret it, creating their own meanings, stories, and emotions. Koskinen emphasizes the importance of this cyclical interpretive process in design. By understanding how users interpret products, designers can create solutions that are more aligned with user narratives, leading to products that are not just functional but also meaningful. In Koskinen’s view, empathy bridges the gap between designers and users. It facilitates a dialogue where designers become active listeners, absorbing nuances that might be lost in traditional design processes. This empathetic approach ensures that the final design outcomes are functional and emotionally and culturally resonant.
In Design, Empathy, Interpretation, Koskinen presents a captivating and thought-provoking book that taps into a wealth of historical knowledge and research. This book not only fills gaps in what we know but also weaves a compelling story, making a significant contribution to the field of design research. If you're interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Finnish design philosophy, this book is both insightful and essential. What sets it apart is that it seems to be the first publication entirely dedicated to thoroughly exploring the evolution of design research. It does this by conducting a deep dive into a single, user-centered design research program. Providing a pressing, contemporary application of his methodology to current crises, Koskinen highlights that we are at the precipice of an environmental disaster and urges that it is urgent to address ecological concerns, stating that interpretive and empathetic design are now challenged to expand their focus to include post-humanism. This approach in design research aims to understand human identity in its intricate web of relations with technology and nature, inviting us to think beyond traditional anthropocentric views and consider broader ecologies and non-human entities. Koskinen concludes the book with an impassioned plea for the enduring relevance of interpretive design research, highlighting its critical role in the ever-evolving landscape of design and research.
Design, Empathy, Interpretation: Toward Interpretive Design Research
By Ilpo Koskinen
Open Access and $35.00 in Paperback
Book Review: The Legal Design Book, Doing Law in the 21st Century by Meera Klemola and Astrid KohlmeierBook review by Mohammed Al Rezan, lecturer at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University. see more
Reviewed by Mohammed Al Rezan.
Traditional ideas prevail in the legal field; this calls for the development and renewal of legal language, expression, formatting and design to keep pace with changes and interactions in the world. Legal design is still considered a new area of legal interest. In fact, legal design architecture has not yet been fully adopted as a separate discipline in law; however, it is considered a potential future revolution within the framework of law practice. The Legal Design Book: Doing Law in the 21st Century sheds light on legal design and its approach, philosophy, dimensions, work mechanisms and applications. The two authors, Astrid Kohlmeier and Meera Klemola, are at the forefront of legal design practice. Kohlmeier is a lawyer interested in developing legal programs related to innovation and digitisation, and she has been interested in legal design over 15 years. Klemola is a pioneer in legal design. She has experience in consulting and teaching law faculties and is also a specialist in law, design management and business. One of the fundamental issues of this book is in its description of the nature of legal design; because of the novelty and ambiguity of this new field, legal design has been defined by authors as transforming ‘the field of law to legal products, services, work systems, business strategies, ecosystems and user experience’ (p. 6). Thus, the field of legal design depends on two elements, the designer's creativity and legal understanding, which work to transfer legal information and traditional texts into short, easy and creative outputs.
The authors begin the book by correcting perceptions and concepts about legal design projects and laboratories. They emphasise that legal design does not mean making contracts beautiful or formatting texts. Legal design is the change of legal texts based on design innovations and user interaction. The authors then recount several legal design experiences and describe the legal designer, their requisite skills and their roles at work. These skills include creative thinking, idea generation and modelling. The authors then discuss the value of legal design, and finally, how to evaluate and improve legal design. The authors also provide several questions and criteria that contribute to building legal design projects.
One of the most important contributions to this book is the section on field work in Chapter Five, in which the authors review models from six different entities consisting of universities, law firms, major commercial firms and legal departments: Clifford Chance, Hive Legal, Queen Mary University, Airbus, Háptica and Visual Contracts. In particular, for the Queen Mary University project, the first task was to redesign the online terms and conditions of a company. The members were divided into four groups or teams to build prototypes for designing the terms and conditions. They trained for two days and were able to create the new terms and conditions model within two weeks. Then, the researchers interviewed users and tested the models to reach an integrated working model. Overall, the book clarifies the philosophies and the nature of legal design and its objectives and describes the procedures and processes for legal design, such as the importance of forming a legal design team of professionals from a variety of disciplines who have a foundational understanding of concepts, terms or disciplines related to legal design. It also provides many strategies for legal design work, implementation, idea generation and setting determinants for evaluation. The book’s distinctive and attractive design also contains many informative charts and tables and uses creative layouts, colours and fonts to help ease understanding. At the end of each chapter, the authors also provide a short summary and include blank pages for reflections and criticism.
Some of the concepts and ideas discussed in The Legal Design Book are more broadly applicable to other projects. For example, the authors note that to avoid encountering problems that occur in legal laboratories, focus should be placed on ensuring the environment is well designed for collaboration and has adequate technical equipment, which is the basis of any good design environment. The authors also discuss embracing digitalization, brainstorming, voting, clarifying goals, prototyping and team management as essential to legal design, which are generally accepted as part of any design process. However, the authors were able to situate these widespread design ideas in the specific context of legal design and its requirements and needs.
Presenting experiences and projects written in cooperation with the project's director or supervisor, and supported with pictures of work or implementation steps, the authors provide a significant and direct perception of the central ideas behind legal design. The Legal Design Book contributes significantly to the presentation of legal design’s ideas, objectives and strategy, and this book may be considered a primary source for anyone who wants to understand or specialize in legal design.
Mohammed Al Rezan is a Lecturer in commercial law at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia and a PhD student in law at The University of Malaya. He has diverse interests in creativity, technology, design and innovation and has a background in programming languages, business consulting and teaching law. He is interested in legal design in contracts and regulations. He also seeks to renew methods and curricula for teaching law in Arab countries.
An interview with Gjoko Muratovski on his newest book, Design in the Age of Change. see more
DRS Fellow Gjoko Muratovski has just released his newest book, Design in the Age of Change, which documents conversations between Muratovski and ten highly influential design figures – including design leaders such as Carole Bilson, Karim Rashid, Bruce Mau, Steven Heller and Don Norman – to reflect on the state of things today. In return, each one of them shares a highly personal account on why change is good. The book also features a foreword written by the president of the World Design Organisation (WDO), Srini Srinisavan, and a conclusion by DRS Fellow Ken Friedman. We asked Gjoko a few questions about his book to get some more insight into the 'age of change' the book addresses and the role of design in the 21st century.
How do you define this ‘age of change’?
In 2020, for a brief moment in history, the world came to a halt. Then, everything changed. Many things that we used to take for granted no longer applied. We experienced major disruptions to our daily lives. As if in some kind of perfect storm, so many things happened all at once – global pandemic, social inequalities, climate change, racial injustices, riots and unrests, gender struggles, and rapid advances of new technologies.
This was an unprecedented period of time in which our lives changed dramatically. In some ways these changes were temporary, and in others, permanently. In fact, the very term that we coined and embraced at the time – the new normal – is a confirmation that we as a society have realized and accepted the fact that our way of life has changed so much that it will never be quite the same.
Can you tell us a bit about the different design leaders included in your book? How were they chosen, and what different perspectives do they have on design in an age of change?
Some of the designers featured in this book are globally established leaders in the field, while others are new and emerging, yet important voices. This was done for a reason. I wanted to understand how the ‘old guard’ is affected by these unsettled times, and how the ‘vanguard’ sees this new world that is taking shape right in front of their eyes. We are going through a transitionary period right now and I felt that it was necessary to show the two sides of the same coin.
By looking to the past and reflecting on the present, my guests projected very personal images of the future that they would like to see. Some of them also shared very painful personal and career journeys. In their conversations with me, each one of them brought a unique perspective on our world today, the challenges that we need to overcome, and the ideals that we aspire to achieve. The conversations were very broad, and we covered some highly diverse topics. From the effects of the pandemic, to issues of race and gender, notions of beauty and power, technology and industry, to global and local economies, politics and privilege, and the importance of community.
What is the value of looking to the past to understand the shifting contexts of design today?
Mark Twain once said, “History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” I find this to be true. While every past situation is different, there are always some kinds of patterns that we could recognize and learn from. There are many things that we don’t understand because they never happened to us. But similar events may have happened to generations before ours. As we wonder how to pivot, we should first see what we could learn from our past.
It is evident that we are currently undergoing through a period of some kind of historical significance. I enjoy studying history, but I am not necessarily an ‘armchair historian.’ Especially not when I am living through these events as everyone else. I didn’t want to wait to reflect on these things from a historical distance after some years go by. Instead, I wanted to record this series of events as they were unfolding. I also wanted my guests to reflect on these things as they were experiencing them at the time. I felt that this would make for a more authentic chronicle of people and events – a document produced in real time.
In this regard, you can also consider this book to be a ‘time capsule’. As future generations of designers will face challenges of their own, they will at least be able to find a record on how we were trying to address our own challenges, in our words. Maybe they could learn something from us as we were learning from those before us.
The press release states that this book is a 'A "must-read" for anyone interested in how designers and design can change the world.’ As the author of this book, what is your perspective on how design can change the world? Did working on this book give you any new insights on design and the role of design research in the 21st century?
In her review of this book, Meredith Davis noted that the designers of the 21st century have undergone an important paradigm shift in the way they approach their profession. Design has evolved “from industrial to social; physical to intangible; singular to plural; and functional to meaningful” – she pointed out. And that is true. Design is a very different field today than it was a century ago. In fact, many of the issues raised in this book would have not been considered relevant to the field of design only a few years ago. But today, they are.
This book covers so many interesting, and often sensitive topics. This is a book of broader significance; not only for designers, but also for everyone who is interested in how the world around us continues to be shaped and designed. After all, designers are the kind of people who thrive in times of change. In fact, it is their job to create change. The nature of their job is such that they have to take an existing situation and change it into a better, or a more preferred situation. Some do this by relying on their imagination and personal experiences, and some use evidence-based research to inform their work. Regardless of this, all designers seem to share an underlying belief that they can somehow make the world a better place – on a micro or a macro level.
The most important insight that I have gained while working on this book is that regardless of how dark our situation may seem at times, designers – of this generation or the previous – are optimists who always carry with them a strong sense of hope. And this is what drives them to believe that they can design a better future.