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Book Review: Do Good Design

Book Review: Do Good Design


For the last six years I’ve taught a class on socially conscious design at Virginia Commonwealth University called Design Rebels. I created the class after teaching general design classes and seeing that no one was talking about the issues that drove me to start my on socially conscious design firm in 2001. Namely that design is an extremely powerful tool for affecting change in the world and designers need to be making conscious choices about how and for whom they do this work.

Through readings, discussions, presentations, and self-directed community projects, Design Rebels introduces the students to the range of gray areas they will encounter in their professional lives. But when I started the class the only book that really dealt with the related issues was Naomi Kline’s No Logo and it was not directed specifically towards designers. Lacking a proper textbook I created a course pack culled from dozens of books and articles that represented the range of issues that I wanted to class to discuss. And every year I have added and removed articles attempting to refine it into a functional handbook for the students, while keeping an eye out for something to fill the void.

In 2004 I had the pleasure of meeting Canadian designer/lecturer David Berman when he came to VCU to present his talk: “Weapons of Mass Deception: Design & Social Responsibility”. Over a post-lecture dinner we discussed my class and my need for a textbook where one didn’t exist and David talked about his own interest in writing a book. He left with my syllabus in hand and four years later I’ve got a copy of his Do Good Design in my hands.

Do Good Design (the title consistently defaced so that it reads Do Good Design) follows David’s friendly and accessible lecturing style, even including self-conscious asides handwritten in his title-defacing marker in the margins. The volume, while slim, manages to give a thorough overview of some of the main issues faced by designers and why the discussion of their responsibility is necessary in our increasingly connected world. Through his anecdotal experiences traveling the world as a lecturer and with a plethora of visual examples he builds a strong case for the need to redefine the designer’s role. The book is a quick and entertaining read that aims primarily to inspire a busy/jaded audience to think differently.

Since the length and tone of Do Good Design doesn’t allow for a deeper discussion of the issues or the ways to solve them, the book works best as an enthusiastic introduction to the topics of socially conscious design for students and professional designers who have only just begun to realize the social and environmental impact of their work. The “Do Good Pledge” at the end of the book and the additional resources provided on the book’s mini-site are intended to lead these new initiates onto the next level of research and discussion that will hopefully help them develop more nuanced views and solutions.

While several useful books have recently been published on the specific whys & hows of green/environmental graphic design, the few books that broach the subject of socially conscious design tend to be merely essay collections, interviews, or visual collections with sparse text. Do Good Design is definitely an improvement upon those, and even if it is ultimately not the replacement for my own course pack, it does make an excellent primer and should certainly be considered a useful component of any socially conscious design library/curriculum. I definitely plan to make it a part of the required reading for my students this year.

Do Good Design
How Designers Can Change The World
by David B. Berman

‘Book Review: Do Good Design’ was published earlier at Another Limited Rebellion.

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