Design is the Solution!

bookcover1I just finished reading a new book called “Design is the Problem” by Nathan Shedroff, and I recommend it as a good introductory survey of sustainability for designers. Not yet available on Amazon, you can order a copy directly from the publisher, Rosenfeld Media, for $36. Nathan is currently pioneering a new MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. He’s well-versed in this subject, and the book is solid and thorough.

Just a couple of comments… First, I don’t like the title, and rumor has it the title was the publisher’s idea, not Nathan’s. In my opinion, negative marketing is just bad branding. “Hey all you designers, you’ve got a problem!” Personally, not my favored call to action. Second, the book itself doesn’t walk the talk. At the most basic level, there’s no mention of recycled content in the paper it’s printed on. How about a call to read it and pass it along to someone else — thereby extending it’s utility and useful life? There are no doubt a variety of clever ways the book itself could have embodied and reinforced its message. Third, there’s a background narrative criticizing the fashion industry for creating desire for unnecessary and even harmful goods — a riff that becomes a little overworked by the end of the book. Finally, the cover art is bland. I have purchased more than one book under the influence of a snappy title and provacative cover art. Surely a book for designers could benefit from some compelling graphic design. So, in my opinion, the book is weak in form and footprint, but rates high in function — and is a good addition to the introductory syllabus for new design students, and an excellent overview for working professionals.

I believe we’re on the verge of an “age of enlightenment” for the design profession. As I suggest in my essay, “Form, Function, Footprint“, design is a three-legged stool, and we’ve been precariously perched on just two legs for far too long. This is not the fault of the design profession or its professionals (“forgive them for they know not what they do”) — it’s simply the result of the traditional design education curriculum. Designers are the stewards of our natural resources, and this has never been a more important responsibility than it is now. It’s high time designers were properly trained to lead the charge, and this begins with a solid education in the principles of sustainability. Design is not the problem — design is the solution — and Nathan’s book is a good starting place.

2 Responses to “Design is the Solution!”
  1. Nathan says:

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the book plug. The book is finally available on Amazon.

    As for the title, is was all mine. In my experience, a book entitled “Design is the Solution” isn’t going to get designers’ attention. They already think they’re part of the solution. At best, we’d have gotten the many designers who are already interested in sustainability. But, we’d have missed the many more designers who aren’t yet or don’t know they should be focused on sustainability (you’re right about most design educations being inadequate in this regard). I purposely wanted a little controversy because I want that second, larger group of designers (and engineers, project managers, and others) to say “WTF?” and pick-up the book–even for a moment–instead of just ignoring it, thinking it wasn’t “for them.”

    As for the printing, we did a lot to lessen the book’s environmental impact. The book is printed in the USA, not China, and it only travels about 20 miles from printer to distribution center. The cover is matte, making it easier to recycle and producing less impact in manufacturing and we eliminated the shrink wrap around each book, which is common for matte covers. I have an email into the printer about the recycled content of the paper so I’ll let you know what I find-out.

    To lessen shipping outside of North America, there are two PDFs available: one optimized for reading online and another for printing at distance (the heavy ink pages are eliminated to use less when printing). This allows people who prefer to read with something in their hands to lessen the impact of a book traveling around the world. My publisher, Lou Rosenfeld has really done a lot to rethink what is usually a pretty bad business in terms of sustainability.

    As for the cover. No comment. : )

  2. mmdwight says:

    All good Nathan. I hope your book sells well, and makes it onto the required reading lists at all the design and management schools. Cheers! -Mark

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