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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change the World » User review

(Don't?) Shoot the messenger

  • May 3, 2009
  • by
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+3
These days I think most people want to believe that what they do for a living has the power, or at least the potential, to be more than just a way to earn their daily bread. If it can be a force for positive change in the world, so much the better. David B. Berman believes graphic designers can in fact change the world, and in "Do Good Design" makes a strong case for a "professional climate change" in the design field.

Berman's fundamental argument is that designers should refuse to take jobs, or produce work (particularly commercial work) that lies to people, exploits them, or promotes destructive consumerism. "Overconsumption," he writes, "is fueled most powerfully by clever visual arguments to convince everyone (including larger, growing Developing World populations) to consume more and more. Our impact as designers and as consumers of design is huge. We should be held responsible" [p 99]. Here we run into my biggest problem with this book -- and probably the inevitable corollary of believing you can change the world -- which is Berman's faith in the vastness of designers' power. This is seen in a quotation from Robert L. Peters, included on page 127: "Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future. Design is therefore responsible for the world our children will live in." Well, maybe. But maybe not. Berman's zeal is admirable, but it does lead him to flirt with the occasional Godwinism, in a section titled "Don't Shoot the Messenger," with strikethroughs over the "Don't": "Designers who dream up visual lies cannot hide behind the creative brief documents aimed at shortening children's lives for profit, claiming they 'were just following orders.' It wasn't an acceptable excuse for Eichmann, nor for Milosevic, and it's not acceptable for designers either" [p. 110].

Here we see the nature of what Berman calls on designers to do: adopt a professional and personal code of ethics and standards, be true to what you know to be right, and then refuse to do work that violates those standards: "The answer lies in where we will draw the line of what is acceptable, and how soon. ... Better that the profession establishes a higher standard than what prevailing social morality will tolerate" [p. 69]. If this leads to conflicts in the boardroom or in the creative presentations, and arguments over to what extent the person signing the check can write the rules, then it's hard to see Berman would consider that a bad thing. There's a lot in here worth debating and discussing, and many recommendations (like government involvement in establishing speech codes or design standards) that I don't agree with. But it's hard to fault Berman his passion, his insight, or his determination to have these issues confronted by his professional peers.

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Andrew S. Rogers ()
Ranked #364
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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About this book

Wiki

"In Yiddish, a mensch is a person of integrity and honor and it seems David Berman fills the bill.  His book is lively and humorous and sly too because while it makes you think and adjust your perspective, it includes the reader on several levels.  Changing the world for the good never seemed more appealingly possible."
--Edward Asner
Past President, Screen Actors Guild

"Timely, relevant, and necessary. Well done!"
--Don Ryun Chang
President of Icograda

"I believe that the real value of this book does not reside in the plethora of data and information that it contains but rather in the compelling biographical account of the author’s passionate journey to discover and advocate how design and designers can contribute to doing good in a fragile world."
--Jacques Lange
Former President of Icograda (2005-2007)

"David Berman, in this lively visual narrative, reveals for us the power of design to drive consumption and some of our unbecoming behavior of recent decades. Yet, more importantly, he speaks of the extraordinary potential to design to change the world, leading human behavior toward our aspirational destinies."
--Richard Grefé
Executive director, AIGA the professional association for design

“...just the right measure of passion and reticence...excellent.”
--Ken Garland
Author,First Things First manifesto

"A fine read."
--Steven Rosenberg
Past President, Society of Graphic Designers of Canada

"I think the book is just great!"
--Mervyn Kurlansky
Co-founder, ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 032157320X
ISBN-13: 978-0321573209
Author: David B. Berman
Publisher: Peachpit Press

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