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  • Mar 8, 2009
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This unusual book treats design, not as simply an art, but as either a force for good or a means to mislead and degrade its intended audience. Design is part of culture and, as such, wields a wide and powerful influence. The author declares that designers have a "social responsibility" to do good, and not just promote overconsumption of products that hurt the environment and ultimately make our future unsustainable. He takes a broad view of design and attributes to it the "power to repair the world."

How credible is his argument that design can make a better world? A glance around us will show it is very credible. It isn't just that good design in our surroundings can make us feel better, but good design can actually save us from grief. I have for many years made a living as a technical writer, and I have always felt this is important work because having clear, understandable instructions for operating software or putting together your child's swing set can make a real difference. Consider a document that is written in straightforward, unambigious language, with correctly-spaced paragraphs and subheads and accompanied by meaningful illustrations, and compare it to one that is full of acronyms and unknown terminology, unrelieved words packed together and nary an explanatory visual, and you see what I mean.

I found compelling the illustration in this book of the 2000 Florida ballot for US President. It has such a confusing design that many people apparently poked the wrong circle, thinking they were voting for Al Gore. As we all know, Gore lost that election because of Florida. The author later shows a sample of Canadian legislation documents, which were reformatted to be more readable. Yes, the format of documents, forms and ballots does matter.

But designers mostly work on commercials and ads, which bombard us constantly from our TV and computer screens, along our highways, and in public places. The author urges designers to create ads that accurately describe the product, not associate it with sex and success. The book is full of illustrations that do this. I had to get out my magnifying glass to see some of these, which are reproduced small and in black and white. We've all seen many of these, but there is also a collection of photos from other countries, including African nations that have a CocaCola logo on seemingly all their public signs. Companies are buying our mindspace by naming stadiums and events after their products, branding items that have nothing to do with their product and making their logos ubiquitous.

The author goes after cigarette companies and criticizes American auto companies for their ads, but, since I live in Detroit, I think he's a bit unfair on the auto ads. Foreign car companies also run stupid ads and the current problems of the domestic auto industry are more complicated than irresponsible ads. Yet... he has a point.

My personal most disgusting industry is the pharmaceutical companies; they want to convince us there's a pill (almost always a very expensive pill) for everything. The people in the commercials are always happy and smiling and having no more problems with their breathing difficulty or urges to use the bathroom. Then there's Cialis and the couples in those improbably ridiculous two bathtubs, and the Viva Viagara commercials, where guys sing about their ED problem. And drug companies want you to think they are creating "tomorrow's miracles" ... only if they can sell it at high prices to a large market. How much of our outrageous national health care bill is because of overselling and overuse of these hugely profitable drugs?

Yes, the author has a point here, but will this book make any difference? Perhaps it will jog people into seeing the power of design and just maybe it will get some designers thinking about using their talents in more productive ways.

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More Do Good Design: How Designers ... reviews
review by . May 03, 2009
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 …
review by . April 17, 2009
Throughout human history, the most important inventions and innovations would have remained in the minds of those who devised them in concept had each not had been formalized with a design for production and reproduction. (In this instance, I am reminded of Thomas Edison's observation, "Vision without execution is hallucination.") As I began to read David Berman's book, I incorrectly assumed that he would be sharing in it his thoughts about various types of design (i.e. graphic, industrial, and …
review by . April 17, 2009
Read all the other reviews. They're all true.    It took me a few chapters to figure out exactly what point the author was trying to make. I was disturbed that he claimed the title of "designer" for people who create ads; IMO, "design" is huge and everywhere. I selected the book because I thought it would be about the rest of "design," not just the glossy ads tacked on as the product goes to a consumer market.    If you do graphic design, you might find something …
review by . March 20, 2009
When I first started reading this I was a bit cynical. Yeah, much of graphic design deliberately skews its message to influence the viewer. As a designer myself I pretty much take this as part of the game. Whether selling a product or person the idea behind design is to influence behavior.     As I got into the book however, I realized that I am not as jaded as I thought. Yes influence is important but so are clarity, honesty and appropriateness. I recently looked at a cover …
review by . March 19, 2009
Many of us have thought about or discussed the relative levels of responsibility for environmental and social ills belonging to corporate America or the American consumer. David Berman takes it a step beyond this by examining the level of responsibility belonging to designers.  In a book that dips into history, culture, the environment, social responsibility, health, education, and lots of other interesting topics, Berman also examines fundamental ethical questions.  Most of …
review by . March 18, 2009
One of the books I received from Amazon Vine last month was Do Good Design: How Design Can Change Our World by David B. Berman. Actually, it was a book I heard about from a few other bloggers who I respect, so getting the opportunity to pick it up for review was perfect. Overall, I thought his premise was interesting and thought-provoking... Designers have an obligation to "do good" when it comes to crafting messages, and that our current mindset of mass consumption is not sustainable in the long …
About the reviewer
Theresa Welsh ()
Ranked #590
I'm a book lover, book reviewer and part-time book seller. I'm also a writer and author, with a background in IT work in both the auto and medical industries. I retired from full-time work a year … more
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"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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ISBN-10: 032157320X
ISBN-13: 978-0321573209
Author: David B. Berman
Publisher: Peachpit Press

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