is the ultimate aim of design, according to Bruce Mau. And I agree with him. He cites as examples of design that have attained "design nirvana": ordinary objects and machines -- airplanes, power grids, drugs -- that anonymously allow the modern world to function as one without any of us taking notice of their vital functions...until they fail.
In a time when staying optimistic about the world requires (for me) more calories than a workout on the stairmaster, I need all the GOOD NEWS I can get, this book has nothing but. True, the book does have that certain hoaky 'TIME's 30 New Leaders of the New Millenium'-style of presentation: 2 page interviews that cannot really go into any depth about anything; and great ideas that may never see the light of day for reasons beyond anyone's control. But let's let that slide: some of the ideas are already in place. Besides, even a misanthrope like me has to take a break and hope every now and then...
Mau (and his team of researchers) addresses here the bigger issue in design: they call it the "design of the world." That is, as opposed to the narrow "world of design" that is so often mired in pathological (head up the colon) narcissism in its inane, frivolous pursuit / fetishism of singular objects.
Thus, in keeping with their objective of presenting a wider perspective, Mau and his team wisely steered clear of all "celebrity designers" -- who are...what, for the most part, essentially nothing more than fussy, uptight, tempermental servant-toadies whose function is to glamorize the imperialism of capitalism, are they not?
Instead, they went talking to scientists, science writers, engineers, an economist(Hernando de Soto), a law professor, engineers, et al. And a couple of architects who seem sincere and all, but could have been left out.
The people interviewed here, for the most part, have the means and ideas to bring about REAL consequential changes on a global scale: people who don't call themselves designers but whose works are crucial in shaping the world to come for the better. And as the interviewees use the word, 'better' means 'better for EVERYONE' on this planet. And that means seeing Design as 'creatively, compassionately applied-intelligence' to the real problems faced by billions of people who do not live in the well-plugged cities of the world, and do not share even a fraction of what most of us take for granted. Electricity and potable water, for example. We're not talking about a "better" office cubicle or a "better" sofa, cappucino maker, shoes, etc -- important though they are. The book merely asks that we get a perspective on things.
In keeping with the TIME mag format, the book functions as an ad for the people (and their org) who are featured here -- which is fine, since ignoramuses like me can get an overview of who's doing what. But it also a manifesto calling for a bigger idea of 'design': Design as the art of domesticating the full potential of technology to situate ourselves back into the law of ecology by by creative cosmopolitanism and ethical pragmatism in our stewardship of the world.
If, like me, you agree with Hal Foster's diatribe in his 'Design and Crime' (where he basically accuses the design industry of being complicitly evil for serving a self-serving structure of inequity), then I think this book offers a hopeful view of Design as something REALLY consequential -- as opposed to that arrogated by the frivolous, exclusionary, image-driven, self-important nincumpoops that comprise the field of "high design" today.
Highly recommended for 2 kinds of people:
One, colonocephalic people who cannot see other people -- only what they have on; and think nothing of killing to have a 'nice pair/set of whatever.'
Two, all cool people who dream of a cool world for all.