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What Is a Designer: Things, Places, Messages [Paperback]

Robin Kinross , Norman Potter
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.50
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Product details

  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: Hyphen Press; 4Rev Ed edition (10 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0907259162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907259169
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 12.7 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Combining a wide-ranging discussion of the major issues of design with detailed and practical information, Norman Potter explores the possibilities and limits of design, considers the designer as an artisan and as artist, and asks: "What is good design?" The volume seeks to prompt its readers to think and act for themselves. First published in 1969, it is reissued to present the enduring core of Potter's arguments. An afterword by Robin Kinross sets the work and its author in their contexts.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Context 26 Nov 2009
This book was first published in 1969, and as such needs to be read as a historical document from a particular point in (design) history. There is much of interest in this book if you have the patience to find it. Joyfully under-designed and coming out of one of the best design publishing companies in the UK, Hyphen Press, it is an important text in the history of design writing and should be read as such. If you're prepared to dig a little deeper, then it actually contains some ideas about design education which make design education establishments today look positively conservative.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious Drivvel 28 Aug 2009
By Elbe
This book is needlessly long-winded, incredibly pretentious, glaringly irrelevant, and actually quite patronising.
I've only lasted unilt chapter 5 (although I intend to continue reading from cover to cover as it is on my Reading List for St. Martins) but if the book continues in this pointless way I will feel like I've wasted hours of my life being told what I already know in the longest, most achaic fashion possible.
Let's have a little taster:
"Even 'judgement', that wise old word, becomes ponderously inhuman unless fertilized by some order of creative spontaneity"
Want more of this?
Then by all means spend a tenner on this little gem of a book.
If like me, it's on your reading list... well I personally wouldnt bother, maybe there's some money in creating a synopsis of the points raised in the simplest wording possible?
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best design books I've come accross 7 Oct 2011
By EJPH - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I rented this book from my graduate college's library.
I had to own a copy. This book is one of the most direct and best explained
writings I've come across, that deals with what designers do and how our though process
works and is developed.

Potter has an easy with words and his ideas/concepts come across very fluently and easily.
The book still has a powerful resonance, even if it was written decades ago.

Highly recommended for Designers from every field.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A practitioners guide to design, circa 1969 30 April 2013
By Marvin McConoughey - Published on Amazon.com
"Norman Potter was an English cabinetmaker, designer, poet, and teacher," according to the back cover. This book is partly an autobiography of his career, partly a broad-brush guide to good design, and partly his personal insight into what it meant to be a British designer in the post WWII era. It ranges widely into all major aspects of the designer's world. I found the book often persuasive and interesting. The visually engaged should note that there are no pictures or drawings.

I found the book to be personal, engaging, and somewhat idiosyncratic in its approach: other designers might have seen the design world differently.

He writes the book for students, and "by the word 'student' I mean those who still question what they are doing, and ask why."

"Design is a socially negotiated discipline, and there are telling respects in which design questions are political questions." This statement will come as no surprise to current developers of housing and industrial sites, where planning and political negotiation can consume years.

Potter refers, moralistically, to such problems by noting "four main characteristics of modern industrial society: Its vastly complicated nature. Its continuous stimulation of, and reliance on, the deadly sins of greed, envy, and avarice. Its destruction of the content and dignity of most forms of work. Its authoritarian nature, owing to organization in excessively large units."

As Potter notes, "every human being is a designer..." and, the broad world of design affects "every field that warrants pause and careful consideration, between the conceiving of an action and a fashioning of the means to carry it out, and an estimation of its effects." For many of us, "it is perfectly possible to study design simply by doing it."

Potter is no great respecter of titles: "The words by which people describe themselves -- architect, graphic designer, interior designer, etc. -- become curiously more important than the work they actually do."

His view on constraints remains valid: "Designers get accustomed to the support of many constraints (limiting conditions) in the way they normally work. Remove these and it is like putting an engine out of gear suddenly, it returns to idling speed, or feels purposeless when accelerated. No elitist, "the study of vernacular form...is a source of joy to the spirits and the senses."

The difficulty of design is "in the realization of a design, against criteria that become increasingly elusive. This is the realm of the senses, of imagination, and of judgment." I suspect that Apple's Steve Jobs would have agreed, and also with "the importance of questions, and...the resourcefulness of attitude that prompts them." "Technique must be kind to the user and not only 'technically effective'." On the understanding of such issues, great fortunes have been built.

The book contains, also, a long list of axioms, questions for designers, a checklist for students, and much practical advice, some of which may remain meritorious for a current professional designer, or one in training.
4.0 out of 5 stars Monk like clarity and restraint, mostly. 17 Oct 2013
By B. Weeks - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
It's very methodical and seems to have almost a religious level of devotion to the process. Yet the simple rules and checklists are very practical as well as the political realm of thought he applies to his practice. The design of the book itself is nicely done, good paper and typesetting, very classic and british. This book is read in Yale's design MFA I understand and it's easy to see why, the author is smart and cares about the outcome doing what it needs to do.
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