Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change

By Victor Papanek

This one’s a design classic — and, at least if we’re taking the preface at face value (not sure if it’s still current), “the most widely read book on design in the world”. It seems a bit hard to define without reading it, as it reaches across so many disciplines, but a brief summary from the book blurb has it that Papanek provides “a blueprint for sensible, responsible design in this world which is deficient in resources and energy.” I think he essentially invented, or at least popularized, the field/term “ecological design”.

The book is divided into two parts: “How It Is” and “How It Could Be”. The first half defines design as well as its history and “social and moral responsibilities”; the second lays out directions for design responsibility, tenets of environmental design, ideas for design education, and more. This looks essential for design professionals, but also relevant to anyone whose work touches design, which includes architects and other creators—but more and more actually includes everyone, period.

I really like how he provides a huge, multidisciplinary bibliography: books “dealing with ecology, ethology, economics, biology, planning, psychology, literature, anthropology, politics…the behavioral sciences…the future, the environment, popular culture, and design.” This book might be worth getting for the bibliography alone! I’ll definitely have to come back to this…

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0897331531
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press

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