Design for a Better World

Design for a Better World

Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered

Human behavior brought our world to the brink, human behavior can save us.

The world is a mess. Our dire predicament, from collapsing social structures to the climate crisis, has been millennia in the making and can be traced back to the erroneous belief that the earth’s resources are infinite. The key to change, says Don Norman, is human behavior, covered in the book’s three major themes: meaning, sustainability, and humanity-centeredness. Emphasize quality of life, not monetary rewards; restructure how we live to better protect the environment; and focus on all of humanity. The book presents an eye-opening diagnosis of where we’ve gone wrong and a clear prescription for making things better.

Norman proposes a new way of thinking, one that recognizes our place in a complex global system where even simple behaviors affect the entire world. He identifies the economic metrics that contribute to the harmful effects of commerce and manufacturing and proposes a recalibration of what we consider important in life. His experience as both a scientist and business executive gives him the perspective to show how to make these changes while maintaining a thriving economy. Let the change begin with this book before it’s too late.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Almost Everything Artificial Has Been Designed (click to view in new tab)

Chapter 2: Our Artificial Way of Life Is Unsustainable

Chapter 3: Why History Matters

Chapter 4: Precise – but Artificial — Measurements

Chapter 5: If Technology Got us into Today’s Situation, Maybe Technology Can Get Us Out

Chapter 6: This Book: Meaningful, Sustainable, and Humanity-Centered (click to view in new tab)


Chapter 7: The Need for Meaning

Chapter 8: Measurement in the Physical Sciences

Chapter 9: Measuring What Is Important to People

Chapter 10: The Gross Domestic Product

Chapter 11: What Measures Are Truly Important to People?

Chapter 12: Human Behavior and Economics


Chapter 13: We Live in the Age of Waste

Chapter 14: How Did the World Get into Today’s Quandary?

Chapter 15: Sustainability Has Multiple Components and Implications

Chapter 16: Design, Products, Sustainability, and the Circular Economy

Chapter 17: The Practical Difficulties of Implementing Circular Design

Chapter 18: Sustainable, Robust, and Resilient Systems

Chapter 19: People’s Understanding of Systems

Chapter 20: Working With Complex Sociotechnical Systems

Chapter 21: It Is Not Too Late


Chapter 22: Moving from Humans to Humanity (click to view the critical argument in a new tab)

Chapter 23: Democratizing Design and Development

Chapter 24: People Designing for Themselves

Chapter 25: Design X: An Approach to Large, Complex Systems

Chapter 26: Where Incrementalism  (Muddling Through) Fails

Chapter 27: Incremental Modular Design

Chapter 28: When Large, Multidisciplinary Projects Are Necessary

Chapter 29: Dealing with Scale

Chapter 30: Design: Necessary but not Sufficient


Chapter 31: Why Change Is Difficult

Chapter 33: People Will Mobilize for a Common Goal

Chapter 33: What Must change?

Chapter 34: The Dominance of Technology.

Chapter 35: The Future of Technology (click to view in new tab)


Chapter 36: What Can Be Done?

Chapter 37: What Can We Do?

Chapter 38: The Major Points of this Book


Praise for Design for a Better World

“Don Norman joining the movement for…”

Don Norman joining the movement for responsible and sustainable design brings considerable heft to the demand for design to transform from a user-centric focus to serving society and the planet as a whole

Leyla Acaroglu. UN environmental program “Champion of the Earth” award. Founder and Sustainability lead of “Disrupt Design”

Norman does it again with this essential book…”

Norman does it again with this essential book! His profound wisdom provides a mobilizing awareness for everyone. In this age of waste, unsustainability and total irresponsibility, this book makes us rethink our ways of life.

Anne Asensio. Vice-President Design, Dassault Systemes; Board Member, World Design Organization; Member of the Circular Design leaders circle, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“Through examples from science…”

Through examples from science, technology, design, philosophy, and human behavior, Norman narrates the current global challenges and shows how design can play an essential role for making the world a better place. Yet another classic!

Srini Srinivasan. Senator & Past-President, World Design Organization Chief Operating Officer, Design Innovation Institute, Shanghai, China

Norman’s book shifts focus from the human to humanity...”

Norman’s book shifts focus from the human to humanity, cracking the code on what values ought to be at the center when driving sustainable design. The message is loud and clear–the future of humanity is the future of the planet.

Payal Arora, Professor and Chair, Technology, Values, and Global Media Cultures, Erasmus University; author of The Next Billion Users.

For Grammarians Only:

Why is Humanity-Centered Design not hyphenated on the cover, even though it is hyphenated in the text?

In the draft of the book, I had hyphenated the phrase wherever it appeared. The original cover also hyphenated the phrase.  But Virginia Crossman, my truly excellent copy editor, de-hyphenated it on the cover.

I sent her a note pointing out her error. Worse, I said, if she took the hyphen out on the cover, she had to remove it from the text for both human-centered and humanity-centered. The easiest thing to do would be just to put the hyphen back on the cover.

My editor, Noah Springer, the acquisitions’ editor for the book who also helped me completely restructure the book, agreed with me.

But Ginny pointed out that:

We (MIT Press) follow the Chicago Manual of Style when it comes to hyphenation rules. They have a long chart about all the various types of word combinations that can be hyphenated (see CMS 7.89), but in general, compounds are hyphenated when they appear before the noun they are modifying to clarify their role in the sentence. When they appear after the noun they modify, or without it, they are not hyphenated as it’s not needed to understand the relationship between the words. This guidance has been followed throughout the text for all kinds of compounds.

I responded: “yes, I understand the rule.  That doesn’t explain why the phrase is handled differently in the text than in the book title.”

Ginny responded:

The phrase in the title does not appear before a noun, and so it does not use a hyphen. It’s consistent with the treatment of the phrase in the text (hyphenated when before a noun, open otherwise), and is correct as is.

I gave up.  Ginny, I suspect, has memorized all the 970 or so pages of the Chicago Manual of style.

And so now you, dear reader, understand. Right?