Tired of Design as sexy packaging to sell products to people who don't really need them? Try these books as antidotes.
Hawken, P., Lovins, A. B., & Lovins, L. H. (1999). Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Thackara, J. (2005). In the bubble: Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Prahalad, C. K. (2005). The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.
Natural Capitalism is a truly important book that demonstrates how through proper design and conceptualization of many of our products, buildings, and services, we can have better results with minimal or even zero negative impact upon the environment. This book is yet another publication of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which provides multiple papers and demonstrations of the viability of these concepts, many of which have been adopted my major industrial companies. I know both Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, and they both are tireless crusaders. They ought to be. This is a detailed book, not light reading. But it is critically important and powerful.
Thackara presents a different message, but one that is closely related (with frequent references to the work of Hawken, Lovins, & Lovins). In my back-jacket blurb for the book I said:
"Design with a conscience: that's the take-home message of this important, provocative book. John Thackara, long a major force in design, now takes on an even more important challenge &emdash; making the world safe for future inhabitants. We need to design from the edge, says Thackara, to learn from the world, and to stop designing for, but instead, to design with If everyone would heed his prescriptions, the world would indeed be a better place. Required reading &emdash; required behavior."
Prahalad's book shows how it is possible to develop products for developing nations in a way that is economically sound and effective. But to do this requires radical new thinking on the part of major companies: they can't just take their existing products and services and push them into the developing world. Prahalad shows this should be done from the bottom-up, with the people who will be directly affected involved in the development and deployment. Start small. Think small. Make it simple, inexpensive, and make sure it fits into their lives and culture. The title of the book points out that many companies ignore the bottom of the marketplace in the developing world because the people are poor. Yes, but they are also savvy entrepreneurs, and yes, they are poor, but if the product is worthwhile, and designed to be inexpensive enough, there is a huge profit to be made: there are literally billions of people as potential customers.
This book reinforces the themes the Rocky Mountain Institute: doing good for human kind and for the environment can also be good for business.
Obviously, these are not the only books attempting to move design toward a more humane, sustainable environment. One of the earliest and most effective was Papanek's Design for the real world. (It was published in two editions, and the two are significantly different from one another.):
Papanek, V. (1971, second edition 1984). Design for the real world, human ecology and social change.Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.
Papanek, V. J. (1984). Design for the real world, human ecology and social change. (2nd, completely rev. ed.). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.
Pointers to books at Amazon.com: