Only spines can save us now

Ruined By Design: How Designers Destroyed The World And What We Can Do To Fix It

Mike Monteiro

Available at Amazon

Ruined-by-Design-Generic.jpgIn 1971 Victor Papanek released Design For The Real World, an excoriation of the laissez-faire ethics of industrial designers of the day. Marketing-led design, Papanek said, had become a truly destructive force against humanity in the service of capitalism, and it needed to be reined in.

There’s little evidence that anyone in Silicon Valley read the book, because as Monteiro swearingly and entertainingly shows in Ruined By Design, designers are still making things that hurt us in the service of making a buck. While in Papanek’s time designers were designing cars they knew weren’t safe, Monteiro makes the case that spineless, clueless, or gutless designers are using their talents to build social media systems that make us depressed, surveillance systems that stifle our democracy, and dating apps that put people at real risk of physical harm. These negative aspects of these systems, Monteiro says, aren’t bugs. They’re the result of the system operating 100% as intended. They were, as he says with conviction throughout the book, designed that way.

Monteiro makes a number of suggestions for how we can get ourselves out of the mess we’re in — some more practical than others. But the key point that he makes throughout is that designers don’t get to opt out of their moral and ethical obligations to their fellow human beings just because they’re on the clock.

Some people (especially those whose paycheque depends on not getting the point) will write Monteiro’s book off as a grouch’s jeremiad. It is that, but it’s also ultimately hopeful, written in the belief that while designers might have been asleep at the wheel this past decade, if we act ethically and show a little spine we just might get through this together.

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