REVIEW COPY: The Power of Design, a force for transforming everything by Richard Farson

The Power of Design, a force for transforming everything by Richard Farson

The Power of Design, a force for transforming everything by Richard Farson

The Power of Design, a force for transforming everything by Richard Farson

I think a reader of The Power of Design has to be in a certain mindset to understand what the book is trying to get across. If the reader believes that design can only be part of one function or that the job of design is mere aesthetics they probably won’t get as much from what Farson talks about. On the other hand if you know that design has the potential to be so much more then what’s perceived in public opinion, the book speaks to that audience. One of the fundamental points of the book is that design can be used as a tool for social change. How? By serving business in such a manner that business itself can reduce wasteful and harmful practices. There’s nothing incredibly different in the early parts of the book that you probably wouldn’t find taught in a socially conscious design class. In a lot of respects the book reminded me of my 500 level design classes from the University of Alberta with Jorge Frascara many years ago.

While many of the points were not entirely new to me, one of the broader professions compared to design was. I had never thought about people that practice as psychologists. It was suggested that while many people could use their professional services, more people use self help methods or by peer help as opposed to seeking treatment. Sounds a bit like design – many people could use the help of design but go it alone. B/c of that Farson argues that a new and broader scope for what a designer does should be treated as “Metadesign”. While I’m not a huge fan of the name and can’t see myself putting that title on my business card anytime soon – it is an appropriate move forward. While a designer hopes and feels it’s necessary to work on everything that is in their realm, it’s not going to happen. So instead of fighting it, raise the level of guidance one level as the person that helps non designers get to their success. I’m not a huge fan of that idea myself (I do think designer should be a part of everything), I can understand the practical nature of such a position. Times where people went to a designer as much for knowledge as technical expertise are just about over. Design has been democratized In part b/c of diy tech. Another factor that isn’t mentioned but more than apt for the term Metadesign is for the online world. Testing is valued over the instincts of any one person – particularly the designer. So by carving out a framework to understand why someone clicks or does a particular action, the Metadesigner can take that info and interpret it. They’re working with the person that is determining how they want to use something. An argument could be made that this is the role of a UX designer. I don’t like that title either, but it’s not really the basis for debate in this review. Though perhaps that would make a great post in itself…

And with the democratization of design, design can reduce (and possibly solve) some of the larger issues facing criminal, justice, healthcare and education. They’re big topics that most people would not believe design can help. But if a person takes a step back from automatically thinking all design can do by helping is making a poster then it’s easier to understand how a metadesigner can take the best roles of design to make change. Consider how design has helped disabled people gain empowerment and accessibility that never allowed them in the past to sustain a self determining role.

The book is not all non profit talk by any means. There’s one particular quote that I think could help any designer to determine whether they should work with someone on a project (keeping in mind that you have the financial power to decide who your clients are). “The worst consequence of the client as payer attitude is that it subordinates the designer to the client and therefore eliminates the designer’s professional ability to disagree and decline”. In a lot of respects this kind of sums up a designer and non designer that work together. If that relationship isn’t there things aren’t going to be ideal. It’s at least something to shoot for.

As a resource I do think this book should be part of a designer’s library. But if you’re more about image making than action changing I could see someone not getting as much from the book. At times the idealism is pretty strong and probably suited for a designer that isn’t looking to be famous. But as someone that had a good foundation of design’s potential many years ago and still shoot for that today, I found it quite refreshing.

Title: The Power of Design, a force for transforming everything
Authour: Richard Farson
Publisher: Greenway Communications


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  • Don E.

    Thanks, Michael. I'll be checking this one out. Fortunately, the Edmonton Public Library has been good so far at brining in a lot of the design books I recommend!