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In the Bubble

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In the Bubble

Designing In A Complex World

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How good design can change the world for the better.

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Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


John Thackara calls himself a “symposiarch,” someone who puts together groups of creative people, assigns them a lofty theme and then observes the colloquy. This book is a little like a classical Greek symposium. It’s a loosely structured conversation with many voices, a freestyle rush into 10 clusters of ideas on how designers – architects, industrial designers, artists, engineers, urban planners and others – should be thinking about today’s big design issues, including sustainability, needless complexity, and the frenetic pace of the social and business worlds. Does Thackara have answers? Not really. His flamboyantly expressed suggestions would probably collapse if examined carefully. But, surprisingly, the book is no weaker for that. It is not a design manual or manifesto. Rather, getAbstract finds that it’s a work designed to get you to free-associate and open your mind to new possibilities. If your creativity is cooling, this book may do what Kafka suggested all literary creations should do: break up the frozen sea inside you.


To Design Is Human

“Everyone designs,” wrote polymath Herb Simon, “who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations, into preferred ones.” Rather than being confined to an elite few, the tendency to design is in every human being. People are born makers, after all. But can today’s most influential creators and designers clearly visualize the “preferred situation” that their designs are intended to generate? If so, are they clear about the necessary means and the effects of those means on individuals, society or future generations? Often, the troubling answer is “sort of” or, worse, “not really.” Although most designers can mouth some moribund aesthetic they learned in school, design principles and movements often take on a life of their own, leaving people as an afterthought. If you doubt that, consider the last time you were in an “award-winning” building that was uncomfortable, dehumanizing and wasteful, or remember when you’ve struggled with a beautifully useless piece of technology.

When it comes to design, people must come first, objects second. Human life requires “stuff” but accumulating things is not its point. The world is piled high with...

About the Author

John Thackara is the director of a design futures network based in Amsterdam and Bangalore.

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