about the book | virtual book tour | target market & reading groups | prepared Q & A | images | author bio



Packed with examples and illustrations, this book examines what role architecture and design have in changing current, destructive patterns of consumerism and explores how activist practices for designers are relevant to this type of change. The first chapters outline four main challenges for desigers to address and explore how economic growth and consumerism shape and are shaped by the professions of architecture, product, and landscape design. The book’s later chapters examine how activist practices are financed, highlight five specific methods that designers use in working for social change, and investigate the power of these methods. The book closes with a speculative chapter about what design’s role might be in a “post-growth” society.



The virtual book tour is running during October and November 2012 and features stops at 7 different online venues, listed here.



This book is aimed primarily at those involved in architecture, landscape and product design–those concerned with spatial and material design. In particular, the book will appeal to progressive practitioners, current students and recent graduates, university-based teachers and researchers, and people working in & around design for social change, social innovation, or sustainable consumption. This last group might be trained as designers and would work in community development, local government, nonprofit groups/advocacy organizations, public arts, and social innovation.

The author is encouraging people to read the book in a reading group because activism is about “collective action” — demonstrating that an issue is important by confronting it in coordination with others.  That coordination stems from meeting new people, and a group reading can be the start of new friendships, ideas and design activist projects.



What is the book about?

For a long time design has been seen primarily as an engine for economic growth. This book explores other roles for design, roles that address true well being, rather than simply growth in the financial sector.

In the book I show that in high income countries like the US or the UK, economic growth and consumerism constitute on of the biggest obstacles to real sustainability. I map out how consumerism shapes design and how design shapes consumerism. But I also present how different activist practices are confronting consumerism. I use a lot of examples to show specific methods and approaches.

Why did you write this book?

Like a lot of people out there, I’m interested in how the design of spaces and material things has a role in positive change. In fact I am so interested in it that I studied more than a thousand cases where design was positioned as an active change agent.

Well as you can imagine after you look at a thousand cases, you start to see some patterns, some trends, and some steps that would be useful for any designer to consider. So I wrote the book to share those things that I saw emerging from this body of design work.

I also spent a lot of time trying to understand design’s relationship to consumerism because I felt that most material on this topic either focused on technical solutions or was overly simplistic about changing consumer culture.

In terms of consumerism, how will this book help me, the reader?

The book is probably most helpful to you in terms of framing the four main challenges of consumerism and showing how designers can respond, in fact how they are responding.

For example, one key challenge is that consumer society makes privately gained, instant rewards, ever quicker for individuals to access through cheap purchases—cheap junk food, cheap clothing, cheap gadgets—even cheap buildings. As this cheap reward cycle speeds up, so does consumption. So the book charts a lot of ways that designers are attempting to slow the pace of rewards in satisfying ways.

Another challenge of consumerism is that with a focus on short term gains, we are losing our ability to make long term commitments—to lose weight, save for retirement, or reduce carbon emissions. So the book looks at examples of how design can improve, invent or revive relevant “commitment strategies.”

In terms of activism, how will the book help me, the reader?

Another way the book helps you is by showing how design activism makes use of social movement methods.  Sometimes you get the impression that there’s no way to classify design activism, or that some forms of activism are “better” than others. The book shows that design activism fits into the five main social movement methods, such as organizing or mobilization, and that these all have their purposes. None is inherently better or worse, and they need each other to work well. The book gives you dozens of examples of how design projects use the portfolio of social movement methods

There’s also a chapter in the book that analyses how these methods and tactics have the capacity to build power to bring about change, even despite their low budgets. I map this out using lots of examples from across the lifecycle of design, for example showing potential for power in different lifecycle phases like ideation, fabrication, use, and end-of-life.

What are your hopes for this book?

Ultimately I want this book to serve the design profession and everyone interested in design by catalyzing more action, more people taking positive steps to bridle consumerism and explore better organizing principles for life.

In fact to try to generate a collective spirit around the book, I’m encouraging people to read and discuss it in groups so that they can explore the concepts and steps in their own context—and maybe make things happen where they are.

Check out the book’s website http://designvsconsumerism.net for some special offers regarding group readings.