The follow review by Mark Busse was originally published on TAXI Design Network:
David B. Berman has been demonstrating inspired design leadership for nearly three decades and this book is no exception. After decades of volunteer work as an international ambassador for the communication design industry, Berman’s book Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change the World is another fine example of his tendency toward helping others—and not just graphic designers, but all of us.
The book presents a well-researched and clearly articulated argument that design matters—more now than ever before—and like the First Things First manifesto referenced in Erik Spiekermann’s foreword, Do Good Design serves as a call to action to designers everywhere to stand up, take our seat at the boardroom table and start changing the way the world looks at design.
The book begins with Berman explaining that he intends to shock us. Even the title page is a bit of a jolt, the first words reading, “Why does this book need a title page?” challenging the publishing paradigm, leaving me wanting to read every stitch of fine print. The very next page doesn’t disappoint either, with scribbles in the margin—as though the proofreader’s marks were left in place, immediately setting a fun, irreverent tone.
Berman keeps his promise of shock. Arguing that we are now all designers, and we have far more power than we thought—in fact, enough to solve the greatest design challenge of our lifetime: to repair the world. “In a well-designed future,” claims Berman, “it will be the message crafters, the product designers, and the experts in transporting ideas and artifacts across great distances and generations who may hold the greatest responsibility.”
A chronicle of one man’s journey as a creative professional, Berman describes his discoveries and frustrations and the wisdom they brought him. Infused with passion and sincerity, the thoughtful prose is accessible with dozens of illustrated examples and titillating photographs—many of which taken by Berman himself during his travels.
Unlike most design books, Do Good Design isn’t filled with examples from Berman’s portfolio. Rather, it predominantly showcases the work of others. Some good. Some embarrassingly bad. All demonstrating the positive and negative power of communication design. Berman shows how design was at the core of the botched 2000 US elections. He demonstrates how the export of North American consumerism has eroded culture as well our physical environment. He warns of the dangers of branding, calling to task the likes of Coke, Nike, big tobacco—even all of North America itself—for endorsing the use of communication design in order to deceive. Berman argues that “designers are at the core of the most efficient and most destructive pattern of deception in human history.”
But this book is not all doom and gloom judgments by a jaded nay-sayer. Rather, it’s an honest and balanced examination of this important issue based on real experiences over decades of exposure to design. In fact, he includes numerous examples of brands and advertising design being used for good by many. But as a Fellow and Ethics Chair of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, the first elected President of RGD Ontario, and currently a vice-president of Icograda, Berman even questions the standards set by our very own industry.
From a purely design perspective, the book is refreshing and immediately apparent that a skilled typographer was at the helm during the book’s graphic design. With call outs, bolded statements for emphasis, mini stories along the face edge, and whimsical comments scribbled in margins as though by the editor’s Sharpie, the book is easy to read and engaging. The black and white reproduction seems to have been slightly sacrificed, likely in an effort to make a sustainable printed product, which admittedly irked me slightly.
As a fellow Canadian design professional, I am proud of the well-informed, international perspectives found in Berman’s book. I’m proud that someone in our field had the guts to say these things and put the blame squarely where it belongs: on all our shoulders. Proud that he has continued his struggle to redefine the role of the designer. A role that should include social responsibility. We designers have an obligation to use our power with caution. Berman’s book lays in sharp contrast the things we’ve not yet achieved as an industry and the work left to do. This book doesn’t present all the answers, but it does ask some poignant questions. And it presents a well-defended argument that design does indeed matter—now more than ever before.
While much of Do Good Design delves into serious subject matter such as consumerism and its impact on the environment, global economy and society, the book itself is a light and delightful romp with a somber message for designers: Our occupation may not be the highest-paying profession, but our power and influence has increased and with it our responsibility. This book isn’t just for designers, it’s for anyone interested in design and its role in the world. A world in dire need of help—help we can all provide by the choices we make and ways we behave.
Designers love to make things, it’s time to make change.
To take the Do Good Pledge, please visit the Do Good
Design microsite at www.davidberman.com/dogood
All photos copyright David Berman. All rights reserved