A readable, instructive study of the role of design in making our lives easier to live.
Forget about the perfect mousetrap—how about a better fly swatter? A century ago, an enterprising fellow named Henry Dreyfuss—a hero among many in design editor Kuang and designer/writer Fabricant’s lively book—came up with one. “The paddle had concentric rings like a pistol target,” write the authors, “which made swatting flies into a game.” It was a tossed-off design, but it had a singular virtue: It was self-explanatory “so that the user could readily understand all its functions.” Not that a fly swatter has all that many functions, but Dreyfuss’ Toperator washing machine did; with easy-to-read controls, it was a revolutionary and fast-selling device. A lesson there is that simplifying things so they become second nature is never a bad idea. Neither is reading the wind and the zeitgeist to figure out where needs lie that may not have been imagined before. That was the case with a different kind of 911 alert that recognized the fact that most attacks on our persons come not from strangers but from people we know—and voilà, a device was born that summoned a concierge to provide “a plausible excuse to dip out of whatever situation you were in, if needed.” For the last century, the authors write, the designer’s great challenge has been to “reignite the consumer impulse” in a time of general plenty and of constant technological evolution, inventing markets along the way: the iPhone, for instance, or Facebook. (Who knew that coming up with the “like” button required so much work to concoct "the simplest, friendliest way to express positivity”?) Of a piece with the work of Henry Petroski or Donald Norman, Kuang and Fabricant’s book serves up plenty of useful examples and offers a few rules for would-be designers, the very first of which is “start with the user.”
A book that belongs on every designer’s shelf—and that consumers of design will enjoy, too.