Book List of the Week

Required Reading If You Really Want To Be a Designer: Bruce Hannah’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter April 10, 2012

Bruce Hannah

Product Designer and Design Educator Bruce Hannah: Hannah Design and Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY)

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The books that Bruce Hannah chose for his Designers & Books list make up an eclectic selection reflecting the curiosity and far-reaching interests of an eminent product designer and also the breadth and conceptual perspective of a lifelong teacher.

Hannah’s acclaimed design portfolio ranges from the Hannah Desk System for Knoll International (IDSA’s “Design of the Decade”) to his appointment as the first “Designer in Residence” at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, where he curated (with George Covington) and designed (with Tanya Van Cott) the landmark exhibition “Unlimited by Design,” for which he received a Federal Design Achievement Award in 2000. His work as an educator has been similarly lauded. A tenured Professor of Design at Pratt Institute (from which he graduated), he has received numerous awards for his contributions to design education.

“Most books, in the end, are about design in some way or another,” he says in the introduction to his book list. “The plots of most novels are designed, and the people who inhabit them are all struggling with creativity in one way or another.” Among books on ideas in art, science, and design as well as a few fiction titles, Hannah includes two books entitled Jazz. One is by Matisse, which Hannah suggests makes the case that “Matisse invented modern graphics”; the other is by Toni Morrison, which Hannah says helped him “understand what America might be all about.” Of The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee, which is an appreciation of vanishing traditional craftsmanship, Hannah says, “This is required reading in my design classes, not just because of the brilliant writing, but also because of the connections between design and craft. The history lessons are an added bonus.”

In “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Hannah says he found a way to see the links and relationships that exist between writing about theoretical physics and designing furniture. Home, by Designers & Books commentator Witold Rybczynski, explores the origin of the idea of domestic comfort and also other “ideas that have consequences beyond just our domestic well-being.” This book, Hannah asserts, is “required reading if you really want to be a designer.”

Becoming a Product Designer, 2004 (John Wiley & Sons)

Hannah has written two books. The first, Access by Design, co-authored with George Covington and published in 1996, was one of the first to make a comprehensive case for the importance of universal design. In the second, Becoming a Product Designer, published in 2004, Hannah provides an overview of the field and though the use of interviews with current practitioners offers “an inside look at the real world of product design.”

In the introduction to his book list Hannah notes that books can play multiple and surprisingly diverse roles in our lives. On the serious side they can “move us or challenge us.” But at the same time, they can be “just plain fun” and provide some of life’s “greatest pleasures.”

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