Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, London, 2013, English
Design, General
7.9 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches, hardcover 256 pages
ISBN: 9780241145302
Suggested Retail Price: $30.00

From the Publisher. Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. When deployed wisely, it can bring us pleasure, choice, strength, decency and more. But if its power is abused, the outcome can be wasteful, confusing, humiliating, even dangerous. This title explores design's influence on our lives. None of us can avoid being affected by design, whether or not we wish to. It is so ubiquitous that it determines how we feel and what we do, often without our noticing.

Hello World explores design's influence on our lives. Written by the renowned design critic Alice Rawsthorn and designed by the award-winning book designer Irma Boom, it describes how warlords, scientists, farmers, hackers, activists, and designers have used design to different ends throughout history: from the macabre symbol invented by 18th-century pirates to terrorize their victims into surrender, to one woman’s quest for the best possible prosthetic legs and the evolution of the World Cup ball.

At a time when we face colossal changes, unprecedented in their speed, scale, and intensity—from the deepening environmental crisis, to giant leaps in science and technology—Hello World explains how design can help us to make sense of them and to turn them to our advantage.

A Designers & Books Notable Design Book of 2013
On 2 book lists
Alissa Walker

Not many design books strive to trace the origins of an industry that’s ubiquitous in our daily lives. But in Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, Alice Rawsthorn makes one of the most persuasive cases for pinpointing the birth of design as she introduces readers to a man named Ying Zheng who ran a kingdom named Qin in 246 B.C. By standardizing the size and shape of his army’s bows and arrows, he was able to defend his empire and conquer new lands more efficiently than his fellow warrior-kings, becoming the emperor of what would eventually be the most populous country in the world: Chin

As fans of Rawsthorn know well, she’s one of the only design writers out there who can so effectively move between different types of design: high to low, 2D to 3D, microbial to global, analog to interactive. The result is what might be the first truly multidisciplinary design book. Although it devotes plenty of words to the heavy hitters—Wedgwood, Thonet, Braun, and Apple serve as the “Big Four”—Hello World also takes some surprising and thought-provoking detours from the typical design canon, from the menacing graphics of pirate flags to the carbon fiber legs of amputee actor and artist Aimee Mullins.

While Rawsthorn’s narration of design stories through the ages is entertaining and eloquent (one can never hear enough about the development of the London and New York subway maps), much of it will not be new to avid readers of her column in the International Herald Tribune. Rawsthorn’s voice is most evocative when grappling with the issues of a changing discipline, such as when it addresses the new role of technology and data in cities, or discusses the role of strategic thinking in design, or when the writer is championing entrepreneurial, socially focused activists like Project H's Emily Pilloton. And she’s at her very best when examining the complicated ethics of the humanitarian design projects One Laptop Per Child or the Play Pump.

Rawsthorn tackles a daunting task, to map out design’s cultural impact, in a compelling and often very entertaining way. Yet due to the rapid transformation of design, which she argues has evolved from standardization in ancient China to customization and—with the advent of self-publishing and 3D printing—personalization, it feels as if she’ll soon have enough material to write another book about what happens when the tools of design are placed into everyone’s hands. Now that she’s ably covered the history of the industry with this book, I very much hope that she writes that sequel.

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