Why Design Matters Book Summary - Why Design Matters Book explained in key points
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Why Design Matters summary

Debbie Millman

Conversations with the World’s Most Creative People

3.6 (128 ratings)
21 mins

What is Why Design Matters about?

Why Design Matters (2022) is a collection of some of the best interviews from Debbie Millman’s long-running podcast of the same name. It collects over 50 interviews from over 15 years’ worth of conversations. These talks not only explain why design matters, they also show how the principles of design extend to creativity in general and the ways in which we communicate and express ourselves.

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    Why Design Matters
    summarized in 6 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 6

    Design matters because design is a powerful tool for communication.

    If you know anything about the history of graphic design, you’re probably familiar with the name Milton Glaser.

    Glaser is indeed one of the legends of the business, having cofounded New York magazine and designed some of the most iconic images of the sixties and seventies, including the “I Love New York” logo. His name is synonymous with design. Another part of what makes Glaser such a legendary figure is that he’s also spent a lot of time thinking about why design matters. In fact, he wrote an influential article titled “12 Steps on the Designer’s Road to Hell.”

    In it, Glaser lists many of the tough decisions designers have to consider during the course of their careers. These are such important decisions that Glaser considers each one either a step toward or out of hell. Why? Well, it comes down to the simple fact that a designer is communicating with the public. Everything from a carton of milk to a presidential campaign contains elements of design that were thought out by someone. And, as we all know, some of these designs are made to intentionally misrepresent. Maybe they’re intended to make the product look bigger on the shelf or that they’re healthier than they actually are. Maybe the product promises results that you know are completely bogus. Or, maybe the product is created using child labor or harmful in other ways – or even potentially deadly when used wrong. So the question becomes, where is your line? What level of misrepresentation would you refuse to participate in? What lies won’t you tell to sell an idea or a product?

    In short, design matters because designers know a great deal about the tools of communication. Design can manipulate minds and be persuasive in ways both good and bad. The work of a designer can make you want to exercise or smoke cigarettes.

    Nowadays, this is perhaps more problematic than it has ever been. In the 1960s, Glaser made his career by being a counterculture troublemaker. But now, politics and corporations and media have become so intertwined that being a troublemaker will likely result in the kind of trouble that will simply hurt your career, not help it.

    Nevertheless, designers have the knowledge and the tools to help. They know how to communicate in ways the average person doesn’t. And the conclusion Glaser comes to is that they should be good citizens and use those tools to publish, react to what’s happening, create manifestos, post their work on the streets, reach the public, and change hearts and minds for the better.

    Interestingly enough, Glaser’s thoughts are echoed by another legend in the field of graphic design, Steven Heller, who spent 30 years as an art director for the New York Times. Millman has conducted 14 different interviews with Heller over the years. One of the key moments from those many interviews is when Heller explained his personal philosophy of design, and why he didn’t pursue a career in advertising or branding. For Heller, design should always serve a social purpose.

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    About the Author

    Debbie Millman is a designer, curator, artist, and writer. She was the art director of Print magazine, and a partner and president of the Design Division at Sterling Brands, where she worked on a number of high-profile campaigns for such clients as Pepsi and Nestlé. Since 2005, she’s been hosting and interviewing creative people for her Design Matters podcast.

    Who should read Why Design Matters?

    • Anyone interested in the creative process
    • People fascinated by design and marketing
    • Artists looking for inspiration

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