March 23, 2019

Ruined by Design is a book documenting the destructive history of design and how designers can fix their mess

Design continues to be a powerful tool that spans every part of our lives. Our interactions include consumer products and user experiences, to hidden forces such as algorithms. A new book by Mike Monteiro (of Mule Design Studio) titled Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It, investigates the damaging impact of design.

According to Monteiro, design has been ruthlessly efficient. The world is working as intended based on the conscious decisions of designers. But the outcomes have been disastrous. It’s now time for designers to reclaim their roles as gatekeepers for the sake of a better world.

Why we’re interested

Design has been lauded as a solution to all problems. But depending on context, we’ve received limited upside. The task of repurposing the focus of design towards positive outcomes is daunting. It’s our hope that his book brings clarity into the changes and applications we can make to better the narrative.

Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It is available for Kindle pre-order on Amazon for USD 10. The paperback version will release on April 12.


The world is working exactly as designed.

The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing. Facebook’s privacy settings, which have outed gay teens to their conservative parents, are working exactly as designed. Their “real names” initiative, which makes it easier for stalkers to re-find their victims, is working exactly as designed. Twitter’s toxicity and lack of civil discourse is working exactly as it’s designed to work.

The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it. Design is a craft with an amazing amount of power. The power to choose. The power to influence. As designers, we need to see ourselves as gatekeepers of what we are bringing into the world, and what we choose not to bring into the world. Design is a craft with responsibility. The responsibility to help create a better world for all.

Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.

This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.

If you’re a designer, this book might make you angry. It should make you angry. But it will also give you the tools you need to make better decisions. You will learn how to evaluate the potential benefits and harm of what you’re working on. You’ll learn how to present your concerns. You’ll learn the importance of building and working with diverse teams who can approach problems from multiple points-of-view. You’ll learn how to make a case using data and good storytelling. You’ll learn to say NO in a way that’ll make people listen. But mostly, this book will fill you with the confidence to do the job the way you always wanted to be able to do it. This book will help you understand your responsibilities.

March 7, 2019

Dieter Rams' documentary reveals some interesting insights into his career path.


Dieter Rams was the chief design officer of German brand Braun for 30 years, also having a major influence on designs for Apple. In Gary Hustwit’s recent documentary, Rams evokes his regret in becoming a designer in the first place, regretting his instrumental role in driving the culture of overconsumption that we’re currently in. “He says himself that if he could have done it all over again, he would not have chosen to become a designer, he really wanted to be a landscape architect or an urban planner,” says Hustwit.

Less but better

Dieter Rams designs are revered for their simplicity. By cutting out superfluous details, Rams pioneered the “less but better” aesthetic that we see almost everywhere nowadays, from sneakers to phones. He is famed for his Ten Principles of Good Design published in the 1970s, these principles call for all design objects to be functional, long-lasting, beautiful and environmentally friendly. Hustwit’s documentary aims to follow these design principles as closely as possible, using minimal editing and production.

The current day

Hustwit’s documentary follows Rams for three years in his daily life and on travels, and in doing so touches on urgent topics such as materialism and sustainability. Rams regrets not having been able to spread his ideas about sustainability, or that they weren’t understood in the right way. Consequently, he feels that he has contributed to the current culture of overconsumption and excess. Hustwit believes that Rams, the notoriously private designer, agreed to the film as a way “to push his philosophy further and to re-engage a new generation of designers with his ideas about what good design is.”


It is easy to look back at the sparkling, long career of a legend in any discipline and to only see the great moments, sometimes we do this on purpose and sometimes it’s subconscious. For a figure like Rams to be so open about his regret–even after what most see as an illustrious career–is striking. He exhibits great humbleness in raising our attention to current problems using his own lifetime as an example. To be able to look at our lives and careers with such objectivity as Rams is a great skill, one that will benefit decision making and accountability.

March 4, 2019

IKEA launches its African-inspired Överallt furniture collection

IKEA Överallt furniture collection

IKEA partners with several key African designers to create the Överallt furniture collection. The project was done in partnership with South African partner, Design Indaba. This collection hopes to bring more visibility to the emerging African creative scene.

The background behind the project

Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo stated that IKEA’s goals were around highlighting the regions explosive creative potential. And that Design Indaba’s curated a list of multi-disciplinary creatives who expanded beyond just furniture design.

Some of the designers involved

Changing perceptions

The initiative is a great opportunity for African culture to be seen on a much larger and global stage with the help of IKEA, where great work can otherwise be limited by a lack of distribution. Products are inherently easy to understand and comprehend and introduce a common interest, and so in this instance, IKEA’s vast support and audience can introduce African culture to many more people and the stories that come with them.

Some of our favorite pieces

IKEA Överallt furniture collection Reform Studios
Reform Studios’ totebag featuring crisp packets.

IKEA Överallt furniture collection Studio Propolis cast iron dish skillet
Studio Propolis’ cast iron dish and skillet.

IKEA Överallt furniture collection Studio Propolis stool bench
Studio Propolis’ stool and bench.

IKEA Överallt furniture collection Renee Rossouw Sindiso Khumalo
Renee Rossouw and Sindiso Khumalo’s African-inspired textiles.

March 4, 2019

Smart fabrics will make your long haul flights more enjoyable

Smart Fabrics Can Improve Your Flights

Believe it or not, your next long haul flight might become a tad bit more enjoyable. The team over at Layer (a creative design firm based out of the UK) created a new smart fabric designed to help you feel better and save space on airplanes. The innovative thread system, along with other innovations, will help travellers get more out of their journey and hopefully feel refreshed upon arrival.

What are smart fabrics and conductive thread?

The smart fabric can conduct electricity across the plane, enabling currents to alter different aspects of your seat. For example, the thread can:

  • Change the firmness of your seat – this helps ensure its more or less demanding for different body parts and can optimize itself during the flight
  • Alter seat temperature – gone are the days when you’d be boiling when taking off and freezing as you touch down
  • Track your posture over time via an app – now you’ll know why your back is all messed up

The concept includes an app which passengers can download to track and change every facet of their seat. In fact, the app can also act as an in-flight advisor, suggesting different postures and even telling you when you should move around or grab water to stay hydrated

Optimization is the name of the game

In case you had hoped otherwise, airlines aren’t planning on limiting the number of seats anytime soon. Since you’ll probably get that middle seat between one person snoring louder than the white noise and another foul-smelling passenger, smart fabrics are a welcome addition. In addition, the Layer team also included new designs for vertical tray tables to give passengers more space. The intelligent layout means you’ll save a couple of extra centimeters which make a world of difference on longer flights. All these incremental difference dramatically impact the weight of an aircraft as smart fabrics require less padding in seats. In addition, the design would decrease waste from manufacturing, reducing environmental impact and airline’s bottom line.

Airbus, the airline manufacturer, worked with Layer to design and create this prototype. Ultimately, they will be the ones to see if it makes sense to turn this vision into a reality. As avid travelers ourselves, we hope they make it happen!

February 12, 2019

Book covers designed for small screens working equally well as physical objects

Book cover design has always been shaped by the technologies in use and the systems surrounding publishing and book marketing. Publishers do not collect their own specific data on what works well in book marketing since they sell to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers which do collect data about individual consumers. As a result, the design of book covers is often up to the intuitive feeling of art directors and designers and since books are now increasingly marketed on and purchased on digital devices, that has affected their intuition.

Current trends in book cover design

  • Bold, large, attention-grabbing typography
  • High-contrasting, bright colors
  • Simple single color backgrounds or textured backgrounds
  • Imagery that takes up the entire cover and has sharply distinctive lines
  • Minimalist covers

Books and publishing success in numbers

  • The number of independent bookstores increased by 35% between 2009 and 2015
  • Sales of print books have increased by nearly 11% since 2013
  • In 2017 the US book publishing industry generated approximately $26.24 billion in net revenue, holding relatively steady since 2013 ($27.07 billion in net revenue)

Conveniently, in this instance, what works well in book cover design for social media and small screens also winds up looking good on the tables of independent bookstores and on your shelf at home. While book purchasing and book marketing grows ever stronger online, book covers are bridging the digital and physical divide with aplomb.

October 21, 2018

Kenya Hara's "House Vision" invites Open Architects and Xiaomi to design life on Mars

At Kenya Hara’s third annual ‘house vision’ exhibition, OPEN Architects and Xiaomi Electronics were among the participants chose to reimagine the future of living with their “MARS Case.” The design team focused on what our essential needs are in a time of environmental crises and endless material consumption.

The details behind the MARS Case 

  • 2.4 x 2.4 x 2 meter sphere
  • Imaging life on Mars
  • Self-circulates energy
  • Zero waste
  • Service components and living spaces fold away
  • Interior Xiaomi product lines can be controlled wirelessly by phone
  • Recycles heat, exhaust, condensation generated by devices to feed energy, air, and water back into an integrated ecosystem

Why are these types of explorations important?
The unfortunate reality is that there’s a real possibility that earth will become increasingly uninhabitable. Design challenges like this make us revisit how we live life today in hopes of achieving a more sustainable future.

The exhibition will be on view outside Beijing’s National Stadium until November 4th. For more images, head over to designboom.


March 5, 2018

When the campaigns of political figures and movements use streetwear and fashion to establish visual identity

A new wave of politicians and political movements are channeling popular streetwear brands and trendy fashion startups to establish the visual identity of their campaigns. Eliza Brooke for Racked reports on several individuals and organizations that are trying to make their political agendas cool and appealing—so cool and appealing that young people would voluntarily represent those agendas by wearing tees and using totes emblazoned with political logos and slogans.

The idea is that the core fans of these entities would be more willing to represent these people and ideas if the campaign is well-designed. Of even more importance to these political agendas is to attract new young voters. The thinking is to employ the same design strategies as brands such as Casper and Everlane to hopefully find the same success.

Startup minimalism as applied to politics:

  • Suraj Patel, a Democrat running for Congress in New York, uses blush pink and navy colors in his campaign branding with sans serif fonts and has a Squarespace site that resembles Glossier and Outdoor Voices.
  • Anjelica Triola the chief creative officer of Patel’s campaign said of the merchandise, “We’re riffing off Anti-Social Social Club and Virgil Abloh’s stuff, which if you get it, is a little wink and nod, but it’s not alienating to people who don’t get it.”
  • Flippable, an organization seeking to help Democrats win State seats from the Republican party, looked to Everlane for inspiration on how to illustrate complicated processes in an appealing, easy-to-understand fashion.
  • Rally+Rise seeks to make New York as progressive as possible and to make it clear that anyone can be an activist. The founder is a digital strategist and brand consultant and she stated that her design inspiration for Rally+Rise did not come from existing political design materials.

On MAEKAN It Up we’ve spoken before about New York based agency Derrisbeing at the forefront of increased homogenization of design in consumer product brands. We’ve also talked about church merch and the ethics behind using trendy fashion design to attract youth to religious organizations. Simply giving political agendas a shiny gloss of updated colors and fonts is not enough to create a loyal fan base. To think that would be shallow and patronizing. As with products, media companies, tech services, and sometimes fashion, good looking branding will catch the public eye and drawn attention, but in order to retain that attention there needs to be substance that follows. It’s relatively easy to design a logo with a target audience in mind, but to give that audience political action that delivers as promised is trickier.

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