Book Review: The Design Way
By Gerd Waloszek, Design & Front Line Apps, SAP AG – May 21, 2013
"This review takes a personal look at Harold G. Nelson's and Erik Stolterman's book The Design Way – Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World (2nd Ed.). Not having read the first edition, I will base my review solely on the second edition and also will not discuss any changes from the first to the second edition."
￼The design way : intentional change in an unpredictable world (2nd ed.)
Nelson H., Stolterman E., The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012. 296 pp.
Reviewer: Joan Horvath
I find it difficult to categorize this little book. This is perhaps appropriate, since “design” is equally hard to describe, and is often a messy, awkward, and very nonlinear endeavor. The authors view design as distinct from both science and art. They see science as driven by a scientist satisfying curiosity, creating value by adding to the body of all knowledge. They see art as driven by a need for self-expression, creating value by adding to the insights of others about the human condition. In contrast, they say, design is about solving a problem, typically a problem of some other person, and as such is a service to others that cannot occur in isolation.
Most of the rest of the book is then dedicated to discussing how to think about and create some structure to perform that service. The authors employ the metaphor of the designer as connoisseur: “It is impossible to become a wine connoisseur by only studying theories of wine and wine making--tasting is crucial and necessary.” The book offers several ways of thinking about tying together the inputs from “wine theory” and “wine tasting” in a good design.
As an engineer, I am currently collaborating with a colleague who was trained as a sculptor, and reading the book caused many little shocks of recognition. For example, the authors posit that Western society often values observation over imagination. As a result, we tend to say we discovered fire or a scientific theory, although obviously fire and the physical phenomena in question had been around a long time before they were “discovered.” Designers, however, have no such compunctions and would probably say they designed fire or a theory; the book argues that this is a more accurate point of view. Being aware of how words and worldviews frame one’s role can make a big difference in how effectively one operates in interdisciplinary creative interactions.
This book is recommended for engineers and scientists wanting to step outside their assumptions and consider what inadvertent constraints they may have on their own creativity. It might also be interesting for MBA students who expect to go into fields where they will interact with designers. It is probably a little philosophical for most undergraduates, since they might get lost trying to learn the terminology on display and may not yet have the experience for the moments of self-recognition that are the power of this little book.
This is the second edition of the book. I have not seen the first edition, and so can’t make any comparisons. This edition is in some ways akin to Csikszentmihalyi’s work on creativity and flow , and could be used for similar audiences. Reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs  and then analyzing Jobs’ process with this book might make a nice graduate seminar for engineers, scientists, or business students. This book has the virtue of brevity, for which it commits the sin of omitting detailed stories and examples. It has simple graphics that would lend themselves to being drawn on a whiteboard during discussions. If you want a short book that will make you think about how you interact with colleagues, or if you want to make your graduate students reconsider their assumptions, spend a few hours with Nelson and Stolterman.
1) Csikszentmihalyi, M. Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1996.
2) Isaacson, W. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2011.
Review #: CR140878
￼The review below was written by S. Skaggs and published in "Current reviews for academic libraries"
Reviews of The Design Way (1st edition):