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- Published on Amazon.com
"Norman Potter was an English cabinetmaker, designer, poet, and teacher," according to the back cover. This book is partly an autobiography of his career, partly a broad-brush guide to good design, and partly his personal insight into what it meant to be a British designer in the post WWII era. It ranges widely into all major aspects of the designer's world. I found the book often persuasive and interesting. The visually engaged should note that there are no pictures or drawings.
I found the book to be personal, engaging, and somewhat idiosyncratic in its approach: other designers might have seen the design world differently.
He writes the book for students, and "by the word 'student' I mean those who still question what they are doing, and ask why."
"Design is a socially negotiated discipline, and there are telling respects in which design questions are political questions." This statement will come as no surprise to current developers of housing and industrial sites, where planning and political negotiation can consume years.
Potter refers, moralistically, to such problems by noting "four main characteristics of modern industrial society: Its vastly complicated nature. Its continuous stimulation of, and reliance on, the deadly sins of greed, envy, and avarice. Its destruction of the content and dignity of most forms of work. Its authoritarian nature, owing to organization in excessively large units."
As Potter notes, "every human being is a designer..." and, the broad world of design affects "every field that warrants pause and careful consideration, between the conceiving of an action and a fashioning of the means to carry it out, and an estimation of its effects." For many of us, "it is perfectly possible to study design simply by doing it."
Potter is no great respecter of titles: "The words by which people describe themselves -- architect, graphic designer, interior designer, etc. -- become curiously more important than the work they actually do."
His view on constraints remains valid: "Designers get accustomed to the support of many constraints (limiting conditions) in the way they normally work. Remove these and it is like putting an engine out of gear suddenly, it returns to idling speed, or feels purposeless when accelerated. No elitist, "the study of vernacular form...is a source of joy to the spirits and the senses."
The difficulty of design is "in the realization of a design, against criteria that become increasingly elusive. This is the realm of the senses, of imagination, and of judgment." I suspect that Apple's Steve Jobs would have agreed, and also with "the importance of questions, and...the resourcefulness of attitude that prompts them." "Technique must be kind to the user and not only 'technically effective'." On the understanding of such issues, great fortunes have been built.
The book contains, also, a long list of axioms, questions for designers, a checklist for students, and much practical advice, some of which may remain meritorious for a current professional designer, or one in training.