Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It, by Mike Monteiro, is my pick for this month’s AIGA GNV Book Club. This independently published book is available as a paperback on Amazon (and now includes a pro-union message for Amazon workers right on the cover) and as a 120 page 8 x 10″ zine at ruinedby.design/zine. The zine version is only $8 and was printed in California on the same employee-owned press that printed Maximum Rocknroll.
I saw Monteiro speak at the AIGA Design Conference in Las Vegas in 2016 (more on this in a bit) and loved that he challenged designers to really examine what it was that they were being asked to do. I wrote down a quote from his talk that day and I have kept it with me since then. He said “The world works exactly the way that it is designed to work. If we want to change the way it works, we need to change who is designing it.”
Ruined By Design dives deep into the ethics of design in a way that is easy to digest, even for non-designers. Monteiro critiques many of the systems and services that we use every day but also the ecosystems that help morph these systems (for example, he explains a lot about the world of venture capitalism in a chapter titled “Ayn Rand is a Dick”).
Sample Chapter on ruinedby.design
Now… back to Monteiro’s talk in 2016. Ruined by Design includes a chapter called “The Case for Professional Organizations” where he talks about his experience with AIGA and specifically mentions the Las Vegas speaking engagement. He writes that after his talk a designer that he admired and who was very involved with the organization said that while “it was a good talk, it didn’t have anything to do with design because what we did out there in Silicon Valley wasn’t really design.” That, paired with AIGA’s consistent focus on visual design and failures to keep up with UX design, made Monteiro feel as though AIGA was no longer the professional organization for him.
Reading this was especially fascinating for me. I had been so completely inspired by Monteiro’s talk at the AIGA conference. I agreed with him that AIGA should be evolving to meet the needs of designers, to act more like a union, to be providing things like legal services and guidance for members. At that time in 2016, I also happened to be right in the middle of jumping through all of the legal and logistical hoops of starting an AIGA chapter here in Gainesville. Monteiro’s talk made me want to get more deeply involved and to make AIGA Gainesville into something that could support designers. Through this book I learned that during the same event, he was made to feel as though he needed to turn away from the organization.
Ruined by Design is a frank and honest look at every aspect of the design profession and it isn’t pretty. But it is optimistic. Monteiro is still very hopeful that designers will step up and turn things around. On the first page, he writes “So the fact that I’m writing this book is either the most stupid or the most hopeful act I can imagine. To be honest with you, I think it’s a bit of both.” I recommend this book and hope that we all start questioning why things are being done the way that they are before we just do the job we are paid to do.
And on a personal note: I am also optimistic… Monteiro was right. AIGA needs to evolve. And the AIGA of 2016 is not the AIGA of 2019 and won’t be the AIGA of 2020. Chapter leaders from all over the country are currently diving deep and overhauling the way the entire organization functions. Because “if we want to change the way it works, we need to change who is designing it.”
Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It
By Mike Monteiro
Zine version: https://www.ruinedby.design/zinestore