December 29, 2010

Plan B "best architecture book of the year" in The Netherlands


Totally thrilling news has reached me from the Netherlands: my book Plan B: Ontwerpen in een Complexe Wereld [Plan B: Designing In A Complex World] has been selected by the influential magazine de Architect as their best architecture book of the year. I would like to share this good fortune with you, too: if you forgot to send any of your Dutch-speaking friends a present this year send them Plan B as the perfect New Year's gift. It will make my publishers, SUN, happy too.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2010

For sustainability champions: my book is now in Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.


Rule one in book publishing (where I worked for ten years) is: promote your own book, because nobody else will do so with as much energy and commitment. So, sorry to be brash, but please note the following:

Today I received printed copies from its publisher, SUN, of Plan B - the Dutch version of my book In The Bubble; (the latter was published by MIT Press in 2005).

For the Dutch and all the other language versions mentioned here, I reduced the original text to 45,000 words - but also added five new chapters. on: Sustainability; Metrics; Food; Development; and Telepresence.

Here are three ways you can help Plan B reach sustainability champions:

a) send the name and co-ordinates of Dutch-speaking journalists, bloggers and thought-leaders (to whom you think we should send a free review copy) to Marlies Dijkstra; her address is m.dijkstra at uitgeverijsun dot nl
b) go to the SUN website and order copies for all your Dutch-speaking friends in The Netherlands and around the world. If you are a sustainability champion within your company, university, city, or government department, consider ordering 100 or more copies for a discount, and send copies to your colleagues;
c) announce on appropriate mailing lists that the book is available

Here again is the French edition translated by Anne Despond-Barre and published by Marc Partouche for Cite du Design Editions.


Next is the Italian edition translated by Niels Betori and published by Pier Paolo Peruccio for Allemandi.


Here, below, is the Portuguese language edition published in Brazil by Marcelo Melo at Virgilia and available from Saraiva.


And in May the book will be published in Polish by Wydawnictwo SWPS Academica.


Posted by John Thackara at 09:07 AM | Comments (4)

July 26, 2008

Design per un futuro sostenible


To cap three days of high-energy conversation at Changing The Change in Torino at the weekend - it's already been very well reviewed and signposted by Mark Vanderbeeken at Core 77 - and here by David Stairs - my dynamic editor at Allemandi, Pier Paolo Peruccio, handed me the first copy of In The Bubble in Italian. The Italian edition has evolved substantially from the MIT Press one; it's shorter (154 pages) but also contains three new chapters - on Alimentazione (Food), Presenza (Presence) and Development (Sviluppo). This edition also sports a cover photograph by Andreas Gursky which I'm thrilled about because he's one of my all-time favourite photographers.

Please tell every Italian-speaker you know - and five who you don't - to buy two copies each; the cover price is 15 euros.

Other editions in the pipeline, mostly due for the autumn of this year, are a Chinese complex character edition (Commonwealth in Taiwan), a Japanese one from Sibaccess, France (Editions Cite du Design) and Brazil (Virgila in Brazil). The India and Asia edition was published last year. We're still looking for a German publisher.


Posted by John Thackara at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2008

Wouldn't a free Dott Manual be great?


What could life in a sustainable region be like - and how can design can help us get there? Here are some more sample spreads from the Dott 07 Manual. We've got a couple of boxes of the book left over, so I will send five free copies to the person(s) who most intrigue me with the names of four other people you will send the books to when you get them. Hint: they should be people likely to make other Dott-like events happen. Email the names of your nominees, plus your full postal address, to: john at doorsofperception punt com (and please put Manual in the header). Subject to availability. Single copies are still available from Amazon

Posted by John Thackara at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2006

Eastern Economic Edition of "In The Bubble"

Prentice Hall India have issued an Eastern Economic Edition of "In The Bubble: Designing In A Complex World". (I made a completely random selction of words from recent published reviews: "enriching" (Paola Antonelli), "excellent" (Nancy Levinson), "brilliant" (Paul Hawken), "a revelation" (J C Herz), "important" (Don Norman), "captivating" (Bruce Sterling), "insightful" (Nathan Shedroff), "surprising." (San Francisco Chronicle), “visionary” (Paul Makovsky), “alive” (Jamer Hunt). The Eastern Economic Edition enables readers in the India and South Asia market to purchase the book for 250 rupees. If you live in that area, please tell everyone about this opportunity. We want to reach college and city librarians, course tutors - and your work colleagues, and friends. To check out the book's contents list and bibliography, or to sample free extracts, go here.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:00 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2006

Doors of Perception 9: "Juice"

Doors of Perception 9 takes place in New Delhi, 1-4 March 2007. The theme is “Juice” and the subject is food, fuel and design. The encounter (we have stopped calling ourselves a conference) has several parts: A two-day Project Leaders Round Table for c30 people who will be invited after a call (which will be published in July); a design innovation bazaar in the Palm Court Gallery, at India Habitat Centre; and a one day (thing in an auditorium) also at India Habitat Centre, on Saturday 3 March. Our partner for the event is the Centre for Knowledge Societies (CKS). Our content partners, who will develop bits of the programme, include (Debra Solomon) PixelAche (Juha Huuskonen) and futurefarmers (Amy Franseschini). The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Designs of the time (Dott) are sending design students. Winy Maas from MVRDV will be one of the featured presenters. Joost Wijermars is coming. Doors 9 ends with a Holi party on 4 or 5 March. For now, just note the dates; details of how to participate will be announced regularly in Doors of Perception Report.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:05 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2006

Alternatives to Geldofism: lecture notes and resources

A few weeks back I gave a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts in London entitled "Solidarity economics & design". The lecture was provoked by the sick-making antics of Bob Geldof and the assumptions he and others made about 'development'. I argued that the word 'development' implies that we advanced people in the North have the right, or even obligation, to help backward people in the South to ‘catch up' with our own advanced condition. And that No, this idea doesn't make sense. The concept of development is further devalued, I said, by the impoverished but destructive mindset of economics. "The North's purse strings are clutched by people who define development narrowly in terms of growth, jobs and productivity - and ignore broader measures of sustainability and well-being". Anyway, I prepared rather thorough (for me) lecture notes and a list of resources - and then forgot to put them online. So here they are now.

Posted by Kristi at 07:40 AM | Comments (4)

November 28, 2005

New Doors of Perception adventure

Doors of Perception is to be part of a year-long festival of social innovation and service design, in the UK, called Designs of the Time, or Dott. Throughout 2007, the whole North East region of the UK will explore ways we can carry out familiar, daily-life activities in new ways. Dott, an initiative of the Design Council and the region's development agency, One North East (ONE) is about how an entire region might accelerate its transition to a less-stuff-more-people world. Software systems to help us share resources, and collaborate, will play an important part in this transition, but objects and technology will play a supporting role in Dott. And new principles - above all, sustainability - will inform the ways products and systems are designed, made, used, and looked after.
As programme director of Dott (since a couple of weeks ago) my task is to help communities throughout the North East region select, shape and run public commissions. The region, I have already discovered, is bursting with creative, radical and innovative grassroots projects. Dott will link these people and projects together, and thereby help the whole region emerge as a situated and distributed design school and lab.
Helped by the BBC (radio, tv and websites) and local newspapers, and working with grassroots networks, we will engage with communities throughout the North East to determine what issues and projects are most important for them.This process will feed into the Dott programme as it takes final shape during the spring of 2006.
This is one way the Doors of Perception network will be involved. We need connect projects in Dott with other projects in different parts of the world, and your help on this will be crucial. The climax of Dott will be an event in October 2007 called "The Creative Community Awards" (or "The Commies") at which all the year's projects will come together to show what they achieved and to discuss what they learned. Doors will play a substantial role in that. At the same time, we will continue to develop plans for Doors of Perception 9, also in 2007, which will once again be a co-production in India with our friends at Centre for Knowledge Societies. And the Doors of Perception Report (this newsletter) and the Doors website/blog will continue as usual.
Designs of the time is not about telling people in the North East of England how to live. On the contrary: its purpose is to enable local people- interacting with inspiring and visionary guests from around the world - to develop their own visions and scenarios for a sustainable region. In that sense, Dott is in the acorns business. Its most valuable legacy will be the people who stay behind, the projects they have started, and the design producer networks that develop as a result of its impetus.
A brochure website for Dott is online now. Sign up there for a free newsletter. A new Dott website will be launched in the new year.

Posted by John Thackara at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2005

'In the bubble' hall of fame

My request that readers send me any errors they have spotted in my book 'In The Bubble' (which is to be reprinted) worked a treat. Thank you, thank you: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Gale Moore, Larry Bouthillier, Christian Gänshirt, Ido Bruno, Michael Hohl, Peter Martin, and Victor Bayon. These eagle-eyed persons sent me corrections (which I emphasize were the result of my errors, not MIT Press's excellent editors). The reprint is now on the presses so no more corrections are needed at this time.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2005

'In The Bubble' barter opportunity

If you:
a) possess a copy of 'In The Bubble'; and/or
b) have read it; and
c) found any errors in it (names, typos, dead urls etc)
...then please let me know. MIT Press are reprinting the book and need my corrections by 28 October. I will give a free signed copy of the paperback edition (due out next Spring) to anyone who tells me about a mistake they have found. Email please to:

Posted by John Thackara at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Only losers wear striped shirts

A gift from Brenda Laurel has cost me dear. The eminent design professor at Art Center, in California, sent me a copy of a new report called 'Tweens: Technology, Personal Agency, Engagement'. The result of a year-long research project sponsored by HP, the book is an intriguing portrait of Californian tweens (ages 11-14): How they think, feel. act, and relate to each other and the world. One of the researchers responds: 'the tweens research has made me ponder the nature of why kids are becoming more consumer conscious at an earlier age'. The book does not address the questions: Who owns information about these young adults' lives? Are we comfortable, as design researchers, making such intimate insights available to a big tech company? I would have pontificated further on these weighty issues had not a more imnportant one distracted me. A knowing 12-year-old is quoted saying that 'only losers wear striped shirts'. So I now have to find a loser to give about seven of mine to.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2005

India-bound Bubble

Indians are the world's biggest bookworms, reading on average 10.7 hours a week, twice as long as Americans, according to a new survey. This is welcome news for me because I just heard that an 'eastern economic edition' of In The Bubble is to be published later this summer in India.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:04 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2005

Paul Ricoeur

One of the reasons I decided to live in France was attending a lecture by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who has just died at the age of 92. It was a rainy Monday evening five years ago, in February, in Montpellier - and yet more than 600 people crammed into the lecture hall to hear Ricoeur debate "moral man and neuronal man" with a science writer, Jean-Pierre Changeux. The crowd was remarkably mixed; every age and background seemed to be present. Ricoeur was the foremost living phenomenologist - an approach to philosophy that studies how a person's reality is shaped by their perception of events in the world. It's a field of study highly relevant to the ways designers shape our interactions with technology. I can't pretend to have understood all of that evening's three hour discussion - it was about the ethical implications of neuroscience - but it was the spirit of the evening that impressed me hugely at the time. Ricoeur was widely regarded as a giant of philosophy - but rather than try to show off, or score academic points, as would be normal in most academic contexts I have encountered, Ricoeur's questioners were respectful but not smarmy, well-informed but not opinionated, lively but thoughtful. The event exemplified the dialogue and respect for others for which that Ricoeur argued all his life - and practised until its end.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

Avian bird flu viral marketing breakthrough

I surmise that the W Hotel in Seattle, where I am staying, has designed its lighting to foster chance encounters: everything is bathed in (but not much illuminated by) weak blue light. Seattle seems to be obsessed by social networks and biological models of economic activity. My driver today waxed eloquent about the necessity for marketing to "emulate avian bird flu" and enable "product memes" to "jump from one species to another". The last time I was here, my cab driver was a Polish (ex-) brain surgeon - so I can't decide if this town is in good shape or not. But the driver made me anxious; how do we get the book to make the jump from our species, to the next one? Preoccupied by this conundrum, I probably overdid the Tipping Point - because he seemed rather pleased. Answers (to the conundrum) in person please to: Friday 20 May: 7:00pm, University Bookstore, 4326 University Way SE Seattle, Washington 98195. 206 634-3400

Posted by John Thackara at 05:11 AM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2005

"In The Bubble" tour dates

If you, or someone you know, would like to meet the author of In The Bubble: Designing In A Complex World - then read on. If you don’t, stop reading now because that's all this entry is about.


NEW YORK Thursday 12 May.
6.30pm-8.30pm. Celebration drink to launch the In The Bubble US tour. Hosted by Colin Robinson and Doug Sery at the new Brecht Forum , 451 West Street, New York.

NEW YORK Friday 13 May.
Malfatto: Imperfect Design For A Better World? Conference at Tishman Auditorium, NYC . Material Connexion's founder, George M. Beylerian, has also invited the architect/artist Gaetano Pesce; toy maker and sculptor Kardash Onnig; trend announcer Li Edelkoort; Scott Henderson, co-founder of Mint; James Ludwig, Director of Design for Steelcase; and Scott Wilson,Global Creative Director for Nike Explore.

NEW YORK Sunday 15 May
Design Downtown 10.30am - 11.30am. Brief, lively and interesting presentations on “the business of design” (with fresh coffee and Krispy Kremes) featuring Robert Kloos (Consulate General of The Netherlands) and Sina Djafari (partner in Edge, Modern and Public Design). Plus moi. Event location: Drive-In Studios, 443 West 18th Street. Seating is limited so please call +1 212 352 9968 to reserve a place. Contact:

BOSTON Monday 16 May
5.30pm MIT Building 34 Room 101. Phone: 617 253-5249 or email: Colleen Lanick colleenl@MIT.EDU

Reading and Signing 6:00 pm at Stanford University Bookstore,
519 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, California 94305. 650 329-1217

12:00 noon IDEO "KnowHow" talk, introduced by Bill Moggridge. At IDEO's meeting space: 831 High Street, Palo Alto. Contact person: Scott Underwood (, (650) 289 3409.

SEATTLE Thursday 19 May
5:30pm Reading and Signing Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 South Main Street, Seattle Washington 98104. 206 624-6600

SEATTLE, Friday 20 May
7:00pm Reading and Signing, University Bookstore, 4326 University Way SE
Seattle, Washington 98195. 206 634-3400

HELSINKI Wednesday 25 May
University of Art and Design, Masters of Arts Seminar 2005 : “What type of communities does digital media shape - physical or virtual”. Hämeentie 135 C, FIN-00560 Helsinki
6pm Book Signing, Arabianranta
Contact: Sari Väänänen

HELSINKI Thursday 26 May.
6pm Reading and Signing, Kiasma.

HAY ON WYE Tuesday 31 May
The Guardian Hay Festival Tuesday 10.00h. . 25 Lion St, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5AD. T - 0870 787 2848
Media contact: Sophie Rochester

LONDON Wednesday 1 June.
16.00h (tea) for 16.30 (talk): “Designing In A Complex World”. Hosted by Robin Murray, RED Unit , the Design Council, Bow Street, London. To reserve a seat, please email Jude Codner: 0207 420 5216

GLASGOW Thursday 2 June.
The Lighthouse (with Urban Learning Space). Contact:

BREDA, NL. Wednesday 15 June
A national debate between cultural leaders, investors and policy makers. With Medy van Van der Laan (culture minister), Rene Hoogendoorn (investor, ING) and John Thackara (symposiarch). 9.00 to 18.00 “somewhere in the industrial area behind the station”. Contact:

BERGEN, NORWAY. Wednesday 5 October
Bergen National Academy of Arts. Conference: Hybrid Art & Design Practice.
Contact: Professor Jeremy Welsh /

LONDON Friday 14 October
Global Design Critical Debate at the V&A. Rem Koolhaas and John Thackara. Chaired by Joe Kerr. 2.00pm - 5.00pm. Book now on +44 870 906 3883 or

1. Ask your company, college or library to buy a copy.
2. Mention it in your blog.
3. Tell two friends about it
4. Suggest to one journalist that she consider reviewing it
5. Write a review of it at Amazon
6. Humbly submit a story about to Slashdot.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:18 PM | Comments (1)

April 04, 2005

It arrived!

Four years since I started work on it (not counting the ten years of Doors events it draws on) I received the first printed copy of my book. You won't beleve what a relief it is that it's finally done. Thanks a million to the many people who helped make it happen.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2005

Fight this injustice!

A kindly-looking gent called Jack Welch has drawn the short straw to beat all short straws. His new book 'Winning' has been selected by Fast Company to compete against 'In The Bubble' for that magazine's book of the month selection. It's cruel and outrageous that such an underdog - the ex-CEO of the world's richest company, and a man voted manager of the year on countless occasions - should be asked to compete in an unwinnable competition. Fight this injustice! Vote for the underdog.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2005

Man vs nature

What happened to the people who built the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, the long-abandoned statues of Easter Island, and the crumbling Maya pyramids of the Yucatan? In his new book Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed Jared Diamond suggests that the environmental crises which saw these civilisations collapse were self-induced. I have mixed feelings about Diamond's generally optimistic concluding chapter. He uses the analogy of 'the world as a polder' to describe how we might choose to succeed. For Diamond, the Dutch 'polder model' is an example of how the co-existence of the man-made, and nature, has already been shown to work in practice. And he's right: pervasive collaboration is essential if we are to secure a sustainable future. The reason I'm uneasy is that the polder model is right now under attack by the government now running the country; it presumably came to power after Diamond wrote his book.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Don't they look young!

For much of 2004, the Doors of Pereception conference archive was inaccessible to the majority of our visitors. (The archive was built over a ten year period for browsers that became too clever and advanced to access material which we hadn't touched....). Well, we've quick-fixed a new architecture and most of you should now be able to re-visit classic moments in our history such as ... well, you tell me which bits you're glad to re-visit!

Posted by John Thackara at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2000

Interview with W magazine

Q] Do you believe a new century will spur different thinking in terms of architecture and design? Why or why not?

A] A new century, with 100 or 1,000 years stretching ahead, will prompt us to focus with dramatic new intensity on the consequences of design for the environment. Expect to hear much more about "Factor 4" or "Factor 10" - the number of times by which the environmental impact of a product or building needs to be reduced to be sustainable. The good news is that Factor10 projects will be fun, and will bring designers a vast amount of new work.

Q] There seem to be two strong camps emerging in the two fields - one aggressively modernist and the other looking to reinterpret the past for the modern era. In your view, will one prevail? Is one necessarily better than the other?

A] The words 'modern' and 'past' will change their meaning in the new century. 'Modern' in 2000 will refer to designs that are sustainable, incorporate smart materials, are adaptive, and communicate with other products or places. Few of today's modernist designs have these qualities. As for the 'past', I anticipate that in 2000 we will look farther back than the last 100 years for inspiration. You'll hear talk of high-tech-enabled hunter gatherers - a 12,000 year-old lifestyle.

Q] The last century has seen enormous strides in terms of design. Will the new century see even more, given the
acceleration of demand for new design? Or will this process slow down and the public begin demanding longer-lasting designs?

A] Miles Davis said: "don't play what's there, play what's *not* there". Faced with so many new challenges, we will surely become impatient with designers who waste their time and the planet's limited resources on short-life-span products and pointless re-inventions of the wheel.

Q] Will the public awareness of what is good and bad design continue to increase? Why?

A] Who knows the difference between good and bad? I have no ambition to be a designer-priest. I prefer to believe that 'the public', among whom I include myself, will judge new design by such criteria as relevance, innovation, lightness, intelligence, connectedness, and fun.

Q] Will architecture and design adopt even more new materials compared with the past, i.e., from the computer, aerospace and high technology fields,
>>or where there be a move back toward natural materials?

A] The gap between artificial and natural materials is fast disappearing: biologists and engineers are now collaborating to figure out new ways to transfer the properties of 'natural' materials to man-made products and systems. The question is not, how do we choose between natural and artificial? but, how do we use these new materials in smart new ways? Answers to this question will start to flow when designers, citizens, and the men in white coats, start working together.

Q] Will companies and individuals begin commissioning grander projects in order to commemorate the arrival of a new century?

A] I hope not, because if they do, they will be horrendously late. I know quite a lot of people involved in millennium expos and building projects: they are all late. To anyone thinking about starting a grand project today I'd say: forget it! Time is only part of the problem: many of the prestige buildings being put up with millennium-enabled cash will soon become financial black holes, because nobody has thought much about who will pay for their running costs.

Q] Are the fears of a ''dumbing down'' of design in order to safely appeal to the masses justified? Should a broader approach to design be
taken or should designers lead public taste?

A] The only dumbing down I see is in marketing and advertising offices wherein gormless 'executives' and 'creatives' persist in insulting their fellow citizens with 'mass' communications. Happily, most of these advertising and marketing types will go out of business early in the new century because they simply don't Get It. The years ahead are not about 'consumers': we will increasingly design of our own products and services.

Q] What impact will the internet and the growing use of computers have? For example, will the increase in working from home mean
products designed for the home or the home office will become more important than office and office product design? How will they impact
food, clothing, cars, etc.?

A] Now there's a big question! Let me take one bit of it: how do we want to live? The internet allows more people to work from home - but how many of us want to do so? Home is lonely and isolating for millions of women (and men); they yearn for community and social contact, which the Internet can support. But we have to do it ourselves: the internet by itself is just a dumb bunch of wires and computers.

Q] Finally, what two or three SPECIFIC products or buildings do you believe are most indicative of the way design is moving as we enter the next century?

A] Pic 1: GOURD Designers will learn from biology in marvellous new ways. I really love these 'home-grown' vessels by the Dutch designer (name to follow). Pix c: GRAFFITI-SCAPE The true potential of the internet lies in its capacity to connect people together socially in new ways. This "graffiti-scape" is a leading edge example, designed by Michael Samyn @ VanRiet Online Productions for the Netherlands Design Institute. Different people can leave messages in a shared electronic space. It's like graffiti, but with the possibility to reply to other people in the space. Pix 3: PENGUIN Penguins are an inspiration for the redesign of buildings - or for that matter, clothes - in the years ahead. A penguin can stand up in extreme cold for weeks on end, keeping up a temperature difference between itself and its environment of 80 degrees Celsius. It can swim in icy water and get out on a sunny beach without overheating. And all on a diet of cold sardines. Compare that to the wasteful clothes, central heating and air conditioning by which we control our own environments.

Posted by John Thackara at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)