Journal of Design History Advance Access published September 28, 2011

Journal of Design History Vol. 00 No. 0

Book Review

Downloaded from at Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest on November 6, 2011

Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice
Tony Fry, Berg, 2008. 288 pp., 50 b&w illus, paper, £16.99. ISBN: 9781847882172

ways, through text and how-to-do-it books, websites for tutors and students, design toolkits and methods, specialized conferences, journals, volumes and articles about how designers, businesses and companies enact sustainable strategies and artefacts. Necessarily, the spectrum of texts and sources traverses both the production and consumption axes of the debate and, as one would expect, ranges across the glossy, the technical and the more deeply philosophical. Both authors here are long established contributors to the eco/sustainable design debate, sought after by universities to inspire, consult and advise on how best to align the institution and the curriculum to reflect the sustainability imperative. Both are active in commercial and community projects that inform and shape their practice and philosophical leanings. To a large degree, their positions as facilitators and agitators contribute to their ability to assert sometimes radical positions which might otherwise undermine the modern university structure and thus both are suitably qualified to critique the system and to offer alternative strategies. Tony Fry, initially as a founder member of

Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World
Alastair Fuad-Luke, Earthscan, 2009. 272 pp., 88 col. illus, 15 tables, paper, £24.95. ISBN: 9781844076451

The field of ‘sustainability’ studies has burgeoned in the years since the Brundtland Report of 1987. The academy, and notably design academia, has responded in a variety of

© The Author [2011]. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Design History Society. All rights reserved.


identifies new knowledge that fosters sustainability. the essential problem for the human race is that we would rather sacrifice the future to maintain the ‘excesses of the present’. 2011 This review cannot hope to do justice to these significant texts in their entirety. for example. the structures that define design practice. Both deal in significant depth with the need to adjust the capitalist paradigm and for designers to reconfigure their thinking and understanding of their historic role. since ‘designed things go on designing’ the ramifications of the designer’s actions are that. Complicit in this are designers and as Fry reminds us. Design activism charts the definition and emergence of the design activist and evidences diverse current modes of practice and negotiation. Fry deploys an equally complex vocabulary throughout this text. for at Academy of Economic Studies. Fry is ostensibly forcing a redirection of language. theoretical. Here. directly and indirectly as a discipline. the profession and the academy need to be in the vanguard of transformative or redirective practice. I will deal here with those aspects that pertain directly to the design history and theory audience and ways by which design history is challenged. The idea of redirection is an essential tool for Fry and for this text. to learn from and accommodate the views being espoused. Downloaded from http://jdh. Fig 1. Such language challenges the reader to read again. as a result. redirection is not an easy concept to grasp.11) Thus. For Fry. similarly. once designed. As such we ‘defuture’ or act to ‘take futures away from ourselves and other living species’. ‘The scythe rematerialized’ from Design Futuring: Sustainability. The main thrust of the idea of redirection is that it highlights the error of our ways and. as part of the redirective emphasis of the text. By implication this means that the being of professional identity and conduct is radically and structurally changed (p. Further. continues interminably to contribute to the act of defuturing. a great deal of knowledge that historically has been acquired as the corpus of the discipline underpinning a profession. its products and places of significance. the artefact or environment or action that is brought into being. since ‘we all design’ we all therefore have the capability to defuture. understanding and assumed knowledge. This idea is advanced in Fry’s chapter on ‘Design as Redirective Practice’ where ‘the disciplines’ are interrogated as ‘the organizational regimes of contained knowledge’. Alistair Fuad-Luke. The essential pretext of Fry’s Defuturing is that as human beings we are predisposed to destructive practices as part of the act of production [1].the Eco-design Foundation and recently as director of Team D/E/S (Developing Ecological Sustainment) has been a regular critical voice within the discourse of what he variously calls ‘sustain-ability’ or ‘sustainment’. Like many of Fry’s ideas. And here’s the rub for design historians: So. we 2 Book Review . in laying out his complex terms of reference. Indeed. and the manner of its deployment. Bucharest on November 6. to adjust one’s own take. Instead. most importantly. Ethics and New Practice by Tony Fry In promoting a redirection of the practice of design. (Those who know Fry’s work will know that this has long been a central tenet of his emerging thesis. there is a more fundamental call for education to fall into line and to lead it ‘away from content that inducts the learner into unsustainable ways of thinking and acting’. Design Futuring represents the latest stage of Fry’s evolving critique of the philosophical.) Inevitably. has been a regular commentator on the eco/sustainable design debate. ‘this failure is mostly structural rather than individual’ and. This theme is necessarily the main conceit of the text. says Fry.oxfordjournals. ‘redirective practice can never be universally or theoretically generalized—it can only ever be situated and circumstantially reactive’. semantic and historical trajectory of the debate. could well need to be discarded and replaced in order for any real ability of the ‘remade professional’ to drive affirmative change.

Community. ‘Unpacking Futuring—The Self. Alastair Fuad-Luke’s Design Activism stands behind plural practices and in particular the idea of co-design or the co-operative. Fuad-Luke’s version of Design History is a systematic exposition of those movements. of the direction from where design activism has come and some its key strategies and personalities. this is the more obviously student focused. one which ‘facilitates an exchange of knowledge and dialogue based on a common language of engagement’. Design History as well as part of the move to redirective practice might assimilate some of the Fry agenda. there needs to be a more directional framing of the historical discourse. In his chapter. In many senses. Fry’s text is necessarily a critique. Where Fry’s ‘Defuturing’ promotes a new form of design practice. a Chinese text written over a thousand years ago. writers and designers with whom we are. for the most part. according to Fry. educators and historians. By extension. No discipline (since the disciplines are rather redundant on their own) escapes some sort of analysis. Fry leaves no stone unturned and no one is guilt free. a ‘sustainability lens’. Fuad-Luke’s is a systematic mapping. and a Brazilian case-study of the Second Life of Charcoal and the Mini Blast Furnace.oxfordjournals.need to question the disciplines and their exclusory nature. redirection. Only Design Philosophy he says (Fry is editor and publisher of the important journal Design Philosophy Papers). In it. ‘Past Lessons: A Short History of Design in Activist Mode: 1750–2000’ and in his appendix to this chapter ‘Key Design Movements and Groups 1850–200: Activist. no. The critical tone of Design Futuring forms its underlying strength as text. At the same time. at Academy of Economic Studies. Bucharest on November 6. a potentially ‘clean and green’ method for making steel is compromised by a series of relationships between small producers and large corporations involved in the production of charcoal for its smelting. maintains that: The vast bulk of Design History just does not recognize how design has been a significant agent of historical change beyond micro-impacts. the Downloaded from http://jdh. 122) In this sense. it is all tested and practised and underpinned by a thorough and complete exposition of the subject. Fuad-Luke serves up a wealth of sustainability dishes indicating how long the debate has been cooking and how many flavours there are and inserts sundry product and people images. (p. It contextualizes his work (and that of Team D/E/S member and partner Anne-Marie Willis) and brings with it the realization that Fry’s sustainability imperative is part of a global search by designers to orient their practice towards more sustainable methods. industrial design and fashion) that a meta-discipline needs to come into being. By way of proving the value of history to the cause. as a valid subject for those who commentate on design. has the potential to open up the debate from a non-aligned/ non-subordinate perspective. its theoreticians. Where Fry’s work is about ‘a project’. Design History comes under much closer scrutiny. he cites the Ying Zao Fa Shi. This is valuable technique and assists the reader in being able to view Design History through. the author provides a chronological survey of the major design historical movements and the manner in which they can be seen to be either reformist or sustainable. social and economic contexts. a Chinese architectural ‘manual’ is understood to be important for the insights it offers into Design for Disassembly. who throughout speaks with both experience and as an extremely well-researched observer. visual communication. familiar. In the second. for student or otherwise. Practitioners within this field would naturally counter that the discipline has come a long way and that it has addressed many of these accusations before. graphs and charts by way of serving suggestions. The ill-at-ease feeling that one feels as practitioner (rather like what a previous generation will have experienced on reading Papanek) as he points the finger in lengthy sections of rhetoric is somewhat soothed as he then redeems us with case-studies and strategies that move us towards an ability to sustain— ‘sustain-ability’. as a discipline. design history is a limited exercise that concerns itself overly with the aesthetic and visual manifestations of design activity. but Where and for Whom or What?’. Culture and Ethics’. as part of its central philosophy. It also lacks the sense of how design inflects futures. There is no sense that this is pure hypotheses. as he puts it. Both (hi)stories identify the need to think beyond the obvious for one’s historical examples and ultimately to consider the reasons why projects fail rather than progress. which by implication means it is history without a theory of history. Fry acknowledges that Design History has contributed valuable insights into design’s operational. But Fry. 2011 Book Review 3 . Of the two texts. and to consider that in order to redirect design practice (including architecture. Design historians thus contribute to the perpetuation of the fetishization of artefacts where instead. it is culpable of ‘decontextualizing’ design more than it is of contextualizing it. In the first. there is little in the repertoire of historical methodology that accommodates the need to identify the damaging capacity of design activity. it is an ideal starting point as a prelude to reading Fry. ‘the history of design activism is woven into a wider history of design’. we suppose. a chapter on ‘Futuring and Learning the New from the Past’ offers a number of case-studies from where. In Chapter 7.

Clearly. In identifying key activists. or has been linked. modernist or otherwise. Quite clearly. to the work of Guy Julier at Leeds and the Brighton based DEEDS project. Buckminster Fuller and Schumacher is rejuvenated here with force. Outside the canon. the reader is encouraged to look again at the connectedness of past movements to the discourses of the present. UK E-mail: p. like Fry. egoism. For readers new to this subject this is vital stuff as it serves at least to frame that there is no canon here. through the likes of Fry’s text. His text ranges across recent conferences such as the Changing the Change Conference in Turin in 2008. it would seem.denison@tees. but a plurality of positions. is keen to assert that there are limits to this approach. Fry’s agenda is the more explicit about the work to be done in identifying methods that serve the sustainability cause. ‘alternative designers’ and ‘the eco-efficiency activists’. the idea of context needs broadening to include blame where necessary or at least the setting out of a position that overrides the normally neutral conceit of the historian. ultimately. contribute to sustaining the unsustainable. For design historians and theorists. doi:10. This is well supported through diagrammatic schemes that serve to visualize these ideas. rather than being oriented towards more altruistic ambition for specifically defined social. Both these texts are essential reads.oxfordjournals. arguably. and of the ways by which activism can be targeted at a variety of consumer audiences. the design community and its culture. to the Milan Polytechnic-based EMUDE project. Middlesbrough. for Fuad-Luke and for Fry. The call for the politicization of designers. His case-studies are both of artefacts. Design Activism. or at least in identifying the activist nature of those whose work might otherwise be seen as either arts and crafts. of which there are an at Academy of Economic Studies. What emerges is that the author is a ‘collector’ and disseminator of the range of activisms that span the globe. The majority of Fuad-Luke’s work is. Both signal the shifting paradigms of politics. both textually and visually. ‘Contemporary Expressions. The challenge. but both should be on any reading list for all disciplines of design where sustainability and activism are ingredients. is the more postgraduate of the two. to many of the initiatives that he Downloaded from http://jdh. ethnographic or global causes (p. He charts the existence of a range of activists and questions whether there are a number of typologies that can be observed. 2000 Onward’. however about connecting with the present. Bucharest on November 6. articulated in the 1960s and 1970s. is for design historians and others to gauge their complicity and to redirect the academy away from role models and case-studies that. Fuad-Luke classifies a range of designers as ‘post-modern-ecologists’. It is clear too that he has contributed as facilitator.1093/jdh/epr032 Paul Denison School of Arts and Media Teesside University. economy and design practice and the needs for the design profession and academy to interrogate practice as it currently exists. These represent the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to Fuad-Luke’s handle on what is currently going on within the field. 2011 4 Book Review . comprises a more up-to-date analysis of the range of activist manifestations that are current to the subject. Chapter 4. this statement echoes the call for a more directional historical methodology beyond the laying out of facts or the mere contextualization of objects. 48). The canon of design history often reveals an inwardly focused design culture examining the

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