Hello World: Where Design Meets Life by Alice Rawsthorn: Book Review Essay Sample

Published: 2022-04-01
Hello World: Where Design Meets Life by Alice Rawsthorn: Book Review Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Book review
Categories:  Literature Design
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1432 words
12 min read

Have you ever considered the fact that the finger you use to press the doorbell button can reveal your age? Or that the dreaded pirate Edward Teach, the Blackbeard, and the legendary nurse Florence Nightingale can be seen as ones of the most innovative designers of the pre-Apple times? These and other curious, illustrative and often revealing examples have been collected by Alice Rawsthorn, an award-winning design critic, an author, and a public speaker, into a book that can be seen as a virtual museum of the design history. But Hello World: Where Design Meets Life (2013) is not a simple collection of exhibits. Grouped and arranged in meticulously well-thought ways, they tell a story of design not merely as a separate sphere of human activity but rather as the mankind's creative search for the beauty and the good.

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Alice Rawsthorn is an author best qualified to engage the reader. Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, calls Rawsthorn "the one, the only, the best design critic in the entire world" ("Alice Rawsthorn," n.d.). An eloquent public speaker, a traveler, an erudite, an art connoisseur and a brilliant journalist, Rawsthorn knows how to intrigue, inform, entertain, and enlighten her audience. Her style is concise, clear, functional, and yet also warm, passionate and full of subtle humor. Hello World obviously belongs to the genre of non-fiction but reading it is so exciting that at times it is easy to forget that the book you are reading is not the latest best-selling thriller. Probably, the book's charm partly depends on the way Rawsthorn turns it into a universal narrative that would be interesting not only to the narrow specialists but rather to the wider audience. It is not only and primarily about design, but also about thinking out of the box, being creative, standing out and getting to the root of the matter.

"Hello World" is a catchy and meaningful title. This informal greeting is nowadays the most widely known for its use in programming. The "Hello World" program is usually the first experience for IT students, the easiest practical task for the beginner level. Rawsthorn is using it metaphorically to convey her idea of design being "an agent of change, which can help us to make sense of what is happening around us, and to turn it to our advantage" (Rawsthron, 2015). The book's subtitle "Where design meets life" is the author's ironic suggestion that nowadays design and life sometimes do not nourish each other, but also an indication that the author is going to speak about the most successful examples which enable the productive cooperation of the two. It is as well the first hint at Rawsthorn's distress over the modern misunderstanding of design as a notion. The word "design" has come to mean decorating the surface rather than looking at the core of the problem and solving it with the help of critical thinking and imagination: "One is to relegate design to the role of styling and decoration. Few things infuriate designers more, and 'style' has become a dirty word for design purists," laments Rawsthorn (Rawsthron, 2015) With her book Rawsthorn is trying to rehabilitate the term. She sees design as a way of inventive thinking rather than primitive putting glitter and rhinestones on top of everything. The title of her next book, Design as an Attitude (2018) ("About", n.d.), borrowed from Rawsthorn's design guru Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's philosophy, perfectly summarizes Rawsthorn's approach. In the antique times, different disciplines worked together to enhance public well-being. Today, it often seems that art and science live their own lives absolutely separately from the bleak human existence. Rawsthorn is advocating the synergistic approach the main aim of which is to make people's lives better. Because, as the author brilliantly demonstrates, it is what design is supposed to do and has been doing for many centuries.

Though Rawthorn is quite direct in the articulation of her views upon the role of design in our lives, she is also fond of questioning the readers and engaging them in a discussion. 8 out of the 13 chapter titles are questions which only seem to be simple (e.g. "What is Design?" or "What is a designer?" and "What is good design?") In Chapter 13, Rawsthron describes a problem that social entrepreneurs Pilloton and Miller encountered when they found out that the teenage students in their design class had not actually made much in their lives with their own hands. In a similar vein, Rawthorn is eager to tell her readers about the achievements of the modern socially-orientated ecologically conscious designers in the later chapters of the book, but before she can do that she has to make sure that they understand the key notions properly. The author surmises that the basic terms, no matter how self-evident they seem, still remain insufficiently well-defined in the mass conscience. As we all know, questions trigger critical thinking and promote better understanding. So, even the prologue in Hello World starts with a question about a smartphone and an invitation to imagine seeing it for the first time. This is what the whole book is about - critical thinking and imagination which are the essence of design. The author is offering to look at everyday objects afresh, to wipe the imaginary windows of our perception and see the world in its original colors.

Rawsthorn's analysis is always backed up by ample historical examples, often unexpected and surprising, which makes the reading all the more engrossing. When she delves into the problem of what constitutes good design, she singles out three main features: usefulness (obligatory), beauty and originality (both optional). This conclusion cannot but surprise the non-professional reader as precisely the latter two qualities have come to be widely associated with a successful design. To refute this misconception, Rawsthorn introduces an intriguing excursion into the nature of an aesthetic impact and the subjective character of our appreciation of beauty. Analyzing the work of modern German product designer Konstantin Grcic, Rawsthorn stresses that its beauty stems not from the aesthetic pleasure in viewing its awkward angular forms, but from the warmth you feel towards it because it has served you well. Another example is the work of the Dutch designer Hella Jongerius who intentionally introduces small defects into her works as "this forges a stronger emotional rapport with the user than a 'perfect' object would do" (Rawsthron, 2015). The author points out an interesting aspect of this problem saying that it is difficult to articulate why we are drawn to such objects partly because the vocabulary for doing so is limited. The need for the new synesthetic vocabulary to describe the transmedial phenomena is certainly an interesting issue to be discussed in more detail.

The journey into the world of design that Rawsthorn is offering has a time-travel quality to it. The author carefully traces every trend in the development of the design from the roots to its modern incarnations. Her chapter on alpha brands is a particularly illustrative example. In it, the author unravels the evolution of the phenomenon from the Sumptuary Laws of the Middle Ages to the first industrial alpha product - Josiah Wedgwood's Queen's Ware, proceeding to Michael Thonet's chairs and Erwin Braun's kitchen appliances, and finally crowning it all with Steve Jobs's championing of design over engineering. Rawsthorn summarizes the Alpha design brands' recipe for success: they are "run by people who are passionate about their products and immensely knowledgeable about how they are made and will be used" (Rawsthron, 2015). Obviously, companies that follow this recipe will be able to rule the market of tomorrow, providing superior design products for the new generation of consumers who have been shaped by design and who are also shaping it today.

According to Rawsthorn, this new generation is more eager to learn, ready for the faster pace of life, more amenable to collaboration, more questioning, but also more willing to express their individuality by redesigning everything in this the age of total customization. An attempt to raise these and other crucial issues is what makes Rawsthorn's Hello World: Where Design Meets Life such a synergistic, inspiring and thought-provoking read.


"About" (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://alicerawsthorn.com/about.php

Alice Rawsthorn. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/speakers/alice_rawsthorn

Rawsthorn, A. (2015). Hello world: where design meets life. New York: The Overlook Press. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://books.google.bg/books?id=t2EjCQAAQBAJ&lpg=PT189&dq=Hello%20World%3A%20Where%20Design%20Meets%20Life%20download&pg=PT5#v=onepage&q&f=false.

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Hello World: Where Design Meets Life by Alice Rawsthorn: Book Review Essay Sample. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://speedypaper.com/essays/hello-world-where-design-meets-life-by-alice-rawsthorn-a-synergistic-read

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