December 2019

Book Review Ruined by Design
How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It

Mike Monteiro
Independently Published
UX Books Review Series

By Joana Cerejo

Book Review 6/10
Due to the current lack of designers' involvement, and the lack of discussion about the practical implementation of relevant ethical considerations within the design process makes this book essential reading for any designer and non-designer. However, this book left me with mixed fillings. There are times I wanted to rate 9 and others 2. I respect the author's ideas, but sometimes his opinions sound like hate speech, making his ideas flow irrational and incoherent, full of pejorative dogmatisms and cliches.

About the authors

Mike Monteiro (@monteiro) is an immigrant and a designer. He writes and speaks about design responsibility around the world. This is Mike Monteiro third book..

Mike Monteiro - My notes and highlights

Mike Monteiro book is easy reading for anyone. But most importantly, this book is a good reading for any designer out there. Nonetheless, it can also be great reading for non-designer too! Because you will find and understand how designers' decisions have hindered humanity by its lack of ethical responsibility.

Given the scope of current technology opportunities, the range of unexpected consequences on society has been shaping our daily life whether people are aware of it or not. But first of all, we need to understand that Design is a Human fabrication. We cannot comprehend the worlds of human existence without design. Almost everything in the environment around us is designed, which make us, in part, a product of design (Fry 2015).
" Everything we design, is designing us in return."
Silva, 2017
The book develops a consciousness about ethical considerations in design decisions within the design process.
Ethics in Design has been a tabu topic and that's why this book is important.

Read Ruined by Design if you are interested in how you, as a designer, can make the world a better place for humanity.

Ignore speech like "If you work at company X, you should quit now" because this type of content does not bring any value or knowledge. They are much harmful as the examples the authors try to exploit in the book. Which makes the author's speech very incoherent and pretentious. Or "There is absolutely nothing about you that makes you different than anyone else." (p.14).

It is quite ironic and sarcastic how a design ethical book has such a totalitarian tone that left me with mixed feelings. In the end, this is an ethical book written unethically, full of bias and stereotypes and prejudices reflections. Another 'ridiculous' situation is that the author mention "We all bring our own biases to the things we design" p.46. Sure! I couldn't agree more. BUT, it is quite sarcastic having this type of dogmatic speech and do the exact same thing across the entire book. Blind Spot Bias all over the place! The author has not a neutral perspective on the subject and tries to impose its arguments and ways of seeing things to the reader.

Regarding the exploited book examples, they tend to be very repetitious. Along the book the reader cross the same few cases over and over again. Mike Monteiro obsesses a lot with Twitter, specially with their decisions about Trump, and his harassment and hate speech. Facebook and is issues of data privacy are another obsession. He keeps going back to the same rants constantly. And his observation about Silicon Valley ("all white men"), are very unethical for a book that aim to be about ethic. Those are a very narrow vision for someone how claims these are the justifications for how the world is ruined.

Ruined by Design ethic topic is very very important. Especially when there are so few books reflecting on Ethics and Design. However, the book content is sometimes very poor. In the sense that the examples are basically reflections of what has hit the news. It lacks a lot of deeper research in order to support the author's assumptions and hypotheses. Without structured insight and evidences, his ideas have no supported foundation and they are just pretentious opinions, without further value or presuppositions.

Ruined By Design - The Book Introduction

The book title "Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It" has very little to do with the book content.
The book starts with a problem even before opening the first page.

Especially when in the introduction, the author claims that the book will speak to the designer community and field. However, most of the entire book reflects and mentions how Humans, who created guns, religions, combustion engines, social networks, financial systems, etc, are the main cause for the ethical problem we face today. These wicked problems have little or none to do with design. We, designers, from the fields like industrial, graphic, fashion, and digital design, we little can do about all these Humanity issues.

On one hand, the author demands designers to raise their voices against unethical projects in order to protect the people. But on the other hand, he focuses on examples such violations of data privacy, for example, which, again, are not directly from the domain of design. Nonetheless, he demands designers to stop other people, namely, developers, engineers, and managers, from making those things, claiming that "A designer's job is always to look out for society's best interest."(p.52).

Mike Monteiro sees the designer as an instrument to stop these unethical decisions, like unauthorized data collection by refusing to comply with this line of work.

So, if this is a book for us, designers, what is our role on all of these?
The book fails to bridge the gap between the problems described with the people that should be the target of the book - The Designer.

As mention before, the ideas and opinions of the authors lack foundations and structure, undermining the book's coherence and narrative. An example is how the author use the word and definition of "Designer" across the book. He doesn't define in which sense he sees or projects the term "Designer", in consequence, the term is used ambiguously on the entire book.

By the end of the book, the author refer to his readers as "tech workers". First, the book fails to make it clear if the book focuses on a broad definition of design to include developers and engineers, or if it is a book for developers/engineers. But in the end, it is mistakenly advertised as if it' is a book written for designers, about design. What is not at all.

Ruined By Design Review - Book Contributions

The author has obviously indisputably passionate on the topic which makes its narrative very thought-provoking. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, the book lacks a deeper investigation at specific cases. And specially, make it more clear on how design (or designers) ruined the world. For example, the author lacks a deeper reflection on how new technological opportunities (e.g Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning) is used by bringing design and ethical approaches. While AI latest technological advances have unlocked new levels of productivity and innovation, a range of unexpected consequences on society have caused discrimination and undercut human rights at an unprecedented scale. The author do not approach, for a designer, which are the major ethical challenges when designing autonomous and intelligent systems?

The book itself, little contributes to the discussion about the practical implementation of relevant ethical considerations within the design process for the teams behind the technologies. The books miss the opportunity to identify the central ethical dilemmas when designing, for example, for autonomous and intelligent systems. Instead, it focused on the same examples over and over again. I didn't feel I was being presented with new ideas. I didn't feel I was being presented with new ideas. Is not a well-edited book.

The book does a brief reference to "dark patterns." This might be the most meaningful content in the book for us, designers. He relates the use of those mechanisms to the higher corporate goals of overthrow ethics in offspring of more profits. As a solution, he suggests that we, designers, need a code of conduct to start to be responsible for our ethical decisions. "We have no official ethical framework to fall back on" (p.37)
" By choosing to be a designer you are choosing to impact the people who come in contact with your work" (p.19)
We are moving fast into a new digital era where Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Big Data, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Spatial Computing are increasingly becoming a part of the designer's lexicon. The author also shares this perspective by the mention "the work we do has become astonishingly complex in the last twenty years" (p.18) and these have huge ethical implications that are not exclusive to the design field.

Final Observation

Technology plays a significant role in shaping the future of design and is changing the way we think about design.

Artificial Intelligence is spreading across several domains that shape our daily life whether people are aware of it or not. Given the scope of the AI field, the range of unexpected consequences on society has been reduced to those caused by automated decision systems and does not cover the ones from social media platforms (as the author tries to argue in the book). The book left aside these issues. Just does short and brief introductions to the subject. Which, on my perspective, would be more meaningful and valuable than the cases the author exploit in the book.

I think it would be more relevant to stimulate a conversation and a reflection on how working with technologies like AI requires to think and design products and services in a different design approach. For AI-driven products and services, an adaptation of the design process is in demand, including the interdisciplinary collaboration between designers and data scientists, are in need to ensure good practice for the future of designing. The ethical implications that such convergence domain would be a much more rich topic than what the author did within this book.

Conclusions

I recommend this reading to all designers just for the ethics and licensing topics, not for the content of the cases. The examples are very news highlights and lack of deeper analysis and reflection. The author's point of view is extremely biased and it's narrative very incoherent.

The books focus solely on US-based cases, ignoring the rest of the world.

This is an error because the author logic of thought because extremely bias because is just looking at the US context without any historical, global dependencies or objective perspective.

For non-designers, it is a good book to discloser how influential a designer can be in the world. Which is a very pertinent point indeed! We, designers, are largely marginalized because due to the lack of understanding of what our activity represents to the world and particularly to the Humankind.
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