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  • Design for Micro-Utopias: Making the Unthinkable Possible
  • Milada Burcikova
John Wood. Design for Micro-Utopias: Making the Unthinkable Possible. Aldershot: Gower, 2007. 211 pp. £55.00, ISBN: 978-0-7546-4608-2.

The notion that the creative potential of design to form and cultivate the world surrounding us enables designers to become influential agents of change has had a long history. Its appeal became particularly strong with the Industrial Revolution and the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris, who pointed to the crucial interdependence between the ways we shape our environment and the ways the environment in turn shapes us. Design thus reaches far beyond its aesthetic or purely utilitarian function, and this has been expressed in design theory and practice. Its variations can be traced in the Ruskin-and Morris-inspired Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau (especially Vienna Secession), Deutscher Werkbund, and Bauhaus; through the 1960s and 1970s appeal for more ethical approach in design; up to the present trends toward sustainable design, eco-design, and inclusive design.

Published in the Gower’s Publishing Design for Social Responsibility Series, John Wood’s book explores the ways of “designing a better world” (2). Although the author hardly attempts to place his reasoning in a wider historical context, Design for Micro-Utopias introduces a number of thought-provoking arguments relevant not only to design theory and practice but indeed also to wider discussions in the fields of cultural studies, utopian studies, sustainable development, and social policy.

In the introduction, Wood presents his concept of a pluralized network of “micro-utopias” to replace the single, monolithic utopias that we encounter in classical utopianism. His point of departure is an analysis of “our [End Page 384] dysfunctional world” (17), reigned by solipsism, bureaucracy, and academic narrow-mindedness. Wood’s answer is, “Think beyond the possible” (129). In this vein, Wood proposes that the idea of synergy be applied in design practice to form a new area of holistic and cross-disciplinary approach introduced by the term metadesign . He concludes with a call for an attitude shift from the overemphasis on certainty and permanence more toward “flow,” which, as he believes, more accurately reflects the world in its complexity and therefore has the potential to prove more relevant in dealing with all sorts of both short- and long-term tasks and challenges.

The overall claim of Wood’s book, which opens with his assertion of promoting utopianism, is a quest for an independent network of interconnected “micro-utopias” (or, as he says, “brief, local utopias” [12]), which, Wood maintains, would be both a more desirable and a more feasible alternative to the search for one single “utopia” (12). With reference to R. B. Fuller’s theory of synergetics, he then goes on to suggest that “if enough people try to connect their ‘micro-utopias’ together it may be possible to achieve a global ‘synergy of synergies’” (13). 1 In his mind, designers (and artists) have an exceptional role to play in the realization of what might seem “unattainable” because of the very nature of their training, which demands an innovative and original approach to problem-solving. It is interesting that the author, who clearly has consulted a wide range of sources, does not take advantage of theorists such as Bourriaud or Guattari (Molecular Revolutions in Brazil [2008]), whose work would underpin his own argument. In his book Relational Aesthetics , for instance, Bourriaud points out that “nobody nowadays has ideas about ushering in the golden age on Earth, and we are readily prepared just to create various forms of modus vivendi permitting fairer social relations, more compact ways of living, and many different combinations of fertile existence. Art, likewise, is no longer seeking to represent utopias; rather, it is attempting to construct concrete spaces.” 2

Nevertheless, Wood approaches the topic in an interesting, cross-disciplinary way and makes his text both intriguing and absorbing for both students and academics with an interest in interdisciplinary thought. However, considering the fact that the book is a part of a series aimed primarily at students and professionals in design, product development, architecture, and related management and marketing professions, a more practice-based treatment...


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pp. 384-386
Launched on MUSE
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