5 radical books to reframe your perspective

Your summer reading list – by What Design Can Do

Image by TOPIA

Five radical books by inspiring visionaries to help you reframe your perspective – as selected by social impact platform, What Design Can Do

Design can help us build a better world. That’s why What Design Can Do have put together this reading list of some of their favourite books to inspire you – from a bible on climate-resilient architecture to an empowering guide to women’s health. Scroll on for a closer look at some of the radical ideas you’ll find between their pages.

Pussypedia: A Comprehensive Guide
 Zoe Mendelson and María Conejo

About the authors: Journalist Zoe Mendelson teamed up with visual artist María Conejo to create this visually stunning guide to women’s health. Both based in Mexico City, they are passionate about using design as a tool to challenge societal narratives about gender and sexuality.

About the book: What first started as a popular online platform has now been transformed into a taboo-breaking book. Pussypedia is a comprehensive guide based on peer-reviewed research that empowers readers with reliable information all about their bodies. In the book, you’ll find a wide range of articles—some more scientific, others deeply personal—on topics like pleasure, menopause, reproductive rights and safe sex.

Why we picked it: A personal favourite of ours, not only for its inclusive approach and use of joyful language, but also the candid personal anecdotes that made us both laugh and cry. We think its essential reading for anyone looking to better understand the vital and historic links between healthcare, agency, and access to knowledge.

After Us The Deluge
Kadir van Lohuizen

About the author: Kadir van Lohuizen is an award-winning photojournalist, who is known for his ambitious projects including capturing the seven rivers of the world, the rising of sea levels, the pitfalls of the diamond industry, migration in the Americas, and the (mis)management of waste in six mega-cities.

About the book: Last year, Kadir published After Us The Delugea photo book that documents the destructive impact that rising sea levels have had on communities around the world. From his travels to Greenland, USA, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Panama and the Pacific, Kadir visually confirms a daunting reality that is already here and will only intensify if urgent action is not taken.

Why we picked it: Often when we read and hear about the consequences of destroying our planet and what that might look like, it is hard to fully comprehend the true implications, especially on the most vulnerable people. In this book Kadir illustrates with rich visuals the human cost of global warming, accompanied by maps and graphs as well as first-hand accounts from those living on the frontlines.

The Black Experience in Design
Berry et al. with an afterword by Eddie Opara

About the author: This anthology features many voices, including that of Eddie Opara, a prolific designer who is also a partner at the prestigious agency, Pentagram. Drawing on his experiences as a Black designer working in London and New York, Eddie offers a unique foreword detailing the connections between creativity, community and spirituality.

About the book: The Black Experience in Design presents a diverse range of lessons, criticisms, stories and conversations about our industry from a Black and African diasporic lens. Through over 70 different contributions, the book explores topics like multi-community design, biophilia as a Black reparative practice, the history of African fractals, and the intersections of race, gender, ability, and sexuality.

Why we picked it: The Black Experience in Design is must-read for creative minds determined to design a more equitable tomorrow. By shifting the focus of perspectives to ones excluded from traditional design history, contributions of Black designers are reclaimed, demonstrating the very best of design and its inherently collaborative nature.  

Building for Hope
Marwa al-Sabouni 

About the author: Marwa al-Sabouni is an architect and author who firmly believes that urban design is crucial in creating and maintaining social cohesion. Marwa still lives in her native Homs, Syria, determined to create a new blueprint for her city that is rooted in ‘an architecture of belonging’.

About the book: In Building for Hope, Marwa explores how cities affected by conflict, crisis or financial depression, can rebuild in a way that cultivates safety and happiness for whole communities. The book offers sharp observations on the design of urban centres like Detroit and Helsinki, and provides unique insight on the lessons that Western societies could learn from Islamic culture and philosophy.

Why we picked it: As fans of Marwa’s first book Battle for Home, we couldn’t wait to see what her latest teachings would offer—and she certainly delivered! Building for Hope is well-researched, beautifully illustrated and full of real practical solutions for how enduring peace can be designed (and even recovered) through architecture.

Lo-Tek: Design by Radical Indigenism
Julia Watson

About the author: Trained as a landscape architect, Julia Watson has become a leading expert in local, ecological innovations. Through her books, lectures and eponymous design studio, Julia is pioneering a design movement that builds on indigenous philosophy to generate the climate-resilient technologies we so desperately need.

About the book: Julia’s latest book with Taschen, Lo-TEK: Design By Radical Indigenism, details how indigenous ways of living and building could guide our response to the climate crisis. Spanning 18 countries from Peru and the Philippines to Tanzania and Iran, the cases in the book highlight millennia-old human ingenuity on how to live in symbiosis with nature. 

Why we picked it: No, we did not just pick this book because of its stunning design, with an open spine that reveals the book’s true form, or because it’s a New York Times bestseller. We picked it because it is filled with urgent, game-changing insights that could help us redefine our relationship with nature, as well as with technology. By returning to the foundations on which society was once built, ancestral practices offer hope for a new way forward. 

Learn more: Read an interview with the author

Our role as human beings is to be the custodian of life. It’s more important than ever that we understand and support that role.

Julia Watson

What’s so good about this?

How do we stop climate change? How can we be more inclusive? How can we deliver better experiences to everyone? Design can help us face some of the planet’s toughest problems and build a better world. The key to change is human behaviour. These books provide inspiration.

Meet the writer

Bali-based Natasha Berting graduated in Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy in 2015 and is now the online editor of What Design Can Do.

This article was originally published by our friends at What Design Can Do, an international platform for the advancement of design as a tool for social change.

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