Feel-good books to read in celebration of Design Month

— by Alexia Economou


September is Design Month at TNMA headquarters thanks to London Fashion Week and the multiple events that form The London Design Festival. While these events may sound glamorous and elite, at its core, good design always makes our lives better, easier, or more enjoyable. In honour of this, here are some recent design books that are doing just that:



Designers have been moving into the realm of self-help books. Many are trading on their cult-of-personality, like 70-something fashion designers Norma Kamali (I am Invincible) and Diane Von Furstenburg (Own It: The Secret to Life) who released books within weeks of each other this year. Sadly, both were more style than substance, but of this genre, Simon Doonan’s How to Be Yourself: Life-changing Advice from a Reckless Contrarian is the most entertaining. Those who are familiar with Barneys New York’s Creative-Ambassador-at-Large – where he made his name designing the most amazing window displays – will also know of his dry, British wit. He amusingly dispenses advice on style, love, werk [sic] and, of course, décor, in a pocket size-format that is also handbag-friendly.



The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the World of Everyday Design begins with a full page that says: “You are about to see stories everywhere, YOU BEAUTIFUL NERD.” This is definitely anorak territory but it will appeal to design-lovers, history buffs and those who are just generally curious about their world. It pulls from co-author Roman Mars’ super popular podcast – 99% Invisible – and the well-researched storytelling will have you viewing urban landscapes with fresh eyes. What are those little metallic anchor plates embedded in the pavement (Philadelphia, Berlin…)? Why are sewage manhole covers so beautifully patterned (Tokyo, Seattle…)? And why does Paris have a penchant for Mansard roofs? I’ve not been able to look at a traffic light in the same way again, and neither will you.



Canadian designer Bruce Mau’s MC24, is a weighty, hot-pink-satin, coffee-table tome explaining his ‘Principles for Designing Massive Change in Your Life and Work’. He claims his method, which has evolved from over 30 years of career experience, can solve any problem. Many of the principles are environmentally sensitive and are meant to get you thinking differently about how life’s issues can be tackled. This book is rich in visual examples and case studies that allows for both, a quick reference or a deeper-dive. Yves Behar – the designer behind the One Laptop Per Child initiative – has a similar monograph just out. Learn more about his team’s approach to design-for-social-change in Yves Behar: Designing Ideas – Twenty Years of Fuse Project.



Last month, The Walrus declared the end of Minimalism in their article More is More, saying, “If minimalism was about controlling… a world spinning too fast, maximalism may be more about filling in a void of loneliness and isolation.” The lockdown has us craving more colour and vibrancy and we’ve found that being surrounded by things with meaning and memory have brought us great comfort at home. So who better to show us how to create more emotionally charged spaces than architect and theatre designer David Rockwell. In his new book DRAMA, the man behind the 2021 Oscars ceremony and Nobu’s hotel-restaurant group, uses gorgeously illustrated examples of his own work, and advice from famous friends, to show us the essential ingredients for injecting a bit of theatre into any interior.



I am a sucker for snazzy stationery, so I had to mention the Leuchtturm1917’s Change Journal, developed by Tim Jaudiszims, founder of German design co-creation firm Verve Connect. Drawing on behavioural science and mindfulness theories, its easy-to-use format encourages you to explore ‘24 methods for self-actualization’. Pictures, positive quotes, diagrams and work sheets help you improve confidence, change habits, or plan your future goals. Each exercise has a handy time indicator at the start – most require less than 5-minutes per day – so, you can easily build a habit for regular me-development time. It also comes in a sleek grey or bad-ass fuchsia cover – because if there is one thing designers know about, it is that their books should make you look good while they are helping you live better.



Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist, and regular TNMA contributor @thedesignfeedTW


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