Design library: International Women’s Day edition

Doggerel is always on the lookout for good books. In recognition of International Women’s Day, here are selections from, by, or about women, covering topics from empathy in design to the challenge of defining diversity.


From Allison Arieff, editorial director of SPUR and a contributing columnist to the New York Times:

Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People
By Emily Pilloton

The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients
By John Cary (editor)

These books emphasize the issues I’ve been trying to highlight in my last several articles for the New York Times, like “Solving All the Wrong Problems” and “A Housing Crisis for Seniors” — namely that design is so often too focused on solving problems that aren’t actually problems at all (case in point: that app from a few years back created for Dolores Park–goers to find their friends at Dolores Park) or solving problems for only a niche consumer. These books show the value and necessity of using design to solve actual problems (substandard housing, hunger, extreme poverty, etc., etc.) for a far broader constituency than the profession often pays attention to. The writer C. Z. Nnaemeka has described the domestic segment of this population as “the unexotic underclass” — single mothers, the white rural poor, veterans, out-of-work Americans over 50 — who, she explains, have the “misfortune of being insufficiently interesting.”

Design: The Invention of Desire
By Jessica Helfand

Who are you designing for? Are you fulfilling a need or creating another soon-to-be obsolete product? Design matters because people matter (and please don’t call those people “users”). This book is amazing, an inspiration. In it, Helfand argues for empathy in design, a recognition that design has consequences, that it’s about desire but also about compassion. A beautiful and necessary book (and not least because it provides an etymology for “hack” — I’ll let you read it to discover that).

The Submission
By Amy Waldman

I loved this novel for tackling a thorny subject — a design competition much like the one held for the World Trade Center memorial is held, and the jury is flummoxed as to what to do when the winning entry is a design by a Muslim-American architect. Waldman gets at the complexities of design by competition, the challenges of community input/engagement, and the ever volatile notions of what constitutes “diversity” (and what the acceptance of diversity really entails).


From Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation executive director:

Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution 
By Laurie Penny

The new feminism, which takes diversity issues into account, has some pretty strident writers. Well-known political blogger Laurie Penny offers readers a taste of current advocacy writing on contemporary feminism. This book combines her experiences as an activist in the Occupy days, with a very pointed critique of the feminism of my generation of white women who want to “have it all.”

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World
By Linda Hirshman

This is a double biography of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the first and second women on the United States Supreme Court. With O’Connor coming in from the right and Ginsburg on the left, the two of them together forged an incremental agenda of equality. The minutiae of the baby steps that the high court has taken to provide “justice for all” seems particularly relevant right now as we see some of our hard-won rights under threat.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
By Rebecca Solnit

The cover blurb calls it “A short, elegant, passionate polemic on the history and future of progressive political engagement.” It’s really a kind of cultural history of moments where the world really changes through collective action. Revolution is in the air, and she talks eloquently about the pivotal historical moments as wildly different as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hurricane Katrina, and September 11, 2001. They all give her cause for hope.


From Erin McConahey, Diversity and Inclusion advocate for Arup in the Americas:

Women’s Quick Facts: Compelling Data on Why Women Matter
By STEMconnector

This book is an amazing compilation of well-footnoted statistics and research about the state of women in our society, touching on multiple sectors (corporations, government, education, technology, finance, etc.). The kernels of truth reveal our society’s successes and failures with regard to benefiting from the talents of 50% of the population. If you ever wanted a one-stop shop to find all the data you need to prove to yourself or your boss why women matter in our world, this is a book to have close at hand.

Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences
By Beth Tauke, Korydon Smith, and Charles Davis (editors)

This book is essential reading for anyone in our architecture, engineering, and construction field who wishes to develop a greater understanding of how our work is experienced by those outside the dominant culture. Edited by three professors of architecture, this anthology of fifteen case studies allows the reader to explore the subtle messages of inclusion and exclusion that may be embedded in the built environment. Formatted for use in education, each chapter includes both discussion questions and an invitation to ground the learning in an exercise of redesign.

Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design
By Kira Gould and Lance Hosey

This book collects the personal stories and profound wisdom of some of America’s most influential pioneers of sustainable design, making the case that women are at the forefront because of their inclination toward nurture and care. Acknowledging the legacy of sheroes Rachel Carson and Jane Jacobs, the authors share their conversations with the contemporary generation of women who have upheld the well-being of individuals, humanity at large, and the earth at the core of the green building movement.


We want to hear what you’re reading! Send a list of three recommended books about design, urbanism, and/or the built environment, along with a brief explanation of why you chose each, to, and you’ll be entered in a quarterly drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the Strand. Winners will be notified by email.

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