Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things

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Macmillan, May 12, 2009 - Design - 192 pages
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Design Your Life is a series of irreverent and realistic snapshots about objects and how we interact with them. By leading design thinker Ellen Lupton and her twin sister Julia Lupton, it shows how design is about much more than what’s bought at high-end stores or the modern look at IKEA. Design is critical thinking: a way to look at the world and wonder why things work, and why they don’t.

Illustrated with original paintings of objects both ordinary and odd, Design Your Life casts a sharp eye on everything from roller bags, bras, toilet paper, and stuffed animals to parenting, piles, porches, and potted plants. Using humor and insight Ellen and Julia explore the practical side of everyday design, looking at how it impacts your life in unexpected ways and what you can do about it. Speaking to the popular interest in design as well as people’s desire to make their own way through a mass-produced world, this thoughtful book takes a fresh and humorous approach to make some serious points about the impact of design on our lives.

Find out what's wrong with the bras, pillows, potted plants, and the other hopeless stuff you use, buy, clean, water, or put away everyday. Discover how to secretly control the actions of those around you by choosing and placing objects carefully. Find out how roller bags are threatening civilization, and how the layout of your own house might be making you miserable. Use the tools of self-publishing to take the power of branding into your own hands.

Taking a fresh, funny look at parenthood, housekeeping, entertaining, time management, crafting, and more, Design Your Life shows you how to evaluate the things you use, and how to recognize forms of order that secretly inhabit the messes of daily life, be it a cluttered room or a busy schedule. Use this book to gain control over your environment and tap into the power of design to communicate with friends, family, and the world.

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“Have you ever lived in a household where everyone seemed to avoid putting a fresh roll of toilet paper on the holder when the old one had run out?” Ellen and Julia Lupton ask this question and many more in their newest book, Design Your Life. This book is chock full of helpful information for anyone in need of streamlining their daily routine at home, work, and elsewhere.
I picked up this book at a Barnes & Noble bookstore and opened it to find a humorous yet informative article questioning the need of toasters in the kitchen and analyzing toaster designs over the ages. From the kitchen to the office, every chapter of Design Your Life analyzes a different aspect of everyday life and guides you on how to think more critically about things that most people never give a second thought. By the end of the first section, which is only thirty-six pages long, I was thinking about furniture, windows, and porches differently, which led me to consider my thoughts on doors, cabinets, and architecture in general.
Design Your Life is an excellent read for designers who want to incorporate the critical thinking skills they use in their designs into the way they live at home, but also for non-designers who want to look into the inner-workings of their daily lives. Ellen and Julia Lupton use their own real-life examples to illustrate their points. The subjects they cover throughout the book reflect who they are as homeowners, working parents, and designers. While a designer-mother might find every chapter to be relevant to her life, I (a male, student, non-parent) found that some articles, specifically the ones about parenting and female issues, were irrelevant to my own life. However, the concepts in every chapter are universal enough to interest a very wide audience. I, for example, found an article about overprotective parents and sheltered children called “Home Security” very interesting as a social issue and could relate to the parents and children though speculation alone.
Design Your Life is divided into five sections of inter-related articles: home-life, everyday objects, work and organization, etiquette, and graphic design. Each section and article is creatively titled, hinting at its content. At first I had trouble discerning which article was about what, due to the creative titles. However, after reading the book, I could easily find any article by name using the table of contents because the titles were so memorable.
Overall, Design Your Life is a well written book with loads of interesting information and concepts as well as a well designed book impeccably organized and full of heart-warming, hand-painted illustrations. With a sturdy hard-cover-style spine, portable soft-cover, and soft-cover-book price of $24, Design Your Life will put up with daily lugging around and reading as well as look pretty on your book shelf when you’re done.

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About the author (2009)

ELLEN LUPTON is curator of contemporary design at the Cooper- Hewitt Museum and director of the MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the author of Thinking with Type and D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself.
JULIA LUPTON teaches at the University of California, Irvine and is co-chair of the Design Alliance. She is the author of several books on Shakespeare and co-authored D.I.Y. Kids with her sister Ellen.

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