In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World
John Thackara
Publication Date
April 2005
The MIT Press
FROM AMAZON.COM: We're filling up the world with technology and devices, but we've lost sight of an important question: What is this stuff for? What value does it add to our lives? So asks author John Thackara in his new book, In the Bubble: Designing for a Complex World.

These are tough questions for the pushers of technology to answer. Our economic system is centered on technology, so it would be no small matter if "tech" ceased to be an end-in-itself in our daily lives.

Technology is not going to go away, but the time to discuss the end it will serve is before we deploy it, not after. We need to ask what purpose will be served by the broadband communications, smart materials, wearable computing, and connected appliances that we're unleashing upon the world. We need to ask what impact all this stuff will have on our daily lives. Who will look after it, and how?

In the Bubble is about a world based less on stuff and more on people. Thackara describes a transformation that is taking place now — not in a remote science fiction future; it's not about, as he puts it, "the schlock of the new" but about radical innovation already emerging in daily life.

We are regaining respect for what people can do that technology can't. In the Bubble describes services designed to help people carry out daily activities in new ways. Many of these services involve technology — ranging from body implants to wide-bodied jets. But objects and systems play a supporting role in a people-centered world. The design focus is on services, not things. And new principles — above all, lightness — inform the way these services are designed and used. At the heart of In the Bubble is a belief, informed by a wealth of real-world examples, that ethics and responsibility can inform design decisions without impeding social and technical innovation.

In the Bubble Filed under: values.
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One Comment
Jeff Howard on June 18, 2010 5:51pm
The interaction design community embraced this book when it was first published and there are a couple good reviews from that vein floating around the web. Dan Saffer and Andrew Otwell both reviewed In the Bubble on their weblogs back in 2005.

From Andrew's review:

It might sound like “asking the right questions” is a trivial, simple or even irrelevant job. It is not. Thackara’s point in “In the Bubble” is that the context has become so complex, fast-moving, global, and even invisible, that design has become a wholly different field than it has been in the past. In a readable mix of statistics, anecdotes, and analysis, Thackara details problems of sustainability, environment, population, and sprawl as problems of design. Problems which cannot be solved by simply making more pretty stuff. ... Instead, Thackara asks designers to contribute to the design of services, relationships, and business models.

And from Dan's review:

The final chapter of the book, "Flow," works as an excellent summary of the book's ideas and of many forward-thinking ideas in Design with a big D right now. Among them: From blueprint and plan to sense and respond. From top down design to seeding edge effects. From blank sheets of paper to smart recombinations. From designing for to designing with. From design as project to design as service.

I originally read In the Bubble as an interaction designer but as I go back and look at the passages I marked (practically the whole book) it seems like a better fit for the service design community.

In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World
By John Thackara
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  1. Lightness
  2. Speed
  3. Mobility
  4. Locality
  5. Situation
  6. Conviviality
  7. Learning
  8. Literacy
  9. Smartness
  10. Flow