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Hardcover | $38.00 Trade | £26.95 | ISBN: 9780262201575 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | March 2005
Paperback | $21.95 Trade | £15.95 | ISBN: 9780262701150 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 2006

In the Bubble

Designing in a Complex World


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.

About the Author

John Thackara, described as a "design guru, critic and business provocateur" by Fast Company, is the Director of Doors of Perception, a design futures network based in Amsterdam and Bangalore. He is the author of Design after Modernism, Lost in Space: A Traveler’s Tale, Winners! How Successful Companies Innovate by Design, and other books. Since 2002, he has authored the Doors of Perception blog and newsletter (


In the Bubble is often delightful, stimulating, and surprising. Thackara may well emerge as a visionary voice for the wired era. For planners, designers, and anyone with an interest in the future, this book is a rich resource of inspiration, ideas, and guiding principles as well as sharply observed cautionary tales. It suggests that what the tech revolution most needs, and may already be moving toward, is a sense of purpose.”—Bill S. Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle
“Thackara has built an intricate and compelling case for the continuing impact of local action in a networked world...I hope he’s right.”—I.D. Magazine
“An excellent new push aside that colorful pile of photo-packed publications and pick up In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, in whose pages 'design' is understood to be more about process than product, more about systems and services than about surfaces and packages, more about work to do than things to buy.”—
“Thackara leaps nimbly from statistics to observations to anecdotes, from past to present to future, from energy to the environment, from the Burning Man Festival in Arizona to the Bombay Lunch Delivery program.”—Architectural Record
“If you've ever found yourself saying, 'bad TiVO,' design critic John Thackara is talking to you.”—Fast Company


“Design with a conscience: that's the take-home message of this important, provocative book. John Thackara, long a major force in design, now takes on an even more important challenge: making the world safe for future inhabitants. We need, he says, to design from the edge, to learn from the world, and to stop designing for, but instead design with. If everyone heeded his prescriptions, the world would indeed be a better place. Required reading—required behavior.”
Don Norman , Nielsen Norman Group, author of Emotional Design
“The future is created at the intersection of business, technology, design, and culture. In the Bubble is an insightful and delightful explanation of this nexus and of how each force affects the others. Designers often miss a great deal in their educations about the real people who will use and inhabit their work. Thackara astutely illuminates a lot of what designers don't know they're missing.”
Nathan Shedroff, author of Experience Design
“One of Thackara's powerful concepts is that of the macroscope: instead of a microscope, which allows us to see tiny things, we need instruments to see distributed, long-term phenomena that pass unnoticed amidst the nonstop distractions of a modern go-go culture. In the Bubble is just such a macroscope, a deeply reflective meditation on the underlying changes in the structure of globalized society, and a revelation about what designers can do to make that shifting structure more robust and sustainable.”
J. C. Herz, author of Joystick Nation
“If there is one pervasive criticism of global capitalism that cuts across all ideologies, it is this: goods have become more important and are treated better than people. We are producing higher quality computers than children. John Thackara's brilliant book about quotidian design describes design innovation driven by social fiction instead of science fiction. This is design focused on what Fernand Braudel called 'everyday life': the demands and pleasures of caring for others, raising children, meaningful work, and journeying. These inspired and innovative technologies return people to the heart of the world and help them create a fulfilling life.”
Paul Hawken, Natural Capital Institute, author of The Ecology of Commerce
“Thackara's deeply informed book presents a breathtaking new map of the design landscape. With not a whisper of evangelistic zeal, In the Bubble offers an engaging narrative as well as design principles that speak to sustainability, joy, and quality of life in increasingly complex times.”
Brenda Laurel, author of Utopian Entrepreneur, chair of the Graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design
“Whatever you are designing, you will want to keep this book next to you. When you are wondering what to design, you will want to pick it up and browse through it again, to remind you of all the new possibilities for design. When you worry if your design is good enough, you will want to check through the passages that you have marked, to be sure that you have provided for all the complexities that count. When you have an 'Aha!' and are confident that your design is great, you will want to check that you have matched the attributes of 'Flow.' When you have an idle moment, you will want to read through the notes, which are a good book about design in themselves.”
Bill Moggridge, Cofounder, IDEO
“I eagerly devoured every last page of John Thackara's lofty, captivating book.”
Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown and Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years
“'To do things differently, we need to perceive things differently,' John Thackara writes. I agree! In the Bubble is the first strong, thoroughly documented statement on the importance of the local and the embedded in our fluid, hyper-connected world. A fundamental contribution to a new design culture.”
Ezio Manzini, Milan Polytechnic, author of The Material of Invention and Sustainable Everyday