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John Thackara
Blog | Biography | Public Speaking | Publications | Projects | Doors of Perception | Subscribe | Books | Contact


In The BubbleIn the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World
John Thackara
The MIT Press, 2005

In the Bubble: Designing In A Complex World is an account of the devices and technology filling our world, asking the question: What is it all for? Author John Thackara questions what purpose will be served by the broadband communications, smart materials, wearable computing, and connected appliances that are rapidly populating societies.

“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."
— Paul Hawken, Natural Capital Institute, author of The Ecology of Commerce

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"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

"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

"If you've ever found yourself saying, 'bad TiVO,' design critic John Thackara is talking to you."
Fast Company

"There is more behind In the Bubble than tech-frustrated activism. Technology’s ideal role, the author explains, is captured in the zen of the air-traffic controller... It’s a graceful confluence of cutting-edge technology and dynamic human intellect... Thackara brings his idealism down to earth with a rich narrative full of cleaner, simpler design innovations currently blossoming around the world from misting showerheads and cheaper IV bags to e-learning on buses and 'genetic' urban planning. Unplug your answering machine. Get out and join the revolution."
Fast Company

"An excellent new book... so 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."

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"We all envy John Thackara's digestive system. He is able to take in the most disparate events, locations, trends, and apparent minutiae and deliver back a synthesis of the way the world moves for the use of designers and of those who use design as a powerful life-forming tool. And to help us swallow what might otherwise be too abstract a meal, he serves it to us with parables that make the book not only an enriching but also a fun read."
— Paola Antonelli, Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art

"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

“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

“‘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


From March 2002 to September 2010, John Thackara sent out a monthly email newsletter: Doors of Perception Report. The newsletter contained short, opinionated texts about social innovation and design.

Does the world need a professional development program to support designers, architects and design professors making a fundamental transition to a new kind of design? To explore that question, Doors of Perception has launched an enquiry with the working title xskool. An xskool encounter took place at West Lexham in the UK last weekend. It was a wonderful experience, but a question remains open: was last weekend's positive energy, attention, and mindfulness a happy fluke? Or could one reproduce the conditions that nurtured them? In which ways might xskool be an intentional part of 'the change we wish to see in the world'? A next discussion is in New York City on the morning [09-12h] of Wednesday 8 June. It's hosted by hosted by Cameron Tonkinwise at Parsons. If you would care to join us, email me at: john at doorsofperception dot com

Recent Essay

When Tech In Care Is Evil

When Tech In Care Is Evil

I spent the last two weeks in-and-around a care home in England that looks after people with dementia and terminal illness, and their families – including, this time, mine.

Recent Book

In the Bubble: Desiging in a Complex World
John Thackara
The MIT Press, 2005
More books by John Thackara >>

Design Observer Essays


Food As A Commons

People go hungry not because of a shortage of production, but because the food available is too expensive, or they lack the land to grow it on. In California, the prototype of a combined social, political and technical solution has been launched which promises to unlock the food system crisis.


Presence and Encounter — How We Meet Is As Important As Why

I’m not suggesting that we abandon social media — just that we cultivate a hybrid approach so whenever someone says “online” someone else says, “and what about offline?”. Or when we find ourselves inside, someone else says: “and when do we go outside?”


Keep Your Stuff Alive

What would fashion be like if it was more than a an act of consumption with no meaning beyond the point of sale? What kind of system would improve the quality of our fashion experience without increasing the quantity we consume?


Cloud Commuting

A two-year project in Belgium proposes new relationships between people, goods, energy, equipment, spaces, and value. Its design objective: a networked mobility ecosystem.


A ‘Wild Mirror’ For Desk-Bound Workers

A new scheme in England connects office workers with living systems by means of a ‘wild mirror’: each workspace is twinned with an equivalent area of ecosystem regeneration.


03.11.14: Summer Xskool in Sweden
03.03.14: Energy: Thriving On Five Percent?
02.14.14: Caloryville: The Two-Wheeled City
01.22.14: Conflict and Design
01.13.14: Shoe City vs Sole Rebels
01.06.14: A Whole New Cloth: Politics and the Fashion System
12.19.13: The Dementia Care Economy
12.17.13: Ecuador, Open Knowledge, and ‘Buen Vivir’: Interview With Michel Bauwens
12.12.13: Dementia: Care Before Cure
12.10.13: John Thackara on Avatar
11.28.13: Desert of the Real
10.25.13: Designing In A Complex World: Two Talks In Mexico City
09.13.13: Ways of Knowing
09.06.13: Speed? What Speed? Prisoners of Speed, by Ivan Illich
09.06.13: Speed? What Speed? The Belly-Dance Drummer, by Matthias Rieger
09.05.13: Speed? What Speed? The Falcon, by Sebastian Trapp
09.03.13: Flyways
08.26.13: Connecting With The Other
08.22.13: Between Sorrel And Supertanker


TWITTER BY @johnthackara

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