What Design Can’t Do

Book, Publication, with Set Margins', 2023

Design is broken. Young and not-so-young designers are becoming increasingly aware of this. Many feel impotent: they were told they had the tools to make the world a better place, but instead the world takes its toll on them. Beyond a haze of hype and bold claims lies a barren land of self-doubt and impostor syndrome. Although these ‘feels’ might be the Millennial norm, design culture reinforces them. In conferences we learn that “with great power comes great responsibility” but, when it comes to real-life clients, all they ask is to “make the logo bigger.”

This book probes the disillusionment that permeates design. It tackles the deskilling effects provoked by digital semi-automation, the instances of ornamental politics fashioned to please the museum-educational complex, the nebulous promises of design schools. While reviving historical expressions of disenchantment, Silvio Lorusso examines present-day memes and social media rants. To depict this disheartening crisis, he crafts a new critical vocabulary for readers to build upon. What this exposé reveals is both worrying and refreshing: rather than producing a meaningful order, design might be just about inhabiting chaos.

What was once a promising field rooted in problem-solving has become a problem in itself. The skill set of designers appears shaky and insubstantial – their expertise is received with indifference, their know-how is trivialised by online services, their work is compromised by a series of unruly external factors. If you see yourself as a designer without qualities; if you feel cheated, disappointed or betrayed by design, this book is for you.

Are you a bit depressed about design? This book might help you understand why. It may also make you laugh. With a lightness of touch, Silvio Lorusso provides an unflinching but well-reasoned discussion as to how design has become so ‘bigged up’ and what this actually means for its practitioners. After reading this book, design will never look the same to you.” – Guy Julier, author of Economies of Design

“What happens once design is a smokescreen and can no longer claim to be a blueprint for change? This is the question Silvio Lorusso puts on the table. How did form, no matter how cool and disruptive, become so futile and tired? Read this with caution: we can no longer design ourselves out of this painful realisation.” – Geert Lovink, author of Stuck on the Platform

“The disillusion of design is the disillusion of the world. This book is an essential read, not only for specialists. Because design affects us all, and because understanding where design fails helps us understand where design succeeds.” – Emanuele Quinz, author of Strange Design

“Italo-pessimist design critique at its best.” – Clara Balaguer, cultural worker and grey literature circulator

“Silvio’s work is more than just a book; it is a reflection of the industry’s very soul, expressing the conflict and paradoxes that shape current design.” – Angelos Arnis, strategic designer

“Lorusso’s critique is sometimes brutal, but it never turns angry. He seems to genuinely care for the design discipline(s.) His book is honest and impeccably researched, calling upon the words of philosophers, design theorists, design historians and other thinkers to show how designers keep trying to reinvent themselves as self-anointed political activists, intellectuals of techniques (instead of technical intellectuals), slayers of capitalism, etc.” – Regine Debatty, blogger

“It’s as if ‘The Generic City’ section of S, M, L, XL has been rewritten by a despairing, millennial GPT.” – Zain Khalid, novelist

Designed by Federico Antonini.

Get the book from Set Margins’s website.

Photos by Annette Behrens.

Press, Reviews, Mentions, Interviews, Etc.

  • “The Tenth Stage” by Zain Khalid, New York Review of Architecture
  • “Andu Masebo’s Love of Free Entertainment, Joining Materials + More”, Design Milk
  • “Design Pessimism” by Theo Ploeg, Gonzo Circus #181
  • “Examining the Dust on His Desk” by James Dyer, DAMN Magazine #87
  • “More Public Relations” by Decentralized Agency, Real Review #15
  • Review in We Make Money Not Art by Regine Debatty
  • “The best design books of 2023”, Fast Company
  • “AN collects a bevy of the best architecture-related books published in 2023”, The Architect’s Newspaper
  • “Guida di sopravvivenza al design per designer: il nuovo saggio di Silvio Lorusso”, Exibart by Marco Petroni
  • Review on Joint Frontiers by Angelos Arnis
  • “Silvio Lorusso Recommends Six Books that Destabilize Design”, Scratching the Surface
  • “Selbstüberschätzung?”, review in Page Magazine
  • “Waarom kopiëren cool is en ‘what design can’t do’ – deze designboeken mag je niet missen”, review in Design Digger
  • “Observed”, Design Observer
  • “What Design Can’t Do unpacks the contradictions of being a designer”, Stir World
  • “Dieci libri di design da regalare questo Natale”, Fuorisalone.it
  • “Il libro che spiega perché è finita l’era del design salvatore del mondo”, Cielo Terra Design
  • “I migliori saggi del 2023, da regalare a Natale”, Esquire Italia
  • “What Design Can’t Do, saggi sul Design e la Disillusione”, WeVux
  • “12 ‘Designer’, Sustainable and Clever Gifts for Less than 200 euros”, WeVux