3 books you won’t think will teach you something about life-centered design.


Summer is for me, and probably many of us, a moment to slow down, unplug from work, have more fun than we usually have, and truly unwind from the frenzy of our busy lives. For years now, one of the strategies I have adopted to help me enter and connect with this season is to choose a reading list that, in theory, has nothing to do with my work or anything related to it. 

Yet, to my surprise, 3 of the 6 books I read this summer had way more connections to my work than I could have ever thought of. In these 3 books, somehow, I could quickly find relations with some of – what I would say – are core ideas behind life-centered design. 


For those new to this term, life-centered design is an emergent practice in the design field that fundamentally calls all of us, creative professionals, to bring back ethics into our work and start to intentionally design solutions that create conditions conducive to life. This means solutions that exist to support, rather than hinder, the urgent transition to a just and sustainable future.


So, without further ado, let’s take a look at these books:


1: Sophie's World (Jostein Gaarder)

This is a novel I read back when I was a teenager, similar to the age of the main character Sophie, which I recalled having enjoyed so much that I wanted to reread – and I am really pleased I did. In this book which is what I would call a fascinating journey across the main ideas of the world’s greatest philosophers, the author, Jostein Gaarder, reminds us of the importance of continuing to be in awe of the world around us. As children and philosophers do, we adults too should stay away from living in auto-pilot mode. A mode that turns us indifferent to the world around us, a mode that brings away questioning, curiosity, and ultimately love and appreciation for this little blue dot we call home: planet Earth. This I believe is the foundation and necessary start for any proper life-centered design practice. It is only when we decide to reconnect to Nature, when we give ourselves permission to see its beauty and recognize its fragile and transient quality, that we can realize its true value and have a better chance of starting to design for its needs too.

2: Ishmael (Daniel Quinn)

This book is an extraordinary tale of wise exchanges between a fully-grown gorilla, Ishmael, and a young man in search of truth who decides to become his student. It’s a book that (if you are a bit like me) you won’t be able to put down until finished. Here, author Daniel Quinn teaches us that there is in fact a lot we can learn from humans and non-humans too. Using the concept of a world divided into two communities, the “Takers” and the “Leavers”, he invites us to challenge the engrained idea that there is only one right way to see and live in this world. With elegance and respect, he tells us something about the value and richness of preserving diversity in all its forms and puts us in, what some would say, the uncomfortable position of remembering that we, humans, are nature, and there is no good reason why we should place ourselves above it. All these are no doubt core principles of life-centered design. A practice that calls us to embrace pluralism and holism and to re-center our creative approach from the designer (typically white Western male) as the sole genius who designs, to become the designer as the facilitator who invites all voices – especially those traditionally underrepresented – to the creative table. An essential shift we should make if we want to collectively design solutions that have a much higher likelihood of being good for both people and the planet. 

3: From What Is to What If (Rob Hopkins)

This third and last book is one centered around the future instead. Through a wild compilation of thought-provoking facts and inspirational examples, Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement, shows us how critical imagination is to preserve the future of humankind and how much we are doing today to actually suffocate and dry up such a powerful skill. Yet, there is hope. Two simple words – WHAT IF – could in reality help us shift the course of action and unleash (again) the imagination we so much need to create the future we want. Because, as he puts it, if we can imagine it, desire it, dream about it, it is so much more likely that we will put our energy and determination into making it a reality. Besides the fact that I could not agree more with this statement, the idea of intentionally integrating foresight activities into our work, and of flipping our view to one of abundance rather than scarcity lies also at the heart of life-centered design. It’s exactly by bringing people together and enabling them to see and experiment with a new world of possibilities that, with life-centered design, we can re-nurture collective imagination, fact-based optimism, and the shared desire for all of us, no matter who we are and where we stand, to roll up our sleeves and together build the just and sustainable future we all deserve.


So if you’re passionate about life-centered design or just looking for a great read, these three surprising books have truly captivated me, and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone in search of a good book. I’d argue that they’re absolute must-reads, and with this article, I invite you to delve into each one of them. Of course, I’m eager to hear your thoughts about them!

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