print, reviews September 14, 2020

Ruined by Design Review: designers’ impact on the world

Ruined by Design has been on my to-read list for some time now. Contrarily to Design is a Job, and You’re My Favourite Client, my expectations were quite different from the book. 
I was expecting it to be broader in scope, but that won’t make much sense coming from Mike Monteiro.

Mike Monteiro is an American UX designer that tends to give great talks and workshops who are also very controversial. He does not shy away from telling both designers and clients why they fuck up but also how they can improve in the future.

For those of you that never heard of Mike (you should!), I encourage you to check his other two books and work at Mule Design.

For this book, in particular, he focused on recent everyday examples from companies we all use and know. Then he points out how the designers that work there contributed to some of the worst features ever invented (yes, Facebook and Twitter included).

Although this is one of those books that make you somewhat depressed at first, it also provides valuable lessons on how to design with a conscious and the impact designers have on the world. 

It’s time to stop being the creators and the pixel pushers and start taking responsibilities.

How the world is ruined by design

The first part of the book is the depressing part. It’s packed with examples from Silicon Valey and the mentality we accept as the norm. Putting in a lot of hours to do things quickly that justify more money aka the hustle until burnout idea.

Not only does the author go into detail about how some companies like started and what happened along the way, as he also points out how the designers should have said no. At the same time, he also analyses why they might have been inclined to continue with the work, even though they knew the implications at stake.

To say that I was shocked, angry, and disappointed while reading this part of the book is an understatement. At the same time, it made me reevaluate using Uber or Facebook.

I won’t spoil it by explaining in detail everything. You should read it and take your own conclusions. But if your dream is to work for one of those big companies from Silicon Valey, I hope you will at least think twice after this chapter.

5 Takeaways on how to fix the world ruined by Design

The second part of the book consolidates all the solid advice that the author gives along the way and turns it into actionable steps. The following topics are the ones he points out and that I find we should all reflect upon.

Establishing an ethical code

Design has a huge impact on the world, yet there aren’t enough conversions about ethics. 
Even though we all seem to condemn certain actions and practices within our profession, each one of us follows his/her own consciousness. But what about those that don’t seem to have one?

Preparing future generations

As Mike says and I felt it recently when I went back to school, there isn’t enough preparation. Creating interesting pieces of design is more important than discussing real-life scenarios like dealing with clients, bosses, and shady work.
And as much as certain new schools are changing their teaching approach, I still feel like most of my colleagues won’t be prepared when the reality of this industry hits them.

Being gatekeepers: asking why and saying no

This is by far my favorite advice.
I truly feel in my design bones that I’m obliged to ask a billion questions and to speak my mind when things are questionable. It’s also the reason why I quit my first job.

As Mike explains, as the person in charge of putting things in the world, I feel like it’s part of my job to reach out to my superiors and let them know it isn’t ethical to do certain things. I started by asking why and saying no.

Changing things from inside

It’s easier to give up on things when there are obstacles. It’s also easier to blame it on others or to shut down and do it for the money.
Sure, I also have bills to pay, but am I ok in accepting payment knowing I’m doing the wrong thing? I don’t think so.
More often than not, I chose to walk out of job opportunities because I didn’t believe in the work, and I couldn’t change anything from the inside.
It’s up to all of us to at least try but also to not put up with profiting from lying or doing harm to people.

Establishing regulation

The last subject in the book is about creating a Design Union. If several other professions have unions – including industrial designers – why shouldn’t graphic, web, and UX establish organizations that advocate for our rights? 
In Portugal, like in America, there are associations towards creatives, but they focus on the wrong things. 
We must establish international rules on designers’ rights and duties, as wells as essential metrics such as payment and mental health. 


If you don’t like to read books that make you uncomfortable, this is clearly not a book for you. Honestly, I don’t think I will be the same after reading it, and I’m still trying to process everything that I’ve done as a designer.
But, if you consider yourself a responsible professional, trying to do the best you can do as a designer, you should read it and tell others about it. The sooner we start this conversation, the better chance we have to remedy the world ruined by design. 

PS: If you’re thinking about buying the book, consider using this affiliate link for Book Depository. You will get free worldwide shipping and will be helping to support Melted in a small way.

About Melted

Melted was born in 2017. 
Back then, I was facing some hard time regarding my profession (or lack of), but I wanted to push forward and inspire others to do the same.
So I put my fears aside, and several huge cups of coffee later, this project was online.

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