Guest Curator Alice Rawsthorn invites twelve of her friends from the fields of contemporary art, design and other areas of contemporary culture to nominate books for Dublin Art Book Fair 2020.

The list includes twenty titles nominated by Alice and a further seventy-seven books suggested to us by her invitees. Collectively these books add another incredible, fascinating and diverse dimension to the books that DABF 2020, Design as an Attitude gathers together. The nominated books are available to purchase on our Shop and come with short notes of recommendation, written by their nominees.

Alice Rawsthorn (writer and design critic), Paola Antonelli (Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, MoMA), Alvaro Barrington (artist), Hilary Cottam (social designer), Michael Craig-Martin (artist), Es Devlin (artist and stage designer), Conor Donlon (owner Donlon Books, London), Marie Donnelly (philanthropist), Andrew Durbin (writer and editor of frieze), Helen Marten (artist), Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries, London), Zoé Whitley (Director, Chisenhale Gallery, London).

Twenty Design Books chosen by Alice Rawsthorn

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (Vintage)
Why are women more than 50% likelier to die in car crashes than men? Or in heart surgery? As this forensically researched book explains, it is because we live in a gender-biased world designed by – and for – men.

Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities and Radical Politics (The MIT Press)
The Bauhaus is usually associated with modernity and progress, Elizabeth Otto’s book explores the radical, queer, eccentric and subversive aspects of the 20th century’s most famous art and design school.

C.J. Chivers, The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War(Simon & Schuster)
Not that it was intended as a design book, but The Gun is a brilliant analysis of the design of the deadly AK-47 assault rifle, and how its success in fulfilling its lethal function has influenced the course of history.

Paola Antonelli (ed.), Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival (Rizzoli Electa)
If you missed the most important design exhibition of recent years – Paola Antonelli’s Broken Nature at Triennale Milano – you can read about design’s role in the climate emergency in the catalogue.

Bruno Munari, Supplement to the Italian Dictionary (Corraini Editore)
How do you say “I don’t understand” or make a threat without speaking? Bruno Munari’s 1958 book explores a fantastic example of communication design, the ancient Italian language of hand gestures.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat (Penguin)
From prehistoric clay bowls, to China’s ubiquitous tou knife and Clarence Birdseye’s invention of frozen food, Consider the Forkdescribes how design has determined what and how we eat, and what it tastes like.

Hilary Cottam, Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Revolutionise the Welfare State (Virago)
Social scientist-turned-social designer Hilary Cottam explains why she believes design is an essential tool in addressing homelessness, isolation, food poverty and other urgent social problems.

Caroline Niebling, The Sausage of the Future (Lars Müller Publishers)
Witty, ingenious and enlightening, The Sausage of the Futurewas originally Caroline Niebling’s graduation project from ECAL in Lausanne. It proposes ethical, sustainable and delicious alternatives to the traditional banger.

Riccardo Badano and Rebecca Lewin, Formafantasma: Cambio (Buchhandlung Walther König)
This is a fascinating account of Formafantasma’s design research project into one of the world’s biggest and most destructive industries, the global timber trade, commissioned by the Serpentine Galleries in a book beautifully designed by Joost Grootens.

Mike Davis and Jon Wiener, Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties (Verso)
Having written one defining cultural history of Los Angeles in his 1990 book, City of Quartz, Mike Davis has teamed up with Jon Wiener to treat us to another by embedding the stories of the city’s 1960s radicals, refuseniks, activists and drop-outs within its architecture and politics.

Jenny Uglow, The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Romantic heroine, architect and visionary (Faber & Faber)
Design is an underlying theme in all the books of the brilliant cultural historian Jenny Uglow. In The Pinecone, she addresses it explicitly, by describing how the intelligent and resourceful Sarah Losh, the unmarried heiress to a Cumbrian industrial fortune, emerged as a self-taught architect, who transformed the tiny village of Wreay by designing cottages, a school and a gloriously eccentric church, and funding their construction.

Norman Potter, What is a designer: things, places, messages(Hyphen Press)
One of my favourite characters in 20 th century British design, Norman Potter was an uncompromisingly radical and iconoclastic designer and design teacher, whose vision of design combined elements of modernism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, anarchism, environmentalism and Christianity. What is a designer serves as a manifesto for the man whose favourite quotation was Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Hold to the difficult.”

Adam Greenfield, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (Verso Books)
Radical Technologiesis now three years old, but it is written with such thoughtfulness and acuity that it is still a great guide to AI, blockchain, robotics and other powerful and inscrutable technologies that will shape our future.

James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Fourth Estate)
The Informationis one of my favourite histories of the birth of computing and of its impact on our lives, from Charles Babbage’s experiments with Ada Lovelace’s in mid-19th century London, to Alan Turing’s in Manchester and Claude Shannon’s at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey a century later.

Louise Brigham and Edward H. Ascherman, Box Furniture: How to Make a Hundred Useful Articles for the Home (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform)
One of the many gifted women designers to have been unfairly forgotten, Louise Brigham was a pioneer of social design in the US during the early 1900s. She wrote this book to give cash-strapped families the design templates they needed to furnish their homes by making DIY furniture from wooden packing crates.

Julia Watson, Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism (Taschen)
“Necessity is the mother of invention” has been the guiding principle of design coups throughout history, Julia Watson’s Lo-TEKtells the extraordinary stories of communities throughout the world that have applied instinctive design ingenuity to develop sustainable, climate resilient structures and growing systems, from floating villages in the Mesopotamian Wetlands to Bali’s Subak rice terraces.

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (Penguin Classics)
“Yes, it is a story of cabinet and chairs and tables, wrote Henry James of The Spoils of Poynton, “but they were not magnificently passive. They had a power in them.” James’s breakthrough novel, published in 1897, is a brilliant analysis of the emotional bond between an obsessive collector, Adela Gereth, and her lovingly accumulated “spoils” and its potentially disastrous consequences.

Emily Pilloton, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See (Chronicle Books)
I’d have loved to have read a book like this when I was a child, or had access to design and making workshops like those run by the social designer Emily Pilloton in her non-profit program, Girls Garage, in Berkeley, California, where girls aged from 9 to 18 can learn about carpentry, welding, architecture and other practical skills they need to become “Fearless Girl Builders”.

Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (Yale University Press)
This is a brilliant account of how Louis XIV of France and his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert deployed design as a strategic tool to convince the French people that their king was not only a model of magnificence, courage, wisdom and munificence but the world’s greatest living monarch who was destined to become a figure of enduring historical importance.

Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in Twelve Maps (Penguin)
Having loved Jerry Brotton’s 2006 book The Sale of the Late King’s Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection, I was delighted to discover that 2012’s A History of the World in Twelve Maps was equally compelling by analysing how the design of maps has defined the way we see the world and our relationship to it.

Alice Rawsthorn (born 1958, Manchester, UK) is a world-leading design critic and author. Her books include 'Design as an Attitude' (2018) and 'Hello World: Where Design Meets Life' (2013). Alice is Chair of Trustees at Chisenhale Gallery in London and The Hepworth Wakefield in Yorkshire, and is a founding member of the Writers at Liberty campaign for human rights. Alice is a co-founder of Design Emergency, a research platform that investigates design’s response to Covid-19 and its aftermath.