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diaryland: entry for 2004-04-19 (15:52)
In which our plucky young hero was largely unimpressed, oh the pun.

In book review news, I am greatly disappointed by Small Things Considered. Normally I am a sucker for design books - I would probably go out to one of Donald Norman's book signings to get my backasswardteakettle Psychology of Everyday Things (screw you, stupid businessmen who made him change "psychology" to "design"), and Kim Vicente's The Human Factor is one of those books that just snaps and pops from beginning to end.

Small, on the other hand, doesn't. It has two failings. First, there is no thesis to speak of. "Successful design is hard, and mostly done incrementally" is about the closest I can get out of it, and it's nowhere near the revelation that Norman's talk of knowledge in the head vs. in the world was. Second, it's just a bunch of anecdotes. Small seems like it was originally written as a series of magazine articles, and the author reluctantly recast it as a book after Lewis Lapham rejected his pitch for a bi-monthly design column in Harper's ("IN THIS ISSUE: We Warned You About Iraq; Why David Foster Wallace Cut Off His Ear After Hearing A Colleague Misuse 'Hopefully'; Those Plastic Pizza Tripod Things.")

Individually, the essays aren't bad; the book leads off with a genuinely interesting and funny description of pizza tripods, a design element of the modern world so transparent and successful that nobody knows what they're actually called. There is also a great piece on the birth, life, and death of the paper grocery bag. But there are also a bunch of dead zones, like a discussion of restaurant meals that stretches the word "design" to the point that deciding to tip the waiter is an act of design. Finally, the book lacks anecdotes about palmtop computers.

In summary, Small Things Considered has some parts that are a 4.5 out of 5, and some that are a 1.5 out of 5, so the whole thing rates a 2. Get it from your local library, but don't expect to love it from beginning to end.

PS: Improv, wacky dreams, pizza slice shop on College Street, improv, Svend Robinson.

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