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The Shape of Design

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"Hi. My name's Frank Chimero. I've spent the better part of the last two years writing and speaking on design and thinking about the topics that orbit the practice: storytelling, concept, craft, and improvisation. I want to take all of the ideas I've had and connected these past few months and capture them in a book format.

I've been teaching for the past 5 years, and I've always been a bit frustrated that there isn't a nice, concise book that overviews the mental state of a successful designer while they go through their creative process. For instance, many say that graphic design is visual communication. A cornerstone of communication is storytelling, and yet you'd be hard-pressed to find any discussion of how to tell stories with design in any design book. This should be remedied.

There are new challenges in the world that need to be discussed, and I think design is a prime lens to consider these topics. As our world moves faster and as things become less stable, it becomes more important for individuals to embrace ambiguity, understand paradox, and realize that two things can conflict and still somehow both be true. We must realize that logic doesn't always work, and that sometimes nonsense is the best answer. These are the topics I intend to address in the book.

The Shape of Design isn't going to be a text book. The project will be focused on Why instead of How. We have enough How; it's time for a thoughtful analysis of our practice and its characteristics so we can better practice our craft. After reading the book, I want you to look at what you do in a whole new light. Design is more than working for clients.

But really, this book aims to look at the mindset and worldview that designing develops in order to answer one big, important question: How can we make things that help all of us live better?"

First published May 1, 2012

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Frank Chimero

4 books23 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 114 reviews
Profile Image for Eric.
526 reviews44 followers
June 22, 2012
I was intrigued by this book due to its Cinderella Kickstarter funding story and seeing the author on a number of conference lineups in the last few years. It's a short read (125 pages) and has a nicely understated, well-considered design that implies a gravitas rare in the world of design writing. The Shape of Design doesn't live up to the packaging or the surrounding hype, but it's an admirable failure. To paraphrase a notion in the book, how Chimero presents his ideas has some appeal. Why he chose to present them at all is the bigger (and even troubling) question.

Chimero is an eloquent writer. You can sense every syllable of the manuscript has been scrupulously considered in the best detail-attentive way, and it rarely gets bogged down in designer jargon. But I kept getting sidetracked by the endless analogies (some clever, some forced) and highbrow references. (To use a poor analogy—I'm not as pro as Chimero) It's akin to the annoying person who is always unnecessarily flaunting their highbrow intellectual and cultural knowledge, not to contribute to a discussion, but to simply establish their superior airs. The ideas and observations in this book are sound and, on occasion, freshly insightful. But strip away all the posturing and you have about 15-20 pages that really matter. Chimero is constantly pushing the importance of storytelling in design (which is old news), yet the narrative here suffers mainly from using too many other authors to tell the tale and not enough confidence in his own voice. His connections and insights are usually interesting, but bereft of any soul or humanity. (A classic designer trope, no?) Chimero's single stab at humor had me longing for more, because I felt as if I was finally hearing his true voice.

The bigger question is who is this book for? For seasoned designers, Chimero's observations will be familiar, even if they are presented more eloquently than usual. Non-designers will be scratching their heads. Chimero is very lucid about the "shape" of design, but frustratingly abstract when talking about it in manifest form. The best audience for this might be students, but the odd combination of the instructional and the reflective might be confounding, since undergraduate students won't have developed enough of a process or body of work to really reflect on as Chimero has. The first reading assignment upon entering grad school, maybe?

If anything, The Shape of Design illustrates the paradox inherent in such an endeavor. In an age where designers are being asked to define their process as concretely as possible, creativity still stubbornly resists to be codified. (Jonah Lehrer faced a similar hurdle in his recent book, Imagine.) Artists and designers are special because alchemy is part of the process. It's why most biographies and biopics of artists fail to illuminate creative genius—most of the subjects themselves can't explain where the unique spark in the work comes from. Truly grappling with this challenge might have resulted in a better book. Instead, The Shape of Design comes off as a young design writer's attempt to establish himself as an authoritative voice yet with surprisingly very little new to say.
Profile Image for Skyler.
12 reviews25 followers
June 20, 2012
For the most part, I love everything Frank does. He's a great designer and sometimes an even better writer. One of the things I appreciate most about him is that he encourages designers to be more multi-dimensional and to use writing as a way to think about design and the world.

As one of the Kickstarter backers, I got my hands on the ebook a little early and finished half of it on a flight from SF to FL. The first few chapters immediately grabbed and inspired me. So much so, that I couldn't wait to get off the damn plane and get back to work.

Over the next few days I finished the book and couldn't help but feel like what started out so great, just sort of fizzled out by the end. Maybe it was just me? I think Ricky best summed it up with:

It's a hodgepodge of mixed metaphor, song, birds, jazz, dancing, games, one line after the other written upon flighty romance.

That's not entirely a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the things I love about Frank's writing. It works really well in blog posts and talks, but I'm not so sure I can handle an entire book of it. The book as a whole is worth reading and I definitely recommend it, but I think I probably would've enjoyed it more if I'd read it more slowly over the course of a couple weeks. Devouring it all at once was a little like eating all your Halloween candy on a single night. I definitely should've paced myself.

Once I've had some more time to sit on it, I imagine this will probably be one of those books I refer back to again and again whenever I feel uninspired. It's a pretty great book and I'm glad to have backed it.
20 reviews4 followers
May 8, 2012
I normally enjoy Frank's writing, but this was sprawling, self-indulgent, and brimming with clichés.

I'm sure SAIC students will love it, though :P
Profile Image for Nikhil Sethi.
56 reviews14 followers
July 13, 2021
I don't typically read design books, but Chimero writes like a poet and that enough makes it worthwhile to read this book. It's an optimistic, idealistic view of what the design practice can be, framed as craft, as art, as opportunity. And I love it because it's a view that sometimes feels so distant but needn't be that way.
327 reviews7 followers
July 22, 2018
I found this little book to be quite enjoyable. The message was great, and Chimero sucks you in with his writing. I'm not a designer by trade so I can't attest to how this resonates with others, but I found the book to be a great read.
Profile Image for Jonno Cohen.
20 reviews4 followers
June 7, 2015
This is one of the smartest, most articulate meditations on design and creativity you'll ever read.

If you've read Frank Chimero's essays or watched his talks online, you'll recognise many of the ideas collected here.

I've spent a year reading, re-reading, highlighting and annotating this book, and I'm sure I'll keep coming back to it. If you work in design or a related field, and you think about what your work means and where it fits in the world, give this book a read.
Profile Image for Kyle Benson.
56 reviews
November 25, 2012
Brilliant. Frank Chimero briefly explains the purpose of communication focused design within a money and marketability focused world.
Profile Image for Ian.
132 reviews
July 23, 2020
Very vanilla, no new or really unique ideas. Might be appropriate for first-year design/art students or someone in marketing.
Profile Image for Allison.
47 reviews
March 8, 2021
Dry all the way through. Full of over-complications of simple concepts, which are explained simply at first then are over-explained again and again and again. I’m a designer, but this book is just plain boring. Yawn.
Profile Image for Dustin.
37 reviews6 followers
April 14, 2015
Reading through the reviews below, I have to say I was surprised to see so many scoff at the philosophical bent of this book. For one thing, I'm surprised that people are surprised at it. The very design of the book communicates loftiness and artistry; it makes no attempt to sell itself as immediately practical. For another thing, the very practice of design is made up of many things that are elusive, indefinable, uncontrollable and yet must still be understood and mastered to practice well. This may be controversial to say, but I beleive one cannot be a good designer without pondering these things often.

This book is a meditation on the production of design as a practice, not so much on the practice of producing designs. Its focus is on the necessary elements of the artistry and the necessary inputs an artist needs to produce great art. It helps you get into the headspace necessary for design thinking and helps you to evaluate whether the framework you've put in place to guide said design thinking is helpful or hindering.

Is this the only book to do this? No. But it does it well. And, more importantly, the experience was fantastic. It made me feel like how I envision designers always feel. Now the trick is to make the audiences of my work - my users - feel the same.
Profile Image for Alfredo Sherman.
140 reviews52 followers
January 6, 2015
Llevo ya unos meses admirando mucho el trabajo y la filosofía de Frank Chimero. Encuentro este libro como una buena guía y una pequeña oda a lo que es el diseño en la actualidad, un libro de cómo hacer cosas a través de historias y utilizarlas para ayudarnos a vivir mejor.

Frank manifiesta una gran adoración por el proceso de diseño más que por el término del mismo. Entiende el proceso más como un verbo que como un sustantivo, es algo que tiene vida, es algo que se mantiene en constante movimiento y del cual no te puedes aferrar.

En este primer libro del autor habla de la "canción" propia que cada uno tiene como diseñador, cómo esta puede resonar en los trabajos que hacemos y por qué es importante el insertarlo en el contexto adecuado; también maneja algunos aspectos narrativos y retóricos como lo es la forma, el tono y el fondo de cada trabajo.

Me parece un gran libro para estudiantes y profesionistas que necesiten recordar un poco lo que vamos perdiendo de esta profesión.
Profile Image for Jarkko Laine.
667 reviews22 followers
January 12, 2013
Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design is a beautiful book.

I can't remember how many times I have told my wife that I like the way the book feels in my hands. As such, the design of the book (done by the author himself) works as an example of the book's message in action. The best design is a gift that connects people. Something that delights the user and does more than he expects.

Or, as Chimero ends the book:

“There is a world we live in and one that we imagine. It is by our movement and invention that we inch closer to the latter. The world shapes us, and we get to shape the world.”

This is a book about the philosophy of design (and creating pretty much anything).

Not the day-to-day work of the designer but the principles of what the work is all about: improvisation, asking why questions, telling stories, and creating something that delights anyone who gets in contact with it.
Profile Image for Trey Piepmeier.
238 reviews25 followers
March 30, 2013
I helped fund this book on Kickstarter, so I feel liked I helped contribute in some small way. That may or may not have tinted my appreciation of it.

But it's a great book, both inside and out. The binding is beautiful and reminds me old, durable books I saw in the library of my youth. This is a book you could use a weapon and still get years of reading enjoyment out of it.

The contents of the book are short and sweet. It's filled with little kernels of wisdom and deep thoughts. I marked quite a few passages in it (well, using a note in nvALT) and I look forward to reading it again in the near future.

My only (very small) complaint is that the language often feels flowery without purpose. I wonder if someone will remix this book (it's under Creative Commons license) and condense the contents down to their absoute essence.

You should read this book.
Profile Image for Angela Shetler.
67 reviews1 follower
June 26, 2012
I have been following Frank's blog for a while now, and I backed the Kickstarter to publish this book because I enjoy his writing style so much. He has a way of making connections between the practical and the fantastic that is engaging and thought provoking. It's best to take it in in chunks, to let the ideas and analogies percolate for a bit before reading again. While I am not a designer, I found the book accessible and engaging, and I liked how much of what Frank puts forth is applicable to writing as well.
Profile Image for Melissa Balkon.
17 reviews3 followers
January 11, 2015
I've had this book downloaded to my Kindle for quite some time, and always felt a bit intimidated by it. I've read a lot of Frank Chimero's articles online, and although I'm sure they are very brilliant, sometimes they have felt a bit over my head. I'm happy to say that I was intimidated for no good reason by this book. It was well-written and moved along quickly. If you're looking to understand the extent of an impact you can have in your design work, I would recommend taking a pass at this book.
Profile Image for Filip.
12 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2013
This book might be very good at conveying a fruitful atmosphere in which to begin a design process. It succeeds in telling you in what mental mode it's beneficial to be but it gloriously fails to get to any specifics about HOW to actually do some interesting design. I think most of the book is just flowery words and lofty analogies (some of them actually very good). It's short so actually I did read it whole but it was really hard not to fall asleep...
Profile Image for Wes Baker.
61 reviews23 followers
September 14, 2012
I'll echo what's already been said about this: it felt wishy-washy and a bit heads-in-the-cloud and never really said a lot. There are some good bits and pieces here, but overall it felt like a waste of time. Not so bad I had to stop reading it, just bad enough to not recommend it to anyone I know, and to go so far as to recommend not reading it. I expected a lot more from Mr. Chimero.
Profile Image for Dale Moore.
37 reviews
June 7, 2012
Somewhat thought-provoking book, that is more of an exploration of the thought process of one designer than a book about the process of design itself. I got a few good thoughts out of it, which I highlighted in iBooks for later inspiration.
Profile Image for Nathan.
277 reviews33 followers
October 22, 2012
Love Frank's writing style, very beautiful, lots of metaphor and analogy. Unfortunately there's little of any real substance and you can't help but feel Frank is trying to show off how 'cultured' he is with his many references to art and japanese poetry etc.
Profile Image for Amber.
38 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2013
Great thoughts but I felt that it meandered more than needed. Often when reading I felt each chapter was more an iteration of a basic idea where function should be the primary focus to create good design. Thoughtful but I think should be more like an article or essay versus a book.
Profile Image for Patrick B. G..
26 reviews8 followers
June 19, 2012
Meh. Much too abstract, artistic, and rose-tinted to be of much use. I enjoyed many of the stories, and there's some good content, but so much grandeur to wade through.
Profile Image for Sallar.
38 reviews38 followers
June 14, 2014
I enjoyed reading this book and learnt a lot from what Frank Chimero had to offer in it. The wording was confusing at times but overall it was a beautiful read.
28 reviews
October 9, 2018
I want to start and say that the idea of Why and How -we should design- is worth to write about.
This book could've been a really good, long argumentative essay instead of a collection of -far too many- stories that highlight the main points the author wanted to make.

Essentially, this book starts with individual differences between people that are inherent and probably learned. Then, the author attempts to define the way these individual differences interact with the outer world (e.g. culture, colleagues...etc.) which affects the way designers approach a design problem. Finally, author describes how user feedback and testing affects this approach.

In the beginning, I liked the analogies used to shed some additional light on what the author was trying to say (e.g. the mockingbird singing) but they got too many as the number of the stories also increased. I can't help but think of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Yes its a very good book, but in many chapters Carnegie gives one rule to follow and then tanks the readers up with a lot of examples. Sometimes you may need more than one, but often you don't.

There was also a good bit on the ideation stage of creative process (suspension of disbelief), which to me it seemed very familiar, but it served at least as a good reminder in the context of design.

Another good point was the message, tone and format of design work. I don't think its hard to think and outline principles of a certain issue, but I also don't think it is worth the time to start from scratch trying to come up with new principles when one could just get a head start and read about them from what seems to be an accomplished designer (I don't know much about the author or his work).

A final beautiful gesture was when comparing the two user interfaces towards the final chapters of the book, where viewing a user's close-up and larger profile photo on one's smartphone screen when getting a notification from that user, is much more personal than the way we currently receive notifications on basically all social media; a small barely visible profile photo with focus on the text rather than visuals and faces.
Profile Image for Dûr.
16 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2017
I first came across Frank Chimero on the social media platform Letterboxd, which can be described a bit like goodreads for film - "goodwatches" - and stalked my way to his homepage after being impressed by his taste in cinema.

The past year, I've become more and more interested in designing for the virtual world, and read Chimero's brilliant essay on 'What Screens Want'. Since then I've been a fan of his design-philosophy, and eventually delved into his short and free ebook, 'The Shape of Design'. While by no means a terrible book, I can't help but feel that my time could have been better spent by re-reading his essays, as most of the ideas contained in the book comes across better in the essays, which incorporates design and examples much more illustratively and appropriately than in the book. Where I think the book has most to give, is when Frank writes about _his own_ influences, like how he keeps a copy of Edward Hopper's iconic 'Nighthawks' in his drawer and makes up little narratives from the still painting. Among the good tips for designing, I think examples like how limitations – self-imposed or not – can be helpful in getting the mind racing. But that advice isn't new to me. That is no fault of Frank's, and it's always good to have helpful thing reiterated, but it greatly reduces my take away from the book.

If you are unfamiliar with Frank Chimero and interested in design, I would say you should look up his visual essays first, they can be found on his homepage (frankchimero.com). If they leave you hungry for more, maybe give his ebook a shot, it's free, and maybe you'll get more out of it than me.
Profile Image for Swati Jaiswal.
72 reviews2 followers
August 9, 2020
A short read full of fundamental design philosophies. I'm no designer, but the book opens up the mind to very basic ideas that makes me feel like changing the world by becoming a designer. Not sure if it's a beginner appropriate text, but certainly an important one for a designer who really wants to create meaningful work. I would want to come back to it once I dive in the field and have tried hands on the work, to polish myself.

The tone seemed very basic and straight forward with few stories acting as examples. There are clear takeaways in each chapter. The structure of the book made it more interesting to read. Even though the chapters are short and concise, the messages conveyed opens up a line of thoughts, those in turn contribute back to the concept itself. Seemed like the book itself was a work of design based on the same philosophies that the content presents.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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