In Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation, Ezio Manzini asks us to consider a more significant way of understanding what is meant by design.

In this book, design is for social innovation, and designers are to be understood as experts who work in such a way that everybody can be involved in design, and everybody is potentially engaged in collaborative life projects.

Throughout the 200 pages, Ezio maps out his theories of design in chapters imbricated with case studies that exemplify his ideas. While Ezio acknowledges his Italian heritage, by stating that he hopes his book can be “a tribute to Italian Design culture and its great history”, he also draws upon work from around the globe to make his case for a more profound recognition of the role design might play in a connected and sustainable world.

However, he makes it clear from the outset that his intention is not to write about the “enemy forces” that fight against sustainability. He suggests that there are others who are more qualified to engage with these issues, and Ezio iterates his concern is to put forward examples of the positive ways in which design can offer change for the betterment of global ecologies and local communities. His book also clarifies what roles can be established for design professionals as they work towards a civilisation where everybody designs in collaborative ways, with what he calls cosmopolitan localism in mind.

With the help of some photographs and diagrams, he discusses design and its role in building new knowledge in the development of a sustainable world, and he makes his case eloquently for design to be a way of life. He includes significant examples of collaborative ventures in community planning, activism and place making to name but a few categories. These examples from around the world are set into text “boxes” in each chapter, and show a wide range of practical applications to accompany his ontological conversations.

These erudite and sometimes provocative ideas make for an engaging and inspiring read. Rather than discussing his ideas framed within the usual design genres of graphic, interior, product etc. designing becomes a way of life; an engagement with process rather than the making of expensive “designer” products, which Italians can do so well.

While Italy has enjoyed a long and important connection to design and design theory, it needs to be recognised that Australia has made its wealth primarily from the rural economies where profits came from the land, not from design-led activities. If Australia – and its political leaders – really want to encourage innovation, then designers must surely have a significant role in creating a society that relinquishes its dependence on the primary industries and instead seek ways to design for social innovation.

There is much that can be learnt from Ezio’s ideas, and his book should be required reading for all politicians in Australia.

This review was first published in Design Online