The forthcoming Deconstructing Product Design, by William Lidwell & Gerry Mancsa is somewhat of a sequel to the beloved Universal Principles of Design. But while UPD focused on guiding, general rules for design, DPD looks at the results of applying those rules (or in some cases, not applying them) to real-world products.
DPD is a survey 100 of well-known products from roughly the last century, ranging from the mundane (Dixon Ticonderoga Pencil) to the luxurious (Chanel No. 5 Flacon). Each of the products is presented in a two-page visual spread. The format is visually engaging, but requires some explanation - in fact the beginning of the book includes a template that describes the structure and layout of the product page spreads. Each product layout includes descriptive information, a photograph and a set of varied symbols or icons. These "Semantic Icons" are intended to reflect attributes of the product's history and design, but can be challenging to interpret.
For example, in the page pictured above for the Aeron Chair, we see a spider, a Da Vinci-like human symbol, a set of gears and a jellyfish(!). My take is that the spider and the jellyfish reflect the chairs visual appearance and flexibility, while the figure and gears characterize the ergonomic and mechanical aspects of the chair. It's refreshing to see a bit of reader interpretation required in contrast to the otherwise analytical and descriptive content.
The other unexpected aspect of the book are the commentaries provided by over 30 experts in graphic design, design history, industrial design, architecture, human factors (including myself) and other specialized fields. Each product spread contains brief, but generally insightful and diverse comments from four experts in various fields. I found these opinions and ideas made the book repeatedly browsable as I was not always getting the same perspective from the primary authors alone.
One could always argue about the rationale for including each of the 100 individual products - did we really need to include both the iPod and the iPhone? does a gun belong in such a context, even a well-designed one? why the Segway but no bicycles? - and so on.
The critical reader should recognize that such questions are most appropriate for late-night design student discussions, and instead focus on the value of the book to such students, professional designers, and the general public. Besides memorializing the effect of design over the last century, the content does indeed deconstruct design elements into principles that can be applied to new ideas. In other words it's very similar to its predecessor, Universal Principles of Design. But rather than using deductive reasoning to go from principles to products, the reader must now apply inductive reasoning to infer general principles from specific product examples. A literal, meaningful example of "design thinking" as I've ever seen.