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Book Review: “Ends” by Joe Macleod


In this book, Joe Macleod holds up a mirror to society and shows our collective social and psychological denial of endings. He assesses it through the lens of culture, religion and economics, and shows how much control we have relinquished in return for comfort, convenience and other short-term benefits. He explains that we often forget what we don’t see and we build elaborate systems that take responsibility and inconvenience out of our way. We treat our debt, our personal digital data and the material waste we generate the same way – remove it from our line of sight and out of our minds.

As he walks us through the journey that has landed us in massive global issues like climate change and economic crises, it is astounding to see that we are willing to repeat decisions and add more problems on top of what we already have. He establishes a strong argument that the challenges we face today arise from the lack of closure experiences. Joe does a great job of pulling out events from our history that could have turned out differently had they been ended well. Here are a few examples that stood out:

  • Financial Crisis of 2008 – Despite the clear understanding of the causes of the financial crisis of 2008 we, as a society continue to perpetuate the cycle and indulge in self-fulfillment that is built on large piles of personal debt.
  • Waste Management – Since the development of waste management systems we have lost sight of how we end our own cycle of consumption. This distancing from the important last step has resulted in us generating literal mountains waste that get dumped into the oceans or in landfills.
  • Personal Information – Most experiences today are designed to get users to share information at every turn. These systems now have “bomb proof storage and infinite memory” that seemingly hold the users’ information hostage. The burden of finding ways to un-share however falls on the user. This frustration has reached its tipping point and resulted in policies like GDPR.

This book provides good common design practices that we as designers can philosophically embrace as we own our responsibility to create designs that positively impact the lives of our users:

  • Designers, over the decades, learned to ignore and even deny endings. We need to create an awareness around our own biases and take proactive measures to counter them. Making closure experiences a part of our design processes and discussions is a key first step in that direction.
  • Designers need to acknowledge that users have the power to shape our economy. Research shows that closure experiences create a lasting impression on the users. This makes a strong business case to consider endings as a part of design.
  • Designers need to embrace an ecosystem approach and understand that everything is connected experientially. Short sighted and monolithic solutions that do not end well will generate massive amounts of waste upon scaling. This is something we can say about everything that generates value today.
The systems that we sometimes find ourselves entangled in feel like they are too big to understand or to deal with. This could be overwhelming to us, as both designers and users. What we need is a shift in perspective. Talking about the first time we saw what our planet looked like from space, Joe says, “Earthrise inspired self-reflection and, for a while, we all started thinking a little bit about who our neighbors were and what impact we might make on what suddenly looked like a delicate Earth.” Sometimes we just need to zoom out a little bit to be able to start asking the right questions on how to end things right.


Related links:

  1. Joe Macleod on LinkedIn
  2. Ends. on Amazon
  3. Why Your Employee Experience Needs Ethical Design : An LDS perspective
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