Author claims design can cure societal ills

Local psychologist Richard Farson has authored a book titled “The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything,” which makes the claim that architectural design can help cure societal ills such as crime, illness, poverty and child abuse.

“What I think has been missing for many years is designers [don’t realize] just how influential what they do is, and it can be harnessed or mobilized to address the most difficult and stubborn problems we have in society,” Farson said.

For instance, prisons as we know them today are basically “training grounds for crime,” Farson said, because they are so large that no rehabilitation can take place. However, social scientists have found when prisons house around 20 people, rehabilitation is far more likely. Also, hospital patients located in rooms with a window overlooking greenery have been found to get well faster than those without.

Farson also said the lack of awareness in how design can help social problems stems from the fact that almost a century ago designers began to regard themselves as business people instead of professionals. Instead of doing what was best for society, they began to gear their work toward what paying clients wanted.

“The professional responds not just to wants but need,” Farson said.

A current example of how design can benefit society is legislation requiring that buildings become equipped to accommodate the physically handicapped.

“Every new building had to be fixed for ramps,” Farson said. “All of the sudden millions of people who had no access to society were given access.”

Farson became interested in design more than 40 years ago. In 1969, he became the dean for the school of design at the California Institute of the Arts. He is currently the president of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, a La Jolla-based nonprofit.

“The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything” is on sale at Warwick’s Bookstore. It can also be ordered at