Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Estimate time to read this page: 2 – 4 minutes

Edition Reviewed: Paperback
Recommendation: Read it if want a little summer fun reading that will be more than a “potato chip” book.

Pattern Recognition by William GibsonPattern Recognition is, at its core, a mystery-thriller like many of Gibson’s other novels, which is why it found its way onto my reading list. However, unlike most of his other work, this one is of particular interest to designers, especially branding designers, for two reasons:

  1. The book itself if a bit of a thesis on the impact of brands in a post-nationalistic future, where the products you use, the brands you align yourself with, and the cultural movements you’re aware of define identity far more than your nationality or ethnicity.
  2. The main character is a branding consultant who becomes violently ill in reaction to brands that will impact culture. Gibson describes it as an allergy. Essentially she can tell you whether or not a new company’s marketing will gain traction by how violently she reacts to their logo. This might be my new choice of superpower the next time someone asks me.

The majority of the book is spend on a Pynchon-esque detective thriller story, which is by this book qualifies as summertime reading for me. However, unlike many detective stories where you can assume that if the author is telling you something that it is important to the story and that every piece of evidence is building a case, one of the major themes of this story is apophenia, the tendency people have to find meaningful patterns in coincidental data. Because of that theme you’re never quite sure if the evidence is building toward something, or if the characters are just building an elaborate conspiracy theory based on coincidence.

The single idea from this book that I still find haunting and relevant to my work on a day to day basis is that designers create the artifacts of our modern culture, and that more than what we would define as Culture with a capital C, product design, graphic design, advertising, and branding specifically are creating the artifacts that will define us as we move forward. The work of a designer or marketing consultant in some cubicle in some gleaming glass building somewhere will define the identity not only for the products they’re working on, but the people who buy and use them. That’s simultaneously aggrandizing and humbling for me as a designer of brand artifacts.