Divided up into areas – nature, science, art and technology, architecture, the home, and transportation – the book highlights the exhibition's bewildering variety of items. Natural forms like rock salt and mushroom clouds are shown as prequels to industrial items and machines, and strictly utilitarian pieces such as suitcase handles and faucets. The personal and the public are mixed together, with large pieces of architecture shown alongside more familiar domestic items like stoves and saucepans. Even clothes are included, although displayed in a striking and purposefully 'unfashion' way, with shoes bereft of feet and set unremarkably alongside one another.
The book offers a helpful lens through which to view the exhibition, which, to current eyes, seems far less controversial than expected. Claude Lichtenstein's introductory essay admits that “it is difficult for us today to see quite what was so provocative about Bill's vision”, but sets it in an understandable context for contemporary readers, taking into account the thinking and trends of the time. He also traces the longterm outcome of Bill's exhibition, claiming that his curatorial approach played a major role in changing the way we view and interpret product design, opening up a subject previously restricted to discussion within small design circles.
Deyan Sudjic's essay is more concerned with the climate that surrounded the exhibition, offering an introduction to opinions of the time and demonstrating that, despite its impact, Bill was not the first to explore the potential for showing design. A precursor to Die gute Form, shown at the MoMA in 1940, was Useful Objects of American Design Under $10, curated by Eliot Noyes. This celebrated the good, yet anonymous, design of America, as sourced from hardware stores and office supply companies – reminiscent of Bill's own inclusion of domestic and everyday items. Sudjic's essay traces a society beginning to value not just the breadth of design, but also the way the debate about good versus bad design was becoming deeply ingrained in our thinking.