...You'd be burning out cars by now.

Readers will, I am sure, allow me to stray from the narrower confines of graphic and media design to say something about the nature of design itself by way of architecture.

I have yet to read the new book on housing estates, Estates: An Intimate History, by Lynsey Hanley but I am looking forward to it.

Hanley's book is, by all accounts, both an attack on the moralising sniping at estate-dwellers (pejoratively called chavs, neds, spides, scalleys, knackers, pikeys and who knows what else depending on geographic location) and a lament about what she sees as class division being reinforced by architecture.

Arguably the single most maligned form of architecture, housing estates have become avatars for the problem with planning - or, if you like, design.

How different today's hands-off, leave it to the market, approach is to yesterday's egalitarian dreams.

Aileen Reid points out (in the Daily Telegraph, of all places) that the book's (apparent) attempt to blame architects for the social failure of housing estates misses the essential point about a lack of amenities:

The real bogeyman turns out [to be] architects, especially those in thrall to Le Corbusier, the evil genius of Modernism. In this scenario, hapless working-class families were 'thrust' up in the air by 'arrogant' architects and planners who built 'dehumanising' tower blocks out of 'ugly, brutal' concrete. Surely poor building and lack of amenities are the main issue here, otherwise why do residents of the Barbican (which features concrete, 30-storey buildings and much-castigated walkways), say, or the flashy new residential towers which have sprung up recently all over the place - Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Canary Wharf - feel no need to burn cars, spray obscene graffiti or defecate in the lifts?

I agree. Like it's right-wing corollary - blame the poor - the left-wing mantra of blame the designer doesn't ring true for me.

Where I live estates are on the increase. Unlike the modernist projects of the 1960s, the growth is not being driven by utopian visions. Quite the contrary, these estates consist of row upon row of dormer houses and are all privately owned. It's called suburbia. The conceit behind these developer-led estates is that private ownership is the key to civic-mindedness among residents.

I beg to differ.

I have no problem whatsoever envisaging these new suburbs morphing from polite garden-centred commuter belts to almost Ballardian nightmares - but not because I don't like dormer houses. Right now, these areas are dominated by young families, often with children. Children who will grow up into the dreaded teenagers, those hoodie-wearing mumblers we have all grown to view with terror. What could potentially make life on these privately owned estates unpleasant and riddled with vandalism is a lack of amenities - and, believe me, they do lack amenities.

Despite any aesthetic objections that people like me might raise against suburbia, it remains a popular place to live. In fact, 43 per cent of the population of Britain lives in suburbia and a further 23 per cent lives in an ill-defined hinterland between the urban and suburban and 20 per cent in the fringes between suburbia and the countryside. Despite all of the urban regeneration schemes of the past twenty years, only nine per cent of Britons live in the urban core of cities.

It's fairly easy to see why this is so: would you prefer to raise a family in a flat, sorry 'apartment', or a house with a two gardens and a garage?

Despite calls for higher-density housing the fact is that people like - and need - space. We had plenty of high-density living in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Back then it was called overcrowding.

The civic modernism of the 1960s attempted to solve this problem by providing decent modern housing via the tower block. It failed, but not because of the architecture and yet in the popular imagination (as well as the broadsheet press) it's usually the designers who get it in the neck, not the corrupt politicians, developers and the rest of the cast of questionable decision-makers responsible for the council housing boom of the time.

Why should this be so?

Put simply, blaming architecture (and architects) for social problems is simply the only logical response to the perception of the importance of design - as if supposedly ugly concrete causes some kind of deterministic or Pavlovian desire to burn out cars, drink white cider and spin around in shopping trolleys.

Thus, the towering importance of the architect in society is something of a double-edged sword. Architects are paid like no other designers and architecture is held in popular regard as an important profession in a way that the mere craftsperson-designer in other fields can only dream of. Perhaps rightly so - bad graphic design can not dominate our lives in the way that bad architecture may.

Still, perhaps it's a bit rich to complain that architects shouldn't be held responsible for what happens when people inhabit their designs given that we have such a vastly inflated sense of the importance of design in the first place.

And that, my friends, applies to graphic design as well.

Designers can hope to inform behaviour but they can't control it. And, let's face it, that much is obvious - if it were otherwise, advertising would be outlawed as a form of brainwashing.

Viewing designers as a priesthood and the public as little more than subjectivity-free, empty-headed imitators is a recipe for bad design. The design process is informed by human agency - it can be no other way - and so are our responses to design, be that in the built environment, in clothing, products or the pages of a magazine.

Further reading:
Lynsey Hanley on Ern" Goldfinger and Tower Blocks
Municipal chic: Lynsey Hanley
Erno Goldfinger
Le Corbusier