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Last active Sep 28, 2019
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designtrack Reading

In addition to working as a design consultant, I lead Interaction Design provision at Belfast School of Art, where I serve as a half-time Senior Lecturer.

Whenever I embark upon a new academic year, I like to kick off with some required reading. This year, I’m opening out this content and sharing it further afield in an effort to help as many people as possible.

The books I’ve shortlisted are particularly aimed at anyone practicing (or studying) interaction design. My degree programme is largely focused on UX and UI design, with a sprinkling of front-end technologies, but the books below widen the aperture a little.

I hope you find this list of a half dozen books useful.

Required Reading

There’s a convention in academia that reading lists are broken down into two categories:

  • Required Reading; and
  • Recommended Reading

Of course, I’d prefer my students to read everything I recommend, but not everyone can afford to buy an endless supply of books, so I’ve distilled the list down to the following books.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

by Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal Like an Artist’ is fantastic. It’s full of practical advice about creativity and it’s written in a style that you can easily dip in and out of. (Kleon’s illustrations are lovely, too.)

I often buy copies of this book for people I’m mentoring, as Kleon’s advice is down-to-earth and practical. As its title suggests, Kleon lists ten things you should know. Here are the three that I think are particularly on the money:

  • Side projects are important.
  • Do good work and put it where people can see it.
  • Be nice (the world is a small town).

The last point is so, so important. You can be nice or you can be nasty. Being nice can add a ray of sunshine to someone’s day (and that someone will remember your kindness). Being nasty doesn’t do you any favours at all, it just comes across as mean and unkind.

The world is a small place and word gets around fast these days. As Anthony Burrill puts it: “Work hard and be nice to people.” Those seven words neatly summarise the advice I give to everyone I work with.

Do your best to give to the world more than you take from the world. Do that and we’ll all be a little happier.

You can get a copy here:

Managing Oneself

by Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker’s ‘Managing Oneself’ is a short, sharp book that I return to regularly. It’s brief and it can be read in a couple of hours, the advice it contains, however, will reverberate long afterwards. This is why I try to re-read it at least once or twice a year.

Drucker is the author of numerous books, all well worth reading, however, this short book – part of the excellent Harvard Business Review Classics series – always draws me back.

Drucker’s advice focuses on knowing yourself well enough to make the right decisions: understanding your strengths and weaknesses; becoming more aware of your relationships with others; and developing an awareness about how you communicate your thinking to others. If you’re mindful, all of these add up to success.

Drucker’s focus on the importance of good manners is something I think we can all learn from. As he puts it: ”Manners are the lubricating oil of an organisation.” Good manners might seem a little old-fashioned, but they’re essential to nurture successful relationships.

In our connected culture we very rarely work alone, so understanding how we can work better with others can make the difference between success or failure and – at the end of the day – success is what we’re seeking.

You can get a copy here:

The Sketchnote Workbook: Advanced Techniques for Taking Visual Notes You Can Use Anywhere

by Mike Rohde

Whenever I’m running a Sketching Interfaces workshop, I always kick off with Mike Rohde’s work. His first book – The Sketchnote Handbook – taught me the art of visual note taking.

All of Rohde’s books are good, but this one is particularly useful, because it focuses on the bigger picture of sketching day-to-day in a variety of contexts.

The book also comes with a free three hour companion video class, which is like having Rohde by your side teaching you. I’d recommend ‘The Sketchnote Workbook’ book highly if you want to develop your sketching abilities. (And, as designers, you will – of course – want to develop these abilities.)

You can get a copy here:

Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

by Jake Knapp

Jake Knapp’s ‘Sprint’ is a fantastic book. It outlines Google Venture’s sprint process, explaining how you can use the approach to solve problems – large or small – in just five days.

I use design sprints in my consultancy and when I’m working with my studiomates at Little Thunder (with a couple of tiny variations that we’ve added to put our own spin on it). Knapp’s book outlines a transformative formula for testing your ideas and your thinking and if you’re a digital product designer, it’s required reading.

If you’re new to design sprints – and even if you’re not – it’s definitely worth buying and (more importantly!) reading.

You can get a copy here:

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want

by Alexander Osterwalder

Alexander Osterwalder’s ‘Value Proposition Design’ is excellent. It helps you to identify your customers’ primary problems and turn these pains into gains.

The book is very practical, with lots of models you can use to address the core challenge of every business: creating compelling products and services that customers want to buy.

By focusing on timeless principles, Osterwalder and his co-authors have created a book will last you for years. It’s a book I think anyone involved in digital product design would benefit from owning.

You can get a copy here:

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

by Pierre Bayard

The irony of rounding out a list of required reading with this book is, I hope, not lost.

It seems counter-intuitive to include a book about not reading books in a list of books I believe you should read, but Bayard’s book is wonderful. In a world drowning in information – in books and beyond – it can be hard to keep up, but Bayard’s book shows you how you can.

I think it’s worth stressing: I have actually read this book (and all the others on this list!), but as a half-time academic, reading is a part of my job description. It’s entertaining and full of useful advice and I’d recommend it highly.

I’ll leave the second last word to Bayard:

There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all. If we take this attitude to the extreme, we arrive at the case of the absolute non-reader, who never opens a book and yet knows them and talks about them without hesitation.

If you’d like to know the secret of talking intelligently about books you haven’t read, you’ll find it hidden within this book’s covers.

You can get a copy here:

About the author…

A designer, writer and speaker based in Belfast, Christopher mentors purpose-driven businesses, helping them to launch and thrive. He encourages small businesses to think big and he enables big businesses to think small.

As a design strategist he has worked with companies, large and small, to help drive innovation, drawing on his 25+ years of experience working with clients including: Adobe, EA and the BBC.

The author of numerous books, he is currently hard at work on his eighth, ‘Designing Delightful Experiences’, for Smashing Magazine and ninth, ‘Building Beautiful UIs’, for Adobe. Both are accompanied by a wealth of digital resources, and are drawn from Christopher’s 15+ years of experience as a design educator.

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