The Glass Is Always Empty
A Random Walk

ChangeOrder 2010 Summer Bookshelf

Summer bookshelf 10

Looking for a good book to cozy up with this summer?

I've been saving up book recommendations for this coming holiday season (much in the spirit of 2009-2010 and 2008-2009), but I couldn't wait to recommend the following books for your designery beach-reading pleasure. Feel free to also throw into your cart the pre-sale for Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which went up on Amazon.com today.

Innovation X: Why a Company's Toughest Problems Are Its Greatest Advantage, by Adam Richardson
I wish this book had existed earlier in my career. Say, at the beginning of it. In less than 250 pages, Adam Richardson from frog design concisely describes the ways in which leaders at today's companies—with the aid of designers—can use systematic approaches to architect more desirable and compelling products and services. Much of this book helps to describe the "secret sauce" that informs frog design's work, and includes case studies from both frog clients and organizations such as Zipcar, Pure Digital, and Salesforce.com. (Full disclosure: I work at frog, and this book captures perfectly the world-view that frog designers, technologists, and strategists bring to our client work. If you do any product or system design, it's a good read.)

Confessions of a Public Speaker, by Scott Berkun
Before speaking at HOW, I put myself through a public speaking crash course that included multiple coaching sessions from my wife—whom was a national forensics champ in a previous life—and by reading this book. The two balanced each other perfectly. This book is written in an easy prose style that goes down like a drink of water, and is packed full of both useful philosophies for approaching public speaking in all of its guises (teaching, conferences, online video, TV appearances, etc) and learnings from both Scott's own frequent speaking engagements and stories of failure solicited from the developer and design community. I highly recommend this book, along with Scott's other two bestsellers. And since I now know all of his true speaking confessions, I'm wondering if the last time I saw him speak he had gone commando...

101 Things I Learned in Business School, by Michael W. Preis with Matthew Frederick
I was wandering through the bookstore last week when I saw this sitting on a shelf, and immediately bought it based on the strength of Matthew's first book about architecture. It turns out that he's got a series now that discusses film, culinary arts, and fashion alongside architecture and business. This quick read is a crash course in all the high-level things you should know if you've been working in the design business for any period of time. Which means, you should probably read this to reacquaint yourself with not only what you know, but also the things that you didn't know you'd never learned while banging out those page comps.

Nox, by Anne Carson
This work strikes close to the bone—it's a journal that poet and essayist Anne Carson kept for herself, a collaged work that hybridizes her close translation and reading of Catallus with memories of her brother, whom she'd lost touch with for decades and had only recently had contact before his death. From a designer's perspective, her publisher New Directions took a big risk with the book, which is a reproduction of her journal taped together to unfold as one single sheet over hundreds and hundreds of pages. That single sheet is stacked, accordion-style, and placed in a sealed box. While Anne isn't a master visual artist by any means, the matter-of-fact impact of her writing style and the passion with which she grapples with the material makes this an amazing read. I feel truly lucky to have heard her read from this when I was last in New York City, and to get a chance to see how the work sings even outside this visual presentation.

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, by Clay Shirky
Clay's first book, Here Comes Everybody, completely rocked. This book picks up where the last one left off, describing the ways in which social media tools have changed us from passive consumers to active creators and sharers of content—with dramatic consequences for how we create knowledge, partake in activism, and even create LOLcats to blow off steam. I'm halfway through this book and loving it just as much as the first.

Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, by Edward de Bono
The source of most everything we call brainstorming may have originated first in the advertising agencies of the early twentieth centuries, but they matured and blossomed under the research and guidance of the highly prolific Edward de Bono. Of his books, this one still remains my favorite for its balance of thinky bits and exercises that you can go and explore on your own. It also introduces his notion of the word "po," which you utilize to freeze conversation if it goes down too rational of a path and guide it back towards lateral thinking.

Going on Being, by Mark Epstein, M.D.
Mark's second book, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, remains one of my favorite texts on finding balance in an ever-changing world. Written by a psychologist with a deep appreciation and practice in meditation, I found this book fascinating not only as a fledgling meditator influenced by Buddhist thought, but also in Mark's guidance regarding becoming comfortable with change in your daily life—something that every designer struggles with as part of creating systems for our clients that continue to evolve beyond our control.

The Manual of Detection, by Jedidiah Berry
I'm stoked to see Christopher Nolan's new movie Inception, but watching the whacked-out trailer reminded me of this book by Jedidiah Berry. In The Manual of Detection, our hero Charles Unwin, a boring clerk at a detective agency, is unwittingly sucked into a murder mystery that takes place amongst dreams. My tastes in literature run from "serious" novels to noir detective to far-out science fiction, so it was a surprise to find a book that somehow blurred all of them together in a satisfying manner. It's a good beach read. Now when are they going to make a movie of this one?

Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, by Leonard Shlain
This book is a strange one—a side-by-side comparison of the attributes of visual art and the scientific components of physics. The point of reading a book like this isn't for some fully formed, perfect theory that unifies two disparate disciplines. Instead, watching the sparks fly is what makes this such an interesting read.

Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton
I've been steadily reading my way through all of the books by de Botton, and this little gem is oft overlooked. In a lovely weaving of philosophy, art, history, and psychology, the author states a strong case for how our society has built up a set of incompatible and often contradictory beliefs about the importance of status in everyday society. If you've ever been concerned about owning the latest and greatest [insert name of thing] or lost sleep over keeping up with a friend or colleague, read this. Worries begone!

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