13 posts categorized "Books"

10 Books to Challenge You in 2014

10 Books to Challenge You in 2014

This past year went by in a blur, and out of all the nonfiction and fiction books that I read, I'd like to offer 10 books that challenged me and that you should consider checking out this new year. Ranging from reportage to essays to fiction, this list blends classics, bestsellers, and quirky works that caught my attention and changed my focus as a human being just as much as a professional designer.


Sugar Fat Salt: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

This book was a huge bestseller last year, and for good reason. It goes down easy, but will make you sick to your stomach—in a thought-provoking way. Impeccably researched and written, Moss delves deeply into the culture, business, and impact of the processed food industry. Ranging from the early days of General Mills and Kelloggs all the way to the Cola Wars and Lunchables craze, the stories in this book will make you take a second look at the everyday eating decisions that you make, and inspire you to think differently about what it means to design and sell a designed product. For a taste of this book, check out an excerpt that was published in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" and his follow-up (not in the book) where he made over the image of broccoli with Victor & Spoils. (Indiebound | Amazon)


The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter Senge

When businesspeople ask me for a book about the impact design can have on their organization's growth and development independent of the products they create, I recommend this classic book. It's a good starting point for any person who wants to encourage more holistic, systematic thinking within their team or department, written more for the middle manager but bringing the skills designers have to the fore of the solution. I'm continually surprised at how many people haven't read this book, considering it speaks to team learning, systems thinking, mental models, and other tools that are implicit as part of being a good designer. While not the quickest read, this book will help you integrate much of what you already know in a way that you can more easily communicate with anyone interested in creating smarter organizations. (Indiebound | Amazon)


Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Essays by Mary Ruefle

Poet Mary Ruefle has written more than a dozen books of powerful poetry and short prose, but her first formal collection of lectures is an absolute force of nature: honest, bracing arguments that leap off the page in a non-academic manner and yearns to be read aloud. For a taste of this book, check out the essay "On Fear," which is posted free on the Poetry Foundation website. The lecture "On Theme" is one of the best pieces of writing I've read in the past five years, and there are some clever anti-lecture experiments such as "Lectures I Will Never Give" that round out an impressive collection. Oh, and it's also really well typeset, which is a rarity for most publishers, but not for the design-minded Wave Books and Jeff Clark of the studio Quemadura. Please don't tell me you haven't heard of this designer. (Direct from Wave Books | Amazon)


Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa 

"Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality… Ego translates everything in terms of its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a sense of great accomplishment and excitement at having been able to create such a pattern… If we become successful at maintaining our self-consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine spiritual development is highly unlikely." Like an impossibly sharp knife, the lectures in this volume cut through the infinite number of rationalizations we hold regarding our self-importance, with both compassion and subtle humor. I am glad this book found me, but will be wrestling with its implications for my entire life. (Indiebound | Amazon)


Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age by Kenneth Goldsmith

Poetry has been at war with itself for decades, the voices of the traditionalists creating friction with those influenced by postmodern art, technology, advertising, and Internet culture, to name just a few of our everyday influences. This volume of connected essays and lectures outlines a new rubric for creative writing education, a counterargument for the traditionalist, born from a class Goldsmith taught called "Uncreative Writing." Goldsmith, who once worked as a creative director in the design world, runs through the many historical movements, techniques, and forms that have upended the creative writing world this past century. Sampling, copying/appropriation, cut-ups, concrete poetry, detournment, language poetry, Flarf, hypertext, and on and on and on... For those steeped in the craft of creative writing, this book is the best explanation I've found so far for how the world left to us by the sleepy retiring generation of formalists has forever changed. While certainly not the last word on this subject—I look to Marjorie Perloff for that—this book is contentious as hell and will either be eye-opening or piss you off. Or both. (Indiebound | Amazon)


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Sugar by Cheryl Strayed 

Please tell me you've heard of Sugar and read her online column at The Rumpus before it went on hiatus. Strayed pushes the boundaries of what you consider the scope of an advice columnist, with exceptional results. This book will make you cry (repeatedly) in a cathartic way. (Her most repeated advice is to "write like a motherfucker." I saw this emblazoned on coffee mugs that the Rumpus was selling at the AWP Conference.) (Indiebound | Amazon)


Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach to Better Design by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel

This is the one design book I had to bring up, and have been waiting for five years to come out. I had the chance to take a Drawing Ideas training workshop at the Interaction 09 conference, and I was stunned at the clarity Baskinger and Bardel brought to the craft of design sketching. They were able to take what they'd taught students at schools like Carnegie Mellon's industrial design program and boil it into this book, which is crammed full of tight visual examples and techniques I hadn't been aware of, due to my educational focus on 2D sketching for graphic design. Want to hone your skills in sketching? Looking for a resource that will inspire you to improve your drawing skills? With a little investment of time and practice, any designer will be challenged by the examples and exercises in this book. I recommend getting the physical book over the eBook edition. One caveat, though. While I believe this book will be a useful resource for designers and non-designers alike, my only critique of the book is that it didn't feel as accessible as the hands-on instruction I'd had during their face-to-face workshop... (Indiebound | Amazon)


S. by Doug Dirka and J.J. Abrams

I like to read trashy crime and sci-fi novels just as much as those experimental types that bend or break the genre, like The People of Paper or Tree of Codes. So when I heard that J.J. Abrams was collaborating with the author Doug Dirka (!!!), I knew I had to pony up and buy the first edition of this book. Now that I've read it straight through, I can tell you that it's one of the most tightly designed books/artifacts you'll ever experience. Like many Abrams projects, this is a love story with a "happy ending" intertwined with an infuriatingly open-ended narrative that will send you in all directions. The sheer ambition of this book, the production values provided by Headcase Design, and the way the narrative pushes beyond the book itself to the Internet, makes it a valuable contribution to literature and design. The "mystery box" here is glued shut, but you'll spend hours walking around it and enjoying the view. (Amazon)


The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything by Matthew May

Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing, and less can definitely be more. Since reading this, I've been better at communicating with others the reasons why we should pare back in certain areas rather than just pile it on. This book balances life and work lessons in subtraction, pairing the author's perspectives with 50+ creative minds in business. (Full disclosure: I'm honored to be one of the people included.) I've recommended some of May's books in the past, and I enjoyed this book and learned some new "subtractive" tricks. My only quibble with the book is that it could have been a tad shorter, right? (Indiebound | Amazon)


Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown

Yes, this book has been quite popular, but I'm including it because I'm surprised how many people still haven't heard of Dr. Brown or her research. Drawing from her previous books and new research into the origins of human shame, this book lays bare the different strategies (she calls them "armor") we use to avoid vulnerability—and vulnerability is the key for us living more healthy lives and fostering deeper connections with others. Yes, there are parts of this book that may rub you the wrong way, such as where Brown voices her self-frustration around her newfound celebrity, but over the course of reading and reflecting on the content, it becomes clear that they are part of her attempt to put her research findings into practice. And you'll find it very, very hard to argue with her findings. (Indiebound | Amazon)


Have any books that challenged you in 2013, that we should read in 2014? I'd appreciate if you could leave them in the comments!

My Second Book "Success by Design" Is Officially Out!

Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers Book Cover

My second book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, came out early! You can purchase it at your usual online retailers, including Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and My Design Shop. You can also grab a copy at your local fine bookseller when it arrives in stores on December 4th, 2012.

Concurrent with the print edition is the release of the eBook, which you can get for Amazon Kindle and through iTunes for your Apple devices.

Want to read a bit of the book before getting a copy? Other than clicking to look inside on Amazon.com, you can also see a preview through Google Books.

Here's how I've introduced the book on the back cover:

In your career you may have been like me: Trying to keep projects on the rails and clients happy. Digging through blogs for useful advice. Wondering if there was a better way to handle all of the demands of being a design professional and running a creative business.
The wisdom contained in Success By Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers will help you become a stronger businessperson and better plan your career path as a design leader. This book was born from in-depth interviews with a slew of successful designers, studio directors, project managers, and client service professionals across a wide range of creative industries. It contains the business secrets I needed the most when I started as a designer sixteen years ago.

If you'd like some background on how this book came about, I was recently interviewed by GraphicDesign.com about what inspired the book. In the coming weeks, excerpts of chapters from the book will be appearing here on ChangeOrder and in other publications. There are also a number of free worksheets and resources mentioned in the book that I'll be blogging about. Links to them are aggregated on my website at http://www.davidsherwin.com/success.

Here are some kind words from people who took a peek at an advance copy:

"The best design business secrets are out of the bag--and it is about time! David has found a pithy and brilliant way to share the wisdom and knowledge that most of us had to learn the hard way. I wish I had this book when I was learning to run a design business unit at IDEO."
--Dr. Kristian Simsarian, Interaction Design program Chair at the California College of the Arts and IDEO Fellow
"With your nose up against your monitor, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. This book reminds you to step back and take inventory of all of the things that impact the success of your projects, products, and teams."
--Kendra Shimmell, Director of Cooper U
"The world of design is famous for its mystique, secrecy and "special sauce" but David Sherwin breaks it all down into the three fundamentals of team, client and project management, taking out the complexity of what it's like to run a design practice along the way. He organizes the book with straightforward concepts and follows up with easy-to-understand language. But make no mistake. This is not a primer, but rather an insightful work drawn from a keen understanding that the essential element to being successful in design (and therefore with clients) is the human element."
--David Merkoski, Chief Design Officer at Greenstart
"David's comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of the business of design is an education by proxy. As any experienced consultant, he maintains a fine balance of caution and enthusiasm yet withholds nothing, offering a depth and care typically only found in the classroom."
--Christopher Butler, Vice President of Newfangled and author of The Strategic Web Designer: How to Confidently Navigate the Web Design Process

If you want to delve deeper into the book design, I've created sets with most of the chapter illustrations on Flickr and Pinterest. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Success by Design: Accounting Spread

Success by Design: Negotiation Spread

Success by Design: Process Spread

Business Development Illustration from Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers

Freelance Illustration from Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers

Budgets Illustration from Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers

On Letting Go


A thousand books scattered about the apartment, stacked in knee-high piles. All of the bookshelves bare. This housecleaning project was unplanned, but had been on our mind for months—reviewing every single book we'd accumulated over the past 10 years, and deciding which ones we could live without. Deadline: we had to wrap it up before the end of the long weekend. Otherwise, my wife and I couldn't make it out the front door.

Books have always been my worst vice. A lifelong addiction, scented with ink and glue. Being inside a bookstore requires great restraint, as I'd like nothing more than to run off with an endcap of science books, and perhaps swipe a popular novel or two on the way out the door while laughing maniacally.

It wasn't always this way. Through most of high school and college, I was able to get by just with the library. When I was in graduate school, however, I would acquire and read 3 to 4 books a week—for work, for pleasure, for class, for my full-time job as an editor. In the mail, I would receive dozens of review copies a month. The bookshelves grew fuller and fuller, and since many books were referred to in class, I had no excuse to get rid of them. It wasn't until a hurricane blew through town and flooded our townhouse's basement—destroying about a hundred of my books—that I felt heartbroken at having to recycle all those books. Giving away or selling books, even since then, has always been a struggle.

Continue reading "On Letting Go" »

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.

Continue reading "ChangeOrder 2010 Summer Bookshelf" »

Cover for "Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills"

Cover for Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills

I'm excited to share with you the cover for my first book, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, due out in November 2010 from HOW Design Press. Kudos to Grace Ring, the art director and designer at my publisher that put together this very sweet cover.

Pre-sales are now available on Amazon.com! Here's a few words about the book:

Have you ever struggled to complete a design project on time? Or felt that having a tight deadline stifled your capacity for maximum creativity? This book is for you.

Within these pages, you’ll find eighty creative challenges that will help you reach a breadth of innovative design solutions, in various media, within any set time period. By completing these challenges, you’ll round out your skills by exploring projects along the full continuum of design disciplines, from the bread and butter of branding and collateral to the wild world of advertising to the user-centered practices of creating interactive projects. Along the way, we’ll take brief forays into wayfinding, editorial design, video and motion graphics, and many other areas of our continually expanding practice.

To aid you in conquering these challenges, I’ll provide you with useful brainstorming techniques and strategies for success. By road-testing these techniques as you attempt each challenge, you’ll find new and more effective ways of solving tough design problems and bringing your solutions to life.

The book is illustrated by a range of professional designers, students, and teachers across all disciplines of design. When layout is finished, we'll be able to share the final list of those included.

If you want a taste of the material in advance, check out my presentation at the 2010 my talk at the HOW Design Conference entitled "Better Ideas Faster: How to Brainstorm More Effectively."

Review of "Design Is the Problem" in The Designer's Review of Books

Design Is the Problem cover

“Would you like a paper or plastic bag for your groceries?”

Seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? Paper should be a better choice, because it will biodegrade. Plastic will go on forever in landfills and choke our oceans.

Well, my answer isn’t very well informed. There are major trade-offs in the consumption, production (and related pollution), and recycling opportunities for every seemingly simple decision that we make throughout our lives, both as consumers and as designers.

And this is the crux of Nathan Shedroff’s useful book, Design Is the Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable. Within its pages sits a fully realized schema of the minutia that working designers and students need to internalize in order to start making more educated decisions regarding the sustainability of their client and personal projects. Being mindful about sustainability—both in the products and services we design, and in the decisions we make as consumers and creators in an ever-evolving economy—can be an astoundingly complex and time-consuming undertaking.

Continue reading at The Designer's Review of Books.

Review of "Glimmer" in the Designer's Review of Books


The further I’ve progressed in my career as designer, the harder it’s become to share with others exactly what I do.

First, I managed layout at a magazine and bootstrapped a few websites in thrilling Adobe PageMill. Then, within a design studio, I was responsible for creating brands and annual reports—with little to no formal training to the otherwise. Add in a number of years in advertising and marketing, leaven it with a few more of user research and wireframing, and set to “Puree”. When I try to describe to my family what I do nowadays as an interaction designer, the confusion level continues to increase.

Now I don’t need to try and explain anymore. I can just send them a copy of Warren Berger’s extraordinarily well-written book, Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life, Your Business, and Maybe Even the World.

This is the first book about the process of design as it’s practiced at its highest levels in our profession, written by an expert journalist for the layperson, that describes exactly how designers think about and view the world. It is the product of hundreds of interviews with today’s top designers, across all major disciplines of design, cross-referenced with deep reading into the texts that have informed the growth of our profession, then distilled into plain English that anyone can easily understand. Along the way, stories regarding OXO Good Grips, the One Laptop Per Child program, the Truth anti-smoking campaign, Bruce Mau’s Massive Change exhibit, Architecture for Humanity, Proctor & Gamble, TOMS Shoes, and many others are woven through the narrative, illustrating key points regarding design concepts, principles, and sustainability practices with illustrations and sketches. It also includes a good number of everyday people who came to the design profession late in life, after they had their first “glimmer” moment.

Continue reading at The Designer's Review of Books

Review of "The Designful Company"

Designful Company

“If you wanna innovate, you gotta design.” —Marty Neumeier

From the airy confines of interior design to the tailored minutae of the type designer, the varied disciplines of our profession continue to rush outwards like galaxies fleeing the Big Bang. And the force that drives our profession’s expansion? The universal process we call design.

As designers, we have lived and breathed this process often enough to embody its power, in whatever domain we choose. For a businessperson, however, design is nebulous. A slippery fish. When placed on a slide under the accountant’s microscope, design can perish—even in the most progressive corporate culture. And without design, there is no innovation.

But do not fear. To the rescue is Marty Neumeier, with The Designful Company. Much like Mr. Neumeier’s other bestsellers, The Brand Gap and Zag, his new whiteboard overview is set to completely reinvigorate how our profession engages executives in the boardroom. Finally, we have a shared vocabulary that marries aesthetics to business—and from a book with such simplicity, elegance, and verve, it’s downright humbling...

Read my full review of The Designful Company on The Designer's Review of Books.

Book Review: Subject to Change

Subject to Change cover


We’ve all had this reaction when encountering a product or service that just didn’t cut it.

Take, for example, the alarm clock next to my bed. There are two alarm switches side by side: one for me, and one for my wife. Invariably, every morning I hit the wrong switch and the alarm keeps sounding. By the time I’ve shut the thing down, my wife is wide awake. And she goes to work two hours after me...

I kept thinking about my alarm clock while I was reading the all-too-brief Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. This book was penned by three current Adaptive Path employees, including their president Peter Merholz, and their emeritus director of technology, David Verba.

Adaptive Path (AP) is well known as one of the global leaders in providing product experience strategy and design services. As part of their overall business strategy, AP provides training and events to help educate designers, managers of design, and business executives on many of the topics of discussion in Subject to Change.

I have read and loved most of the other books written by AP staffers, such as The Elements of User Experience and Designing for Interaction. They have been formative, in every sense of the word.

So why am I comparing this book to my alarm clock?

Continue reading on The Designer's Review of Books

Book Review: Shapes for Sounds by Timothy Donaldson

Cover of Shapes for Sounds by Timothy Donaldson

A is for Aleph. B is for Beit. G is for Gimel...

When I was a child, Hebrew was beaten into me by a series of well-meaning teachers. Upon reflection, they were probably my first foray into hand-lettering type. Sadly, the letters stuck, but comprehension of the words peeled away past my teenage years. I have always had a nagging thought in the back of my head that if I’d seen a clearer historical thread between Hebrew and modern English, I would have better retained the language.

Shapes for Sounds, a lovingly crafted book by Timothy Donaldson and published by Mark Batty, explores the birth and maturation of the Latin alphabet in both written and spoken mediums across the whole of Europe and the Middle East, and so much more. It clearly demonstrates the path from the first recorded alphabets all the way to our native tongue of English through the lens of my first love as a designer: typography.

Read my full review of Shapes for Sounds at The Designer's Review of Books

80 Works for Designers in Seven Weeks?

80 Works for Designers in 7 Weeks

If you were to take a class called 80 Works for Designers in Seven Weeks, what kinds of projects would you expect to tackle in that intentionally ludicrous timeframe?

One of my first roommates post-college was a graduate student in poetry. In the summer of 1999, I recall him being excited that he had signed up for the class "Instant Thesis, or 80 Works in 7 Weeks," which was being taught by the eminent poet Peter Klappert.

Dozens of late nights and weekends later, neck sore from hunching over his computer and notepad, nerves shot by a bold overdose on black coffee, he was a complete wreck... but a more powerful writer as a result, by an order of magnitude.

Many students found it to be one of the most revelatory creative experiences of their lives, expanding their writing ability in ways they hadn't imagined possible through traditional workshop methods. After working through several stages of nervousness, failure, physical and emotional stress, intellectual stretch, loss of self, and high anxiety -- often in rapid succession -- they broke through many artistic barriers into something profound. The entire class explored collage methods, blot-outs, concrete poetry, metric/fixed forms, linked verse, anaphora, dialogue, satire, visual shape, collaborative writing, fixed and loose rhyme schemes, musicality, tone, and dozens of other approaches in the pressure cooker. They had also accumulated hundreds of exercises, generated by the class, that could feed future work.

After spending a number of years being in the fast-paced environments of both small design firms and imposingly large agencies after a somewhat middling design education, I began to think back to my roommate's experience and wonder:

Would it possible to cram 80 wildly divergent design exercises into the course of seven weeks, forcing a student to expand the full breadth of their abilities in a finite period of time? Would design students in such an environment become better designers at an exponentially faster rate, with substantially better portfolios?

What I hope that design students would get out of (barely) surviving this designer-focused course would be twofold: 1) an idea of how to reach a breadth of innovative design solutions, in various media, within any set time period; and 2) a fuller understanding of the complementary skill of learning how to properly frame a design problem before it can be solved.

I'm not sure if Peter Klappert has repeated his course since, but a record of his working process still exists, which was adapted from a Corcoran School of Art class. From his methods, I've been attempting to extrapolate a similar bare-bones approach that could be attempted by design teachers and students.

I'd like your help in determining what those 80 Works for Designers could be for an initial seminar. Everyone whose exercise gets used will be credited, and I will put together a Web site that disseminates the class methods and lesson plan for anyone who wants to inflict this idea upon an unsuspecting design institution.

Since the 80 Works class will generate hundreds of exercises, this initial seeding of starter exercises will grow into a very large body of work very swiftly that many people can use for their own creative growth (I hope).

Feel free to post your ideas here as comments or email them to me at david at davidsherwin.com. And thank you, in advance, for the help.