Books in May 2019


Ruined By Design: How Designers Ruined the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It
Mike Monteiro

Monteiro doesn’t mince his words, and his fire and conviction come through loud and clear. Designers and the decisions we make in the course of our work wield more influence and affect more heavily on people’s lives than we think, even though it may not always feel that way. 

“A designer uses their expertise in the service of others without being a servant. Saying no is a design skill. Asking why is a design skill. Rolling your eyes and staying quiet is not. Asking ourselves why we are making something is an infinitely better question than asking ourselves whether we can make it.”

The book cites many worrying examples from the Silicon Valley juggernauts (Twitter, Uber, and not surprisingly, Facebook were in starring roles), and puts into perspective how real and serious the implications from our design work are.

Why has this happened? Moving fast and breaking things. Lack of diversity (psst, not every unexpected outcome is an edge case; just because it isn’t applicable for you doesn’t mean that it is an edge case). Lack of experience. Design education has not been sufficient and robust to prepare us for the work in the real world. Newer design disciplines have barely been defined, but now they are taught and taken as truth (or best practices). 



Loonshots: How to Nuture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
Safi Bahcall

I read the book over two loan periods; not because it was a long read, but because I only got to it days before it was due. I’m not sure if the staggered reading was the cause, but I found the first part of the book much more interesting than the second half. 

Loonshots. Two types: Product-type (P-type) loonshots where advancements are centered around a product’s capabilities and technologies (faster, bigger, smarter!), and strategy-type (S-type) loonshots where advancements are preemptive responses to market needs, and where they revolve around how a product is shaped, monetised, and marketed. 

To reach what Bahcall calls a Bush-Vail balance (named after Vannevar Bush who headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development in WWII, and Theodore Vail who was the former president of AT&T), organisations should aspire to accomplish the 4 rules. They are: 1. Phase transitions (deliberate separation between the franchise groups and the loonshot groups); 2. Dynamic equilibrium (treat both groups equally, and create a seamless exchange of ideas and knowledge between the two); 3. Critical mass; 4. Raise the magic number (the optimal number before the group descends into unproductive and costly politics).

I found the magic number bit most interesting.



Bad Call
Mike Scardino

It is good to take a break from reality by reading about other people’s realities. 



Design for How People Think: Using Brain Science to Build Better Products 
John Whalen

This was one book that I held great expectations for, but sadly, it was also one that ultimately fell short. 

What was good: The Six Minds

What wasn’t: The book felt repetitive in many parts and it got too full of questions, literally. My first recollection of this book was that I read more questions than I read insights. Now, unless I’m reading an interview guide, I prefer my thought starters to not end with a “?” all the time.