Evolution of my library at work from a stack of books to a sitting space

2020
2020
2020
2020

4 BOOKS
JANUARY

How to Do Nothing

Odell helped me realize that although I love design, I don’t love the work-a-holic culture it can ensnare us into. She makes a strong point that commercialism has narrowed how success is defined, and that our attention deserves more than just small screens and comparing salaries. A must read.


Buy

Extreme Ownership

Recommended by my PMs. The book follows a repetitive formula of war story time, a lesson, and a business example. The leadership lessons are pretty basic (be a responsible and proactive leader), but I guess the SEALs branding sells. There is also a possible gulf in usage amongst minorities and women as the SEALs are mostly white and male.


Buy

So You Want to Talk About Race

This book was painful and awkward to read-- but it was important and valuable. It has made me realize the amount of privilege I have by simply being an East Asian male along with the consequences that privilege has on those less fortunate. Ijeoma is right...

We can’t make the world a better place for everyone until we are willing to acknowledge that privilege and fight for those without it.

As a UX Designer, that has real implications in the way I approach my work. How I plan sampling strategies, how I prioritize design decisions, when I'm willing to push back for the sake of inclusion... all of these easily (or conveniently) forgotten details have incredible relevance. This book was a strong reminder that we can't afford to allow our lived experiences to act as a proxy for others. There are real and heavy consequences otherwise.


Notes Buy

The Best Interface is No Interface

A (Golden) masterpiece. I can't remember the last time I read something so well-crafted and written. Think About Face, but repackaged in contemporary bar banter form. Krishna reminds us that people don't need more UI in their life, they just want better and faster solutions.


Buy

5 BOOKS
FEBRUARY

Ruined by Design

Work will never be the same. Mike calls out in plain language everything that's fucked up in the design world today... and he's absolutely right. So many designers (myself included) coddle ourselves with lies that we're helping people when we're not. In fact, we hurt them.

From lack of training in handling highly complex social issues to companies prioritizing profit over the literal lives of human beings- we're not equipped to succeed, nor are we making a good enough effort. This is a must read because it's not just a roast on how shitty we are at our jobs- Mike provides real and empassioned solutions to try and take a shot at fixing the mess we've made.

A masterpiece.


Buy from Mule

Inclusive Design Patterns

TIL: I'm not an accessibility engineer and my website needs to get fixed ASAP. Designers will get a little less out of this as Heydon speaks mostly in code, but I found it still very helpful in explaining the why behind UI patterns that are better for accessibility on the web.


Notes Buy

Radical Candor

Everyone should read Radical Candor, regardless of level, to understand what good leadership looks like. Kim makes it clear that being a boss is not a binary prescription of being an asshole or a people-pleaser. Instead, it’s a layered process of understanding your people...

and showing them that you care by being honest and specific in both praise and criticism. Unlike some other management books I’ve read in the past, Kim’s theory on leadership is well-grounded, reflexive, and provides real/replicable examples that don’t pretend to be magic apply-to-all solutions.

For me personally, this book was humbling. According to Kim, I have occasionally stumbled into the worst possible quadrant of leadership: manipulative insincerity. To quote Kim, “people give praise and criticism that is manipulatively insincere when they are too focused on being liked or they think they can gain some sort of political advantage by being fake, or when they are too tired to care or argue any more.”

In prior projects, I have definitely hit imaginary walls before in providing candor up the chain to bosses… usually out of fear of retribution. In those moments, I regret turning to manipulative insincerity where I would either criticize people behind their back or simply stop caring due to intense burnout (60-70hr work weeks are one hell of a drug).

Rather than complaining or writing off someone for being “an asshole,” I should have provided candor. I should have done even more to build a relationship to give feedback for improvement. Ultimately, everyone deserves a chance to hear honest, specific, and impersonal feedback 1-on-1. And, if they cannot accept it in good faith, it’s time for a new project/job.


Buy from Radical Candor

Inclusive Components

This is the book I wish I had when I was studying CS in undergrad. Like Heydon's other material, this book is a golden reference for creating an accessible web from to-do lists to modals. Perfect for helping both developers and designers grow an accessible-leaning and creative mindset.


Notes Buy

Brotopia

The tech industry is fucked up, and we men are largely responsible for it. Emily clearly documents how inequality emerged and why it still persists in the present. This is a must read for men in tech, especially designers. It’s a wake up call reminding us that no, we can’t claim to be “user-focused” if we fail to ignore gender inequality in our own offices. If we are complacent in an industry that disrespects and excludes women, how can we expect to design products that don’t do the same?


Buy

5 BOOKS
MARCH

Design for the Real World

The best book I’ve read in 2020 so far. Victor Papanek is a brilliant human being. His call for designers to recall their greater purpose to design for what is needed rather than what is wanted is chillingly relevant in modern times despite this being written decades ago. I also love his proposed redesign of design curriculum to be a smaller in scale, multi-cultural, and multi-disciplinary workshop. I can’t summarize everything, but I loved just about everything. Please read this book.


Notes Buy

Information Architecture

The classic polar bear book! I was late to read this, but was delightfully surprised at the modern nature of the 4th edition's content. It was fun to read the author's commentary on the evolution of the field of IA and I was able to fill in some big knowledge gaps on content in UX from classic sitemaps, search semantics, and even reports to the client. The parts on research are shallow (intended), but otherwise I would recommend this as a solid foundational read on content strategy.


Notes Buy

Rituals for Work

This book was... ok. Of the 50 rituals, I bookmarked only 4 for use- but those 4 were a great match for my workplace. Definitely a better fit for smaller organizations and startups, but many of these will be harder to scale to larger enterprises.


Buy

The Ethical Handbook of Design

This is a great introductory book to ethics in design. I was familiar with most of the talking points from prior reads, so I skimmed a good number of chapters. However, I did find their downloadable ethics scorecard (which I’ll be using to evaluate my own projects), explanation on international laws, and breakdown of cookies very applicable!


Notes Buy

Realizing Empathy

Beautiful. Reading this book felt like a fireside chat with Seung Chan and I loved every moment of it. Seung Chan draws from his incredibly universal experience to define a word that has lost meaning in modern times. He does it in simple yet deep ways from interviews with experts to thought journals and case studies within wildly different contexts. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a book to sit down and relax to.


Buy

5 BOOKS
APRIL

Combining Typefaces

Brief and brilliant. This was exactly what I needed to get a pragmatic 101 on typefaces. Tim Brown gets straight to the point, provides excellent additional resources, and keeps it simple with easy to understand examples. It's also FREE!


Notes Free Download

Art Direction for the Web

I bought this book so I could get better at understanding the language of visual designers- which it accomplished to a satisfactory level. I was able to pull alot of good resources and articles from the book, but didn't find anything really groundbreaking or delightful within it. It was ok.


Notes Buy on Smashing

Designing User Interfaces

I always have doubts about UI books since they often are more based on visual taste rather than functionality. I was happily surprised to see that this book bucked the trend as the authors regularly cited cog psych theory, provided justifications behind all suggestions, and never seemed attached to any particular design style-- in fact they argue that any style can work depending on its context and execution. Brilliant. I wish I had this book when I first started.


Notes Buy from Hype4

Conversational Design

Wonderful. Erika rightfully points out that designers have a bad habit of pasting lorem ipsum and sketching mindless rectangles (shoutout to G.K. and A.C.) without doing the hard work of understanding their users upfront. For products to succeed, Erika argues (and shows) that we need to bring back the focus to conversations. If the language our products use can't connect with our intended users in context, we're primed for failure before we even begin. A must read with very useful tools to bring into practical work.


Notes Buy from A Book Apart

Smashing Magazine: Ethics and Privacy

In under 60 pages I'm much more caught up with the ethics debate in technology. It was pretty shocking to see the irony in implementing "ethics" as a substitute for regulation by the corporate world. The consequences of that are sickening, and the authors are right to point out that a legal hand is needed to push us in a more accountable direction. I also found it helpful to read why advertising isn't the problem here- it's unethical targeting. Bowles makes a great suggestion to help visualize personal data to users. In the same way the desktop UI introduced people to computing, this could pave the way for giving back our user's control over their own personal data.


Buy from Smashing

4 BOOKS
May

Design Justice

My values as a designer grew thanks to this book. Design justice answered many questions I had for universal design- most notably around the topics of practicality and intent. While a universal design approach may be impossible or applied falsely (unknowingly), design justice is allied with standpoint theory. It urges us to clearly define who will benefit from and who will suffer from each of our design decisions. By doing so, it’s also more pragmatic; it’s opposite to lowest-common-denominator design as it encourages designers to be intentional and specific.

I also learned so much about the rich history between activism and design, the importance of accrediting work, participatory design, building inclusive workspaces, and learning to be a facilitator instead of an expert. This book just keeps on giving, and I loved every page. However, I was left unsatisfied at the end as the author does not have a concrete response to critique on design justice’s real-world viability from the frame of speed to delivery. We basically have to wait until it matures more as a practice or encourage the world to slow down haha.


Buy from MIT Press

Atomic Design

This book will always be a classic in the digital designer’s library. Although parts of the book on design systems are no longer relevant a decade later, Brad’s key points for design system success in chapter 5 remain timeless. I strongly suggest this to any designer looking to learn more about how to sell and maintain a design system. For a more practical and modern take, Design Systems by Alla Kholmatov is a good follow up.


Notes Buy from Brad's Website

How to Win Friends and Influence People

This was recommended to me to improve my people skills, which is important when explaining and selling design. However, I found most of the book's material to be an unhelpful repeat of what I have learned through consulting and other more relevant books like Radical Candor. Most of the anecdotal stories are outdated and with limited reach (being mostly of white men). That is unsurprising, because Dale is really white. Every quote on the "Orient" was cringy and begs to ask why the editors didn't think through the rewrite more or test it with a more diverse audience. There are better books.

Good Services

Another masterpiece. Reading this helped me finally bolt down the basics of "Service Design." The book is split into 15 principles, each with memorable examples and helpful summary pages. I'm a little surprised this isn't mandatory reading for government designers in the states (or contractors), because the principles listed here are much more relevant than the material we often find within the realm of UX/product design. Notably, I appreciated principle 11 in particular as Lou points out "A lack of diversity in your team = lack of inclusion in your service"... which is so incredibly true.


Notes Buy from Good Services

3 BOOKS
June

Moonwalking with Einstein

I picked up this book with the hopes of improving my own memory of the dozens of books I read every year, but quickly found it to be more story than technical text. Ultimately, Foer concludes that the right kind of practice makes perfect- not genius. Not exactly a novel thought for most designers, but still a novel and entertaining journey.


Buy from Indiebound

Click

Paul Boag has written a contemporary version of the handbook of usability testing more suitable to the digital product/service world. Most (if not all) of them are faster, cheaper, and more accessible. He also provides recommendations on testing platforms/resources which I've already been able to apply to my work (e.g. 5 second tests on usability hub). This is a must read!


Notes Buy from Smashing

Cross-Cultural Design

This was a stark contrast to Boag's book on usability testing. It was more mature, more human, and ultimately more forward-thinking as Akpem addresses many problems that WIRED designers don't spend a second thinking about... which is basically anything not involving WEIRD country tastes in design. As the world continues to become more connected online, I want to share Akpem's vision of a web that is inclusively designed for all of us to use. The accessible methodology he provides is a good start. I finished this book with a solid list of new challenges, tools, and methods.


Notes Buy from A Book Apart

1 BOOK
July

Forever Employable

Of the 88 books I've read over the past 3 years, this may be on my top 5 worst list. The "do this right now" material Jeff provides is common sense packaged in d.School wrapping paper. At best it helps other white men pursue their dream of becoming a "thought leader" and contributing little to nothing to society (vs. say a Victor Papanek). At worst, it encourages a whole new generation of white and east-asian men (like myself) that their "hardwork" story can also be sold to the masses as the norm in tech.

Just like Tom Greever, another awful design thought leader, Jeff prioritizes a profitable story over design ethics by skipping over reflexivity (which he claims to have studied). Jeff had support from his family and was able to live in their home as he comfortably pivoted his career to the web (white privilege). At no point does he acknowledge the benefits and privilege that come with being a white man in a predominantly white man industry (tech) particularly when it comes to rising up the ranks as a leader.

Jeff's biggest anxiety and fear is, and I quote, "that horde of young, inexpensive designers was on my doorstep--hungry for something good to eat and getting ready to break down my door." Wow. That's shallow considering how much more women of color need to be concerned with simply to get in the door to begin with.


Don't buy this

2019, 41 Books

At the beginning of 2019, I set a goal to hustle harder by studying and annotating 30 books by year end on top of my client work and volunteering obligations. 365 days of studying later, I completed 41 books based on recommendations from mentors, peers, and curiosity.

View my 2019 reads >>


2018, 22 Books

I read a total of 22 design books (not including re-reads). I annotated 11 of them, including 4 digital chapter by chapter trello notes.

I've also started up a small library using the books I've collected at work. It's been an absolute delight sharing what I've learned with others. I hope I can continue to do so in the future.

Most importantly, learning about design has become a calling to me- not just a responsibility or a new years resolution. I'd like to thank Brendan, Zoey, Ryan, Chris, Jason, Rica, Molly, Ayoung, and Kim for lending me their recommendations and support to this endeavor.

In 2019, I hope to double on that number if not more.
See you next year :)

View my 2018 reads >>