Good Reads

I’m back to reading practical matter again even though most of my time is spent in the hunt for work, consulting or for hire. There are a couple of indispensable volumes – IMHO – that any learning designer should a least peruse if not read cover to cover. I found Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler to be a marvelous compendium of guidelines for information design and its application particularly to online work. Much of the content will be familiar to an experienced designer but with actual names to go with the techniques and quality visual examples (Duh!) it’s a terrific reference. Some of the ‘articles’ are quite sharp. By example, I learned the principle by which the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increases is actually called Hicks Law. And then I learned a number of ways to deal with these complications. (The source is annotated, too). How it applies to software menus, control displays, wayfinding layout and signage is useful and worth keeping uppermost in the designers mind when confronted with a plethora of options — or client demands. Anyway there are tons of explanations about why some designs work and others cause immediate confusion… most importantly, how to exemplify the former and steer clear of the latter.

I also like Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. Based on a series of interviews with the folks who actually did the work or the thinking behind the work, the author divides the hefty volume into ten chapters in a kind of logical irregularity. For instance, “Adopting Technology” which leads the reader on a fabulous discourse starting with TV remotes, to car cabins to Canon Photostitch software to the iPod (it’s all about interaction architecture) is followed by a chapter entitled “Play.” This section looks at both electronic and real world – actual – objects like the Aerobie Football and physical games including board games and comes full circle back to the screen with an analysis of the Sims. This is not a BarcaLounger read, rather a text that should be studied — not to suggest in any way that it is not fascinating and highly instructive. Plus I really enjoy exploring how other designers think.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other, smaller books. I think Jessica Hagy’s Indexed is just terrifically clever and inventive. It’s an unassuming tome that is brilliantly incisive comprised of diagrams that explain most facts of life, business and the attendant consequences. Here’s an example:


At 5″ x 7″ by 3/8″ thick there’s more profound lessons here than in most other beefier, pedantic and chiding life maps written by self-proclaimed ‘smarty-pants’. Hagy has a highly praised blog, Definitely worth the trip.

Lastly, as a long time, global presenter and marketer, I’m always curious about how other people do it. Probably my real search is for the one volume that will unlock the door to my real ambition – stand up comedian – nevertheless this has led me to another modest sized book titled Presenting to Win, The Art of Telling Your Story by Jerry Weissman. It’s been out for a few years and has won much acclaim. Unlike many other ‘how to’ books ‘Presenting’ is chock-a-block with very specific directions. I’ll paraphrase to save space for this example: Don’t say “Like I said,” when referring to a point you made earlier, say rather, “As you recall…” Make no mistake, the book is much deeper, I just want to point out how pithy it can be. For the novice it’s invaluable; for the pro, well, everyone requires a tune up. The one exception I take is to Weissman’s pronouncements about PowerPoint. I won’t go off on a rant – PPT is one of my pet peeves and a source of endless business for me when I teach executives how to present. But once again the author scribes fundamental ‘rules’ to heighten the visual experience. He doesn’t seem to have the same contemporary insights in the visual realm as he does with oral delivery. Here’s where his expertise as a speaker outshines — my opinion again — his capacity as a visual communicator. Regardless, the main point of the book, to make every presentation a story, is one I fully endorse and believe in mightily. It makes a good companion and a bit of a counterpoint to the very readable and excellent Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Check that one out and let me know what you think.

So that’s it for now. Once again, thanks for looking in and keep those cards and letters coming.


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