The Top 5 Books that I Read in 2017

Design, Marketing and Productivity

Like you, I typically read dozens of design and technology articles and listen to several podcasts a week. This year, I decided to catch up on a few books that I’ve always meant to check out (or thought I had!). Here are my top 5:

  1. Org Design for Design Orgs: Building and Managing In-House Design Teams by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner: Since I haven’t had a very traditional career path, I’ve never risen up the ranks of any org, let alone a design org. Although I’ve often had responsibility for assembling teams, including design, hiring had pretty much been on an ad hoc basis — we have more work, get more people. It was during my last gig that I realized I could improve my strategy for building a design team. This book gets right to the point, covering a first design hire to the growth of a full-blown distributed design organization, fostering a design culture, and a very detailed breakdown of designer leveling. No fluff here. I can’t recommend this book enough, whether you are designer starting out your career or a corporate leader interested in maximizing the benefits of a great design team.
  2. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown: If you’ve been in product development or design in the past decade, you’re probably well-aware of the design thinking process of innovation. Its solutions-based divergent/convergent methodology has been applied to products, services, experiences, and even entire organizations. Tim Brown is the current CEO of IDEO, the global design consultancy often cited as the first to adapt design thinking to business. Brown writes with the true voice of a seasoned innovator providing specific approaches without being prescriptive. The book is a great blend of theory and practicality by way of insightful case studies. It is surely the definitive book on the subject.
  3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger: I really enjoyed this book! While we’re mostly past the hype of things “going viral”, Berger outlines his STEPPs model for marketing: Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value and Stories. He presents each principle with enough research and real-world examples to be taken seriously. While a few of the themes have been well-tread (what triggers something to be memorable, hitting emotional resonance, making narratives relatable), I most appreciated the anecdotes around “social currency” and being “public”. It makes you think of how to create opportunities for your customers to feel like insiders just by using your product or associating with your brand and striving for this to be ‘built to show’ (made easy to share or show off). This is an excellent playbook when developing product features or a marketing campaign.
  4. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath: In the mid-to-late 2000s, “stickiness” was an oft-used term and goal for online services and websites. The Heath brothers’ model for stickiness came along at just the right time — S.U.C.C.E.S.(s): Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story (I guess the extra (s) was just to help the acronym to be memorable). Anyhow, each of the principles is presented with clear tips and real-world examples. A few of my favorite takeaways: borrowing from journalism, don’t bury the lede in your message— start with the most important thing, avoid the curse of knowledge — don’t give so much information such that key points are lost. Another favorite, be concrete and relatable, is best illustrated with the anecdote: In September of 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest presented the following message: “A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!” Surely that was much more memorable than stating that the popcorn was unhealthy due to the 37 grams of saturated fat from coconut oil. It’s pretty clear why Jonah Berger cites this earlier work as a significant influence on his book, Contagious.
  5. Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman: There are many different types of people in our workplaces and we don’t often get to choose who we work with. But, we can choose how we work with them. Hopefully, you’ve had more opportunities to work for and with “Multipliers” and less-so with “Diminishers”. I personally strive to improve my own practices as a Multiplier — investing in others, liberating team members to do their best work and attracting talent. This book also provides a sobering reminder of what makes one a Diminisher — the classic know-it-all, micro manager. Wiseman expertly outlines how to identify each — so that you can navigate how those around you act or level up your own leadership skills.
  6. Bonus: Library and Podcasts by Invision: I couldn’t help but share one of my favorite digital resources this year! The Invision Design Education team, led by Aarron Walter and Elijah Woolery, has published incredible online books of best practices, stories and insights on topics including: Principles of Product Design, Design Thinking, Design Leadership and Design Systems. If podcasts are more your jam — check out the series of inspiring design interviews.

With the overwhelming amount of books, blogs and podcasts on these topics, I’m glad that I had a chance to catch up on a few of these well-regarded books. I’d be happy to hear if you have recommendations. Wishing everyone the best for 2018!