Top 5 books 2019

A tough year to pick a top five from, but here goes.


Tragic Design

Jonathan Shariat and Cynthia Savard Saucier

Shariat and Saucier explain how poorly designed products can anger, sadden, exclude, and even kill people who use them. Through a series of historical case studies, the errors of design become woefully apparent. The designers responsible certainly didn’t intend harm, so what can we do to avoid making similar mistakes? For a taste of where the book goes, and how high the stakes for bad design can be, try Googling “ford pinto design flaw”. One of two books on the list where I was fortunate enough to interview the authors for the UX Belfast meetup during 2019.

https://www.tragicdesign.com

Tech Humanist

Kate O’Neill

Ethics and human-centredness in design have been a noticeable emerging theme in the last two years. Here, Kate O’Neill highlights the importance of meaning and purpose in tech. “The Tech Humanist proposal is to ensure that business objectives and human objectives are as aligned as possible so that as automated experiences scale, they scale human values with them, and a sense of what is meaningful to humans surrounds us.” Highly recommended for anyone seeking greater meaning in their work.

Factfulness

Hans Rosling

What a refreshing read. We can become despairing sometimes at the state of the world. And yes, a lot of what we understand in the world is wrong. However, this book by (now deceased) author Hans Rosling illustrates how much the world is improving over time. How quality of life is improving for those in the bottom tiers of society. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with the world, but this book teaches us to appreciate where and how things are getting better. And how we must bring critical thinking to our view of the world. Rosling’s children are continuing his work – see https://www.gapminder.org for more information.

Meeting Design

Kevin Hoffman

This book needed to be written, given the amount of collective time we invest in sitting in rooms together, physically or virtually. This book treats meetings as a design problem, and offers highly practical advice on agendas, facilitation and actions. Favourite quote: “Meetings are usability tests for organizations themselves”. ‘Nuff said.

Ego is the Enemy

Ryan Holiday

A great treatise on objectivity and not becoming attached to anything you feel defines you, either as an individual, or as an organization. “…at some point in time, every industry will be disrupted by some trend or innovation [which] the incumbent interest will be incapable of responding to. Why can’t businesses change or adapt? A large part of it is because they have lost the ability to learn, they stopped being students. The second this happens, your knowledge becomes fragile.” Sobering stuff, and a useful prompt to re-assess some core beliefs about oneself.


Work-related books only this time round. So much great fiction featured during the year also, but these are the books that really stuck with me.

UX Belfast 2019 is go

UX Belfast 2019 got off to a tremendous start with two prominent practitioners of human-centred design.

Kate O’Neill, author of Tech Humanist, joined us from New York, taking questions from the Belfast audience and expanding on the ideas put forward in her book.

Rebecca Walsh CEng gave us valuable insights on the discipline of service design, and the work that she and Big Motive are involved with.

Both guests highlighted how UX and CX are only subsets of the larger concern of human-centred design. As Kate has put it: “a dignified, respectful relationship with all the human stakeholders in the economy goes a long way toward creating a sustainable, successful future for us all”.

On a personal note, it’s been gratifying to watch UX Belfast grow from its bookclub roots into a regular fixture in the Belfast design calendar. Much more challenging and stimulating content is planned throughout for 2019. Sign up for updates at uxbelfast.org

Thanks to all who came along, to Kate and Rebecca, and to Puppet Belfast once again for their hospitality in such an ideal venue.

The selected charity this time was Code Your Future. Learn more and donate at codeyourfuture.io

Top 5 books 2018

A little late maybe, a handful of books I took a lot of enjoyment from during last year. This is a general list, rather than strictly professional but I’ll make no apology for that 🙂

Technically Wrong

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

One of two books on my list which are selections from the UX Belfast meetup. Technically Wrong is a catalogue of technology failures, highlighting where ethics and basic human standards are often absent from the tools and services we create. While publication preceded the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story, Facebook is firmly in the book’s sights, along with many other luminaries in the world of social media. This is a short but alarming read, and one I would suggest as essential for anyone working in technology today.

Humble Consulting

Edgar H. Schein

A relevant read for any number of professions and disciplines. The author emphesises the need of asking basic, fundamental questions about purpose and – most importantly – creating a culture where this is welcomed. Schein presents humility as a strength in approaching complex challenges, and as something which nurtures the kind of collaborative relationships required to achieve breakthroughs and desired outcomes. Lots of case studies are offered from a distinguished 40+ year career consulting with organizations large and small, by a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Living in Information

Jorge Arango

Another selection for UX Belfast. Jorge Arango is a qualified architect who made the move into Information Architecture. He presents a thoughtful but powerful call to action for technologists to make better choices about the ‘places’ we create with online services and tools. Drawing parallels with physical spaces, Jorge urges us to build sustainable, nurturing places which are capable of benefitting society as a whole. The book is one of a number published this year that attempt to stimulate debate around ethics in technology, and how those ethics work their way into our creations.

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

In a nutshell, the true story of a man slowly going mad while attempting to fake a solo circumnavigation of the globe. Crowhurst was a fantasist who managed to get enough to buy into his self-delusion to the point where he couldn’t turn back – literally and figuratively. The book documents Crowhurst’s journey from keeping accurate logs, to faking position and logs, and ultimately into hopeless rambling as the pressure of maintaining a lie to the world overwhelmed him. Both tragic and riveting.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

Paul Tremblay

First point: this book has a terrible, pulpy title which belies the subtleties of the storytelling. Paul Tremblay has a distinctive skill of being able to suggest weird and unsettling events, without describing them in detail. What actually occurs is open to the reader’s interpretation. But what we are left with is a compelling drama of a family trying to deal with tragic, highly unnatural (and possibly supernatural) events. Genuinely haunting.


That’s a cross-section of everything I got through during 2018, tempting though it would be to focus on professionally-related books only. As a compulsive book-buyer, I was forced to begin recording all of the books that were in the waiting list. Prompted by this, for a couple of years I’ve been tracking my reading on Trello. That system is worth a full separate post!

UX Belfast, October 2018

October’s UX Belfast saw the mesmerising Jorge Arango take questions and talk us through his new book ‘Living in Information’ – a compelling mix of practical advice and thoughtful reflection on the responsibility of designers to create what Jorge terms ‘generative’ online environments.

To thank Jorge for his time, the meetup made a donation to his selected charity, The Long Now Foundation. For more information visit http://longnow.org

Puppet Belfast once again provided food and drink in what was our largest meetup to date.

Plans are afoot to evolve UX Belfast to better serve and represent the UX community in Belfast, offering talks and insights into the work of local professionals while keeping one eye firmly on books, learning, and professional development.

UX Belfast meetup, May 2018

The Belfast UX bookclub meetups continue, and 30 May gathering had author Sara Wachter-Boettcher taking questions and providing insights on ’Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech’.

Images from UX Belfast meetup, May 2018
Images from UX Belfast meetup, May 2018

This marked the twentieth UX Belfast meetup I’ve organised and, significantly, the best attended. A partnership with Women in Tech Belfast for the evening contributed hugely to that milestone. That said, interest in the group is rising rapidly, with over 220 members on the Meetup.com page at time of writing.

Sara’s book made Fast Company’s Top 10 Business & Leadership books of 2017, and Wired’s Top Tech books of 2017. Although a relatively short read, Sara has managed to gather a shocking number of case studies and examples where technology might be successfully delivering ‘engagement’ with users but letting humans, even society, down in the process.

Further information on the book, as well as Sara’s work as an independent content and UX consultant, can be found at her website http://www.sarawb.com.

Huge thanks to partners for the evening, Women in Tech BFS. Thanks also to PuppetBelfast for providing the great venue and refreshments, Slice app for the copious amounts of pizza and to WW Norton UK for discounts and copies of the book to give away.

To thank Sara for her time, a donation has been made to local charity, WomensTec. For more information visit http://www.womenstec.org