I believe I'm extremely fortunate, because every morning I spend at least half an hour reading books. Every morning, one chapter, and I start the day feeling blessed – because I have the time and space to do this, and because I can afford to own books.
As you might imagine, I end up reading a lot of books this way. I don't keep track of it very well, but this year I must have finished at least 20, and abandoned many more.
For the year's last post, I'd like to share with you some books I read recently that made a lasting impression on me. These are the books that made a difference in how I operate as a designer, creator, entrepreneur, professional, and general-purpose human being.
The selection is not based on any objective measures: not all of these books were published this year, and not all of them talk about big ideas. The reason they made it into this post is that I learned from them, and as a result, I changed how I do certain things. What makes them "profound" is the effect they had on me.
Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech
Virgil Abloh was my ultimate "dream guest" for the Design Disciplin Podcast. Sadly, that dream will never come true. Figures of Speech – back in print after the first edition sold out in 2021 – offers some consolation to those of us looking to learn from Abloh's legendary design practice.
This book is probably the most comprehensive review of Abloh's work you'll find anywhere. It opens with a well-illustrated collection of essays and interviews on Abloh's theory and tactics. But the real treasure is a chronologically and thematically organized collection of more than 1800 archival images of the designer's work.
This is an incredible resource for all kinds of designers: an aesthetically compelling (and mildly esoteric) yet sharply focused handbook exemplifying how objects, spaces, and graphics are created out of ideals, ideals, and thematic decisions. If you're looking for a gift for a designer, this is it.
The Changing World Order
Digital designers have access to two unique superpowers, more than any other occupation: First, we can work from anywhere in the world – we can decide where to call home, regardless of the jobs available in that place. Second, we design the world we live in. The ideas and products we work on today create our lives and experiences in the future.
These are not decisions to be made lightly. To choose well requires insights in "macro" disciplines like economics, history, geopolitics, culture, and sociology – a complicated mix, to say the least. In Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, renowned macro-investor Ray Dalio lays out future-proof models and actionable takes on all of the above. An excellent read for all of us who make their own decisions.
There are hundreds of books that inventors and founders can turn to for advice and inspiration, but few of come directly from an entrepreneur of Tony Fadell's stature.
Build starts with the usual advice – how to get a job in tech, how to navigate startups and corporations, etc. But it quickly arrives at perspectives that only someone like Fadell can provide: How do you choose the right investors? How do you run board meetings? What happens after you sell your startup?
Fadell describes not only his recipes for success, but opens up a sobering view of what your life will become when you attain it. A must-read for founders.
Org Design for Design Orgs
Recently I helped a friend to scale his custom software shop into a global-scale product company. Despite a healthy business with paying customers, the company had no people or processes focused on design. Org Design for Design Orgs provided us with the blueprints to build these functions.
If you're taking the step from craft towards leadership, and you'd like to do things by the book, this is the book for you.
Geometry of Design
It's easy in this day and age to find tips and tutorials for all of the latest design tools. But boundary-crossing first principles of aesthetics are mysterious outside of traditional art and design education – until you discover Geometry of Design.
The book provides principles and "cheat sheets" for many positioning and proportioning systems – like the golden section, root rectangles, and Fibonacci series – brought to life with a broad range of examples from design, architecture, and illustration. It makes it easy to get UI design inspirations from seashells and classic chairs.