Two books for your reading list

Last year, two really great books were added to my Goodreads history book list, that I started in 2014 and have been adding to progressively over the years. Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law” is a book I talk about to anyone who’ll listen, it covers the ways governments and private citizens conspired to create modern housing segregation that persists to this day.

My approach to the debate goes beyond just the political economy conversations, however. I think about the ways designers are complicit in building the “natural” order as the way the world exists, without asking better questions about the whys of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. All of us are limited by constraints, but without making deliberate choices, we’re consigning a future generation to the mistakes we refuse to undo.

The other book, that works well as a companion is Mhersa Baradaran’s The Color of Money, which explores the world of banking in the U.S. and its roots as another system that bears the stains of the past through a bevy of policies and business decisions that caused great economic harm to a specific set of the population – by design.

The methods have gotten more sophisticated and it’s no longer in vogue to deliberately leave people out. Another MLK holiday will pass, with people ignorant about the ways we got here. We can’t devise pathways out of a mess we didn’t create, without understanding the underlying roots of the poisonous roots of the past that impacts the present and the future.

Well-Designed: How To Use Empathy To Create Products People Love (2014)

What I loved about this book really had nothing to do with the technical parts, though I loved those too. What Jon Kolko does extremely well in Well-designed is craft a jargon-free business book that would introduce people who know nothing about product management or design into a space where they’d begin to get it.

Like so many books I read, you just want to carve them up and put them onto the desk of company leaders. Not the entire book, mind you, just parts where people spewing adages from thirty or more years ago realize that there’s great thinking coming today and that the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades and the only way your company will keep up is by adapting to the rapidly changing world and bringing your people on board for the ride.

So what is product management, anyway? Kolko defines product management as ensuring a good fit between a person, a product & the market.

The models & first-person interviews in the book were also well worth the price of admission. So much of what happens between interaction design & the web are considered by so many people to be a kind of technical black magic. While we’re trying really hard it seems to expose more and more people to code, precisely so the exercise feels less like magic, the fact is, most people at a certain age recognize how much they need the expertise of digital practitioners but don’t really want to pay for it, because nobody really understands how any of this computer stuff is really a job at all.

More than anything, Well designed is a book about design leadership and it’s a welcomed addition to the bookshelf.

What I Read

I ran across The Atlantic’s series asking pundits what they read. I’m not pundit, but hey…I thought it’d be a good feature for me. Naturally, it’ll start with what I read and will probably dovetail into what I’m listening to, since if you’ve followed me at all over the years you know there’s probably something playing in the background.

The Atlantic’s feature starts like this and I’ll answer mine with the same prompt: How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can’t they live without?

I wake up around 6:30am or so. When I do, I usually resist trying to read anything until after I’m ready for work. Because I live less than two blocks from work, there’s no real commute and so, I just wait until I get into the office to catch up on things. I heavily rely on Google Reader and Twitter to get the pulse of what’s happening. Hacker News is an underrated source and because I have blogs there, Tumblr usually ends up being on my radar too. I read local papers too.

The New York Times and The Atlantic mobile apps are on my iPad and I read them pretty regularly. I don’t rely on friends for their social news recommendations, as much as I take their cues and then end up surfing on my from. You know how link will take you to 30 others? That’s pretty much how I operate these days. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into an internet vortex and not come out. So I try to pattern my reading for certain periods of the day and if I miss something, so be it. So it’s usually at the beginning of the day, around lunchtime on the iPad and maybe if there’s downtime later in the day.

I post on Twitter a lot more than I do on Facebook during the day. A lot of this owes to the audiences I subscribe to and because I just prefer the former to the latter. Still, I’m not as prolific as I once was. I’m okay with this. I’m retrofitting a lot of my online presence because it’s been three years or so with this current iteration of things. So post-work time these days especially has been spent plotting those moves and making them.

On the book front, I strongly prefer print books. But the iPad Kindle app is just great. I just finished Scorecasting and I’m currently reading the much bandied about The Art of Fielding and just started The Darwin Economy and Cognitive Surplus. The thing that it’s always been great for is as a kitchen tool. It’s my unofficial sous chef when I’m making new things ; which I do a lot especially since finding out a few months ago that an allergic reaction I had from camp this summer was actually gluten intolerance. Being a huge tea nerd, The Story of Tea is one book that wouldn’t suffice in digital format; I need the actual hard cover coffee table edition.

There’s no shortage of things to keep myself engaged. What I find most liberating is when I can shut down all of the consumption to block off time to write or to read. I think for many of us self-styled pundits, there’s a penchant to want to read-react-respond to things. I absolutely hate internet comments on news stories. It’s the worst thing to happen to media. I’m sure it can help gather a pulse on what the community things, but there was decorum in Letters to the Editor that internet comments absolutely lack. Some exceptions to the rule exist, but it’s easily my least favorite thing online.

Ultimately, I’m trying to be more thoughtful in my own commentary and I think the more you read and ponder, the easier that gets.