Books I’ve read in 2016

I’ve read 32 books, which is four short of my goal and also four less than the previous year. It’s still not a bad score though and quality wise the list below contains many gems.

I resolved to read mostly books by women and minority authors. This lead to quite a few surprising experiences which I am certainly grateful for. I think I’ll continue to push myself to seek out such books in the year to come.

There are only a few comics in the list. I sort of fell off the comics bandwagon this year mainly because I just can’t seem to find a good place to discover things to read.

Anyway, here’s the list, with links to my reviews on Goodreads. A * denotes a particular favourite.

Books I’ve read in 2015

On this final day of the year let’s do some more looking back. The last time I posted books read was in 2011. But that doesn’t mean I stopped reading. On the contrary.

Goodreads tells me I read 36 books in 2015, which was the goal I set myself for this year. I will admit not all of these are big reads. Some are short pamphlets and there is also a comic or two thrown in.

I think I am going to stick with this target for next year and I will also stick with reading widely. A few books were read because of a project at Hubbub for which I felt the need to delve more deeply in the subject matter. This is a good way to stretch intellectually. I also started experimenting with asking people who know me personally what novel I should read next which has led to some delightful discoveries. So I will continue to do that too.

Anyway, here they are in order of date read. Particular favourites are marked with a ❤️. I’ve written short reviews for most of these so I’ve provided links to those too.

Books I’ve read in 2009

This is the last list I’ll be posting on stuff from 2009, I promise. After this it’s all about looking forward. I’ve been tracking my reading on aNobii for some time. Here’s a list of the books I’ve found particularly worthwhile, ordered chronologically. My three absolute favorites are marked in bold.

  • Faith in Fakes, Umberto Eco
  • Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
  • Black Dogs, Ian McEwan
  • Out of Control, Kevin Kelly
  • Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
  • Game Design Workshop (2nd edition), Tracy Fullerton
  • The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
  • Fight Club, Chuck Paluhniuk
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch
  • Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
  • Underworld, Don DeLillo
  • Rum Punch, Elmore Leonard
  • Digital Ground, Malcolm McCullough
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

Common themes: cities, complexity, society & the individual, inner & outer space, design.

I’ve been quite picky with what I read last year and will probably continue to do so this year. Many of these have heaps of dog ears and margin notes and its a wonderful feeling to have them sitting in my studio bookshelf, ready to be picked up and used when required.

Sketching the experience of toys

A frame from the Sketch-A-Move video

“Play is the highest form of research.”

—Albert Einstein1

That’s what I always say when I’m playing games, too.

I really liked Bill Buxton‘s book Sketching User Experiences. I like it because Buxton defends design as a legitimate profession separate from other disciplines—such as engineering—while at the same time showing that designers (no matter how brilliant) can only succeed in the right ecosystem. I also like the fact that he identifies sketching (in its many forms) as a defining activity of the design profession. The many examples he shows are very inspiring.

One in particular stood out for me, which is the project Sketch-A-Move by Anab Jain and Louise Klinker done in 2004 at the RCA in London. The image above is taken from the video they created to illustrate their concept. It’s about cars auto-magically driving along trajectories that you draw on their roof. You can watch the video over at the book’s companion website. It’s a very good example of visualizing an interactive product in a very compelling way without actually building it. This was all faked, if you want to find out how, buy the book.2

The great thing about the video is not only does it illustrate how the concept works, it also gives you a sense of what the experience of using it would be like. As Buxton writes:3

“You see, toys are not about toys. Toys are about play and the experience of fun that they help foster. And that is what this video really shows. That, and the power of video to go beyond simply documenting a concept to communicating something about experience in a very visceral way.”

Not only does it communicate the fun you would have playing with it, I think this way of sketching actually helped the designers get a sense themselves of wether what they had come up with was fun. You can tell they are actually playing, being surprised by unexpected outcomes, etc.

The role of play in design is discussed by Buxton as well, although he admits he needed to be prompted by a friend of his: Alex Manu, a teacher at OCAD in Toronto writes in an email to Buxton:4

“Without play imagination dies.”

“Challenges to imagination are the keys to creativity. The skill of retrieving imagination resides in the mastery of play. The ecology of play is the ecology of the possible. Possibility incubates creativity.”

Which Buxton rephrases in one of his own personal mantras:5

“These things are far too important to take seriously.”

All of which has made me realize that if I’m not having some sort of fun while designing, I’m doing something wrong. It might be worth considering switching from one sketching technique to another. It might help me get a different perspective on the problem, and yield new possible solutions. Buxton’s book is a treasure trove of sketching techniques. There is no excuse for being bored while designing anymore.

  1. Sketching User Experiences p.349 []
  2. No, I’m not getting a commission to say that. []
  3. Ibid. 1, at 325 []
  4. Ibid., at 263 []
  5. Ibid. []

Dan

Please people. Lay off the Dan Brown. I can’t commute without seeing at least one person reading a book of his. If you’re interested in crackpot theories about templars, Jesus and Sangreal – just pick up Holy Blood, Holy Grail (Brown stole borrowed all his Da Vinci Code ‘revelations’ from that book anyway). If you’re really interested in what conspiracy theories can do to a person, read Foucalt’s Pendulum – a much, much better way to spend your time reading.

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