5 must-read design books

Survive lockdown, put your time to good use or just have something to do during your holiday

ordered a ton of books to fill the time gained by working from home and to survive the (semi-)lockdown in the Netherlands. These 5 books inspired me so much that I want to share them with you. They will make you a better designer or at least prepare you for the next lockdown.

Have I missed one? Let me know!

PS: Of course the ones on my original list here still remain relevant.

Stack of 5 recommended design books: Thinking in Systems, Creativity Inc, The Culture Map, Shoe Dog and Good Services

Good Services — Lou Downe

Picture of a page from the book Good Services: A good service is something that helps someone to do something.
Who doesn’t love bright orange Helvetica?

I love bright orange Helvetica! No, but seriously: I love this book for its 15 clear principles on designing good services.

The principles pay tribute to Dieter Rams and Don Norman, but applying this kind of thinking to services was new to me. Starting at being easy to find and clearly explaining the purpose of your service, and building towards equality and inclusion to make sure your service can be used by anyone. The principles can also be found here, but the book offers a much more in-depth explanation and examples.

Shoe Dog — Phill Knight

This is the story of Phill Knight, founder of Nike. Not so much a book about design, but an inspiring story about failure, growth and perseverance.

It shows how you can start a multi-billion dollar shoe business with virtually nothing. Finding the right partners that can do things you can’t, and that it pays off to take a big gamble from time to time.

It shows how you can start a multi-billion dollar shoe business with virtually nothing.

The Culture Map — Erin Meyer

Ever wondered why Dutch directness isn’t really a good match for the ‘read the air’ behavior in Asian cultures? The Culture Map helps you by providing 6 cultural dimensions explaining most cultural differences.

I knew the research on this topic by Geert Hofstede, but I must confess: it was kind of rusty. This book refreshes or broadens your knowledge on cultures and explains how to deal with differences in a business context.

Close-up of the yellow book cover of The Culture Map.
Close-up of the yellow book cover of The Culture Map.
The hidden theme in this blog: brightly colored book covers

Creativity Inc. — Ed Catmull

This book tells the story behind classics such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo while at the same time uncovering the inspiring company culture at Pixar. A must-read book if you want to find out what makes a creative culture.

A must-read book if you want to find out what makes a creative culture.

Pixar’s culture that drives on looking for the single guiding principle in a story and knows you have to nurture it like an ‘ugly baby’ into a full-grown feature film. I was inspired by their braintrust, in which moviemakers are supported to shape their story (and shape again, and again) in a radically honest way.

Thinking in Systems — Donella Meadows

What do a thermostat, a car dealer’s stock and a country’s birth rate have in common? I landed on these examples in Thinking in Systems book after a recent ‘trip’ into the world of systems design.

The field of systems thinking is a very valuable companion to service design. The book will teach you a very useful skill next to being human-centered: looking at the entire system. Because it might be time to design for systems, not users. Reading the book triggered me to question more often what’s actually driving the behavior of a system.

Text and visual of a systems map
Text and visual of a systems map
They might look scary, but systems diagrams are a useful tool to explain the behavior of systems.

More reading

¹ Not in the book, but equally relevant is the Good Services scale which allows you to score how well your service is actually performing.

² I recently discovered the Pixar in a Box course by the Khan Academy, part of which serves as a nice introduction into the world of storytelling.

³ More primers on systems thinking in this YouTube video of a speech by Russ Ackoff.

Service Designer @ KLM Royal Dutch Airlines | Thoughts on (service) design, design books and other random things.