Hey 2019

This year is going a little more quickly than I would like it to. But it feels like this every year, and my sentiment is a concern more about the days and months that are remaining, rather than a response to the months and days that had passed. 

It’s August, and in the first 8 months of 2019:

  1. Travelled twice

  2. Started driving lessons, and got a driving licence ✌🏼

  3. Started a new role

  4. Read 37 books

  5. Watched fireworks twice

  6. Restarted Japanese lessons on Duolingo

The new job has been taking up a huge chunk of my time and energies, and to no one’s big surprise, I’ve been choosing to chill and read watch TV (recently started on The West Wing, and damn I like it) on the evenings and weekends instead of writing here or anywhere. 

In the next four months of the year, I would like to: 

  1. Travel 

  2. Continue on #4 and #6

  3. Launch a product 

  4. Write

I’ve been ruminating on that last one. I would like to get back to writing some fiction. It’s been such a long time! 

Books in May 2019


Ruined By Design: How Designers Ruined the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It
Mike Monteiro

Monteiro doesn’t mince his words, and his fire and conviction come through loud and clear. Designers and the decisions we make in the course of our work wield more influence and affect more heavily on people’s lives than we think, even though it may not always feel that way. 

“A designer uses their expertise in the service of others without being a servant. Saying no is a design skill. Asking why is a design skill. Rolling your eyes and staying quiet is not. Asking ourselves why we are making something is an infinitely better question than asking ourselves whether we can make it.”

The book cites many worrying examples from the Silicon Valley juggernauts (Twitter, Uber, and not surprisingly, Facebook were in starring roles), and puts into perspective how real and serious the implications from our design work are.

Why has this happened? Moving fast and breaking things. Lack of diversity (psst, not every unexpected outcome is an edge case; just because it isn’t applicable for you doesn’t mean that it is an edge case). Lack of experience. Design education has not been sufficient and robust to prepare us for the work in the real world. Newer design disciplines have barely been defined, but now they are taught and taken as truth (or best practices). 



Loonshots: How to Nuture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
Safi Bahcall

I read the book over two loan periods; not because it was a long read, but because I only got to it days before it was due. I’m not sure if the staggered reading was the cause, but I found the first part of the book much more interesting than the second half. 

Loonshots. Two types: Product-type (P-type) loonshots where advancements are centered around a product’s capabilities and technologies (faster, bigger, smarter!), and strategy-type (S-type) loonshots where advancements are preemptive responses to market needs, and where they revolve around how a product is shaped, monetised, and marketed. 

To reach what Bahcall calls a Bush-Vail balance (named after Vannevar Bush who headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development in WWII, and Theodore Vail who was the former president of AT&T), organisations should aspire to accomplish the 4 rules. They are: 1. Phase transitions (deliberate separation between the franchise groups and the loonshot groups); 2. Dynamic equilibrium (treat both groups equally, and create a seamless exchange of ideas and knowledge between the two); 3. Critical mass; 4. Raise the magic number (the optimal number before the group descends into unproductive and costly politics).

I found the magic number bit most interesting.



Bad Call
Mike Scardino

It is good to take a break from reality by reading about other people’s realities. 



Design for How People Think: Using Brain Science to Build Better Products 
John Whalen

This was one book that I held great expectations for, but sadly, it was also one that ultimately fell short. 

What was good: The Six Minds

What wasn’t: The book felt repetitive in many parts and it got too full of questions, literally. My first recollection of this book was that I read more questions than I read insights. Now, unless I’m reading an interview guide, I prefer my thought starters to not end with a “?” all the time. 


Books in April 2019


Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money
Alex Holder

Money is indeed a tricky topic. Talk about it, and you risk coming off crass, a show-off, or materialistic. But let’s not kid ourselves, money matters underpin many of the decisions we make day to day and as a result, affect our lives. 

Holder is all for talking money, and I must say she makes pretty convincing cases. She made the argument that more than our genes, we also inherited spending habits and financial behaviours from our parents. There may not be a scientific basis to that hypothesis, but I can definitely see some parallels between how my parents and I treat money. 

I also liked reading about the people she interviewed on their $$ woes and considerations. Holder mentioned that talking candidly about money with a friend who shared similar spending habits made her more receptive to money advice and suggestions (the if-he-can-do-it-it-must-be-doable effect), and I found myself again in total agreement. 

On salary transparency, I say hell yeah. The power of information goes a long way. And if that helps to bridge the salary gap between genders, which I believe it will, then hell double yeah. I’ve shared numbers with a couple of friends, and it is empowering. 

Ultimately, talking money may cause you a little social discomfort, but not having an honest conversation about it with yourself and whoever you share your life with is probably more detrimental to all other aspects of your well-being. 


Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age
Steven Johnson

In 2019, it’s likely that peer networks are no longer a new thing. But I think most of our (really, my) understanding of peer networks still revolve around media distribution and consumption. I wish I had read this book in 2012, the year it was published. Reading this made me feel that I spent the better half of the last decade not fully understanding and appreciating the mechanics, influence, and power of peer-driven networks beyond the p2p file-sharing industry (oops). 

In the hierarchical model (what Johnson calls the Legrand Star model), the control and power sits with a small and centralised group of people. The flow of information is linear, restrictive, and stifled by selfish agendas. In contrast, the peer network is driven by a productive web of interconnected networks, where decisions are made collaboratively across the entire network. The result is better, more inclusive outcomes for the community served by the peer network.  

The peer progressivism concept is explained less generally and more convincingly in anecdotes across the various areas of government, business, technology, and communities — the maple syrup incident, the role of incentives in cultivating a robust and diverse innovation culture, Porto Alegre’s participatory budgeting


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman

I found out about this book Lisa Congdon who raved about this book on her Instastories, and got the e-book from the library and finished it that same day.

(A little sidetrack — I absolutely love that it is so easy to loan e-books from the library. Props to whoever made it possible at NLB. Overdrive is the default app for downloading loans, but I use Libby, which is also by Overdrive, and that app has a better syncing and reading experience. If I could send all my Kindle books to Libby, I would.)

This is the first fiction book that I read in what feels like a super long time, and definitely the first piece of fiction for the year. Sometimes I wonder about the person who used to read exclusively fiction.

I love fiction for the worlds it sends me to and for the worlds that it opens up for me. This one brought me to a little suburb in Glasgow, and let me in on the strange secrets of people (imagined ones, but I’m sure, inspired by real ones).


Books in March 2019, Part 3

Creativity, Inc.
Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace


I didn’t know if I would enjoy this book and it took some time before I finally borrowed it. Super happy I did, and I’m glad that I managed to finish it before I start my new gig. 

I did not know that Pixar has been around since 1980s! A sorta-aside, I loved Toy Story and was really pleased to read the stories around its origin and development in here!

I enjoyed reading about Pixar’s culture and the methods put in place to protect and nurture its creative culture. 

Catmull concluded this book with a list of starting points, which was an awesomely succinct and useful list of reminders. From that list, here are my favourites:

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them. 

  • Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

  • Similarly, it’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them. 

  • The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal — it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.

  • The healthiest organisations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose. 

  • Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.

  • Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on — but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.


Escaping the Build Trap
Melissa Perri


I heard Melissa Perri speak last month at UX Thailand; she was the opening keynote speaker and her talk on product-led organisations was insightful and engaging. 

Perri used a fictitious company Marquetly and their journey to  describe and illustrate the four components essential to build a product-led company — role, strategy, process, and organisation.

For the most part, I found the stories helpful and highly relatable (sadface). I saw lots of parallels between Marquetly and my previous workplace, and I wish that I had this book then so I could borrow its articulation and eloquence. 


Lean UX
Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden


Sometimes you read so much about a topic that every new thing you read feels derivative. To be fair, this book was published in 2013, so it is possible (and probably so) that the hundreds of Medium, Smashing Magazine etc articles were developed from this book then vice versa.

Read for background.

I did wish I read this before UX for Lean Startups. The two books aren’t exactly overlapping, but I would say that the principles and concepts are similar.


The Making of a Manager
Julie Zhuo


Last year, I managed a team for the first time. Many times during the reading of this book, I wished that I had its advice and assurances. That Zhuo led a design team made the examples and advice here more relatable.

For a short excerpt, read Zhuo’s Making the Most of Your First Three Months as a New Manager on Medium.

There are great tips in here on giving and receiving feedback, hiring, managing yourself, and driving outcomes. I’m still making notes, and am foreseeing that I’ll be rereading some of these chapters in the near future.