January 2020

Q1: book recommendations

We asked our speakers, volunteers and organisers a few questions to help you get to know them. Firstly, we asked them to each recommend two books: one relating to our industry or their work, and another about something else.

Note: we haven't linked book titles as we do not want to lazily send you to Amazon, nor do we want to link loads of random websites. Hopefully, a copy/paste isn't too annoying.

Cennydd Bowles

London-based designer and futurist. @cennydd.

Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: a one-way valve into a new way of thinking. And Nigel Slater’s Real Food, particularly the recipe for white chocolate cardamom mousse on page 300.

Tatiana Mac

Independent American designer. @TatianaTMac.

Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble. I’ve had discussions with “hardcore devs” who maintain a “separation of concerns” — or separating the “true technology” discussions on frameworks from the “human” discussions. They often ask: “what do people have to do with code?” “why can’t it just be about tech and not these social justice discussions?” The answer is that code is made by, for, and with people. Abstracting humans from code, ignoring power and privilege, leads us to create technology that enables murder, evangalises exclusionary systems, and relieves ourselves of the responsibility of its impact. In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya aptly reminds us of the role that we play in perpetuating the broader social systems that dominate us.

I also recommend East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It defined my belief in whether or not people are good or evil (a huge part of my NA Conf talk!).

Akil Benjamin

Biologist turned design thinker. @akilbenjamin.

Shopping in Jail by Douglas Coupland. This book is what a daydream would feel like if we organised all of our wild thoughts into constructive arguments and discussions. As I spend time looking further into the future and world-building, this book offers an alternative perspective on a world I thought I knew.

Looking Ahead — The Sustainable Global Agenda. A well-designed picture book encyclopaedia. It tells a story about the world, which is difficult to see when you’re working day to day. It’s informative and has informed strategies for all my businesses.

Laura Kalbag

British designer and author living in Ireland. @laurakalbag.

Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. An intense look at the business models of mainstream tech and their terrifying aims. It provides clear evidence of the Big Tech agenda, although focused on the effects on individuals, rather than the disproportionate impact of surveillance capitalism on the vulnerable or marginalised.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by NK Jemisin. A page-turning saga that also touches on modern world themes with characters whose hope and hurt you really feel. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, but this trilogy is about as far as you can get from drama with dragons.

Helen Joy

UX & UR consultant and diversity and inclusion champion. @LittleHelli.

Ends by Joe Mcleod. Endings are discussed across a variety of contexts: death; divorce; waste and recycling; and the customer experience of leaving services. This book advocates for producing true end-to-end digital services where we design meaningful off-boarding experiences instead of focussing only on consumer-oriented on-boarding.

How to own the room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking by Viv Groskop. I read this before speaking at NA 2019. Each chapter explores the speaking style of notable women. The speaking voice that resonated most with me was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s calm storytelling approach.

Relly Annett-Baker

Lead volunteer, content wrangler. @RellyAB.

I’ve been reading Lara Hogan’s Resilient Management – a concise, insightful and witty book on learning how to be a good manager. Plenty of people in our industry get promoted for their design skills and not their people skills and you need both to manage well.

One of the best fiction books I’ve read in the last few years: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Agatha Christie meets Inception.

John With Beard

Trusted volunteer. @johnwithbeard.

Disrupted by Dan Lyons, a good laugh (none of us work in places like this, do we?). Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, to remind us about wider questions of our humanity.

Bastian Allgeier

Creator of Kirby CMS. @bastianallgeier.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I recommend it to anyone who’s trying to spend less time with their smartphone and social media. It was eye-opening how far my screen addiction has come. Working in our industry often left me with a fear of missing out on trends and meaningful business relationships if I didn’t spend enough time online. It’s very liberating to take a break from that and re-evaluate how I want to spend my time.

My second recommendation is one of my all-time favourites: the sci-fi trilogy The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

Geri Coady

Designer, illustrator, NA organiser. @hellogeri.

Robin Ince’s book I’m a Joke and So Are You deals with plenty of familiar topics — impostor syndrome, anxiety, and mental health. Written from the perspective of a comedian, it will resonate with anyone who works in a creative industry.

I also recommend What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. An essential read for any runner or jogger.

Simon Collison

Designer, writer, NA organiser. @colly.

I loved The Social Photo by Nathan Jurgenson. Highly recommended if you’re interested in the literacy of visual culture and networked images as communication tools. A social-savvy addition the best “how to see the world” authors.

Convenience Store Woman is a slightly sci-fi tale of a Japanese store worker defined by her mundane job and inability to meet societal expectations. She develops a symbiotic relationship with the store that I find delightfully weird.

Other questions


This article was commissioned for our January 2020 magazine. Like it? View all articles, grab our RSS feed, and subscribe to our newsletter.