Radical Candor by Kim Scott

This was an odd one, in part because it wasn’t a book I chose. Our team has a book club at work and the Radical Candor was the first book we covered, in part because our manager is looking for us to provide each other with more radical candor.

So first: this book is written for managers, and I am not a manager. (I don’t foresee wanting to be a manager any time soon.) If you are a manager, it’s probably a better fit.

Second, well, there’s a lot of Silicon Valley privilege dripping from this book. At one point, Kim talks about how letting poor performers go can be a blessing for both the company and poor performer because the fired employee can go do something like starting that coffee shop they always wanted.

Maybe on a West Coast IT severance package (assuming they move somewhere else) but most people on the East Coast and all points in between lose a job and immediately have to go find another job.

Kim also talks about how things like minority status or being female might make radical candor more complicated, but doesn’t actually talk about what to do about them. Frankly, I don’t think she knows.

So yes, problematic book from multiple angles.

At the same time, this book gave me some tips and tools that I need. For example, Kim puts a lot of emphasis on giving praise, which I don’t do enough. One of the highlights of my year so far was an unexpected piece of praise from my manager for a wiki I’m putting together. I’m trying to pay that forward to the folks I work with, because we all should hear about the things we’re doing right at least as often as we hear about the things we’re doing wrong.

The other thing that Radical Candor provides is a framework for structuring large conversations. When you have a business question where you know gaining consensus is going to be an issue, you can separate the “debate” meeting from the “decide” meeting, for example, to ensure that everyone gets a chance to have their say and at the same time there isn’t pressure to make a decision right now.

don’t think that Kim Scott provided enough direct advice on how to structure a piece of criticism. I think that Crucial Conversations does a much better job in that sense. But I do think that this book gives better examples of why constantly providing just-in-time feedback can help a team move from a place where crucial conversations are necessary to a place where everyone is communicating clearly enough that high-stakes behavior discussions are fewer and far between.

In summary, this is not a book I’d say will have a permanent place on my bookshelf like Crucial Conversations does, but it’s helpful and adds some tools to my toolbox that I didn’t have before.

The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks

Everything in The Mind’s Eye involves the human body’s complex process for collecting and processing visual input. In other words, The Mind’s Eye is about seeing, or not seeing, or seeing but not understanding what you see.

Dr. Sacks covers both clinical cases in a story format (as he is wont to do) and the story of losing the eyesight in one of his eyes in this book.

Of the two topics, he is unsurprisingly more adept at presenting the clinical cases. When he’s writing about others, his style is interspersed with research examples, quotes from the patient, etc.

When he writes about his own experience losing the eyesight in one eye due to a tumor, much of the presentation is in a diary format, and he often repeats himself. The research is still present, but it’s overwhelmed by the volumes of detail about his personal experience.

Despite the abrupt change in tone and style, the information is still excellent, his content is still understandable (although possibly it helps that I’m a bit of a science and medicine wonk) and his structure still holds up.

Had he ended the book on his experience, it would have fallen flat, but the last chapter of the book (also called “The Mind’s Eye”) discusses how blind people process information and the wide variation in how we think and visualize what we know. It’s the book’s saving grace and a strong weapon against the ableist tendency to assume that all blindness is like wearing a blindfold, and that all blind people experience blindness the same way.

Because of this last chapter, I’m able to look at my own work in web design with a new approach, and that has made all the difference.

Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin

I’m a three-time failure at reading the Polar Bear Book.

I’m also a Principal Information Architect with 10 years’ experience.

I’m not telling you not to read the Polar Bear Book. I am telling you that if you want a short, direct, and well-structured book on what Information Architecture is, how to get started practicing it, and real-world examples of prior work, Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin is the book to start with.

It is the IA cohort to The Elements of Content Strategy And y’all know I’m a big fan of that book.

I started this book while sitting in a hospital room watching my husband sleep. It’s readable even under extreme stress. The book starts with the LATCH system of organization, which I had learned… but when I’d learned it through the quasi-apprenticeship of a mutual fund company’s design department, it didn’t have a name. So here I was, middle of the afternoon, snoring and beeping filling the room, and ten-year veteran of information architecture, learning things I didn’t know on page 5.

Your milage may vary (YMMV), especially if you’re one of those younger folks for whom information architecture degrees were available. (We had library science but I was too short-sighted to major in it.)

The book is vibrant and well-structured enough that I could put it down for a week at a time if I needed to and pick it up again and keep reading and understand where I’d left off. (Also, YMMV.)

Plus, this book isn’t afraid to use Star Trek, Ravelry, cooking, self-deprecating spreadsheet jokes, and colorful, useful examples.

To sum up, this book is going on the list of books anyone who asks me how to start a career in UX, along with Don’t Make Me Think, How to Make Sense of Any Mess and Universal Principles of Design.

Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski

Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski (Also available from the publisher, A Book Apart, possibly for cheaper depending on your edition. Support your small press publishers!)

I’ll admit I probably should have read this book back when Luke Wroblewski wrote it, but I didn’t think I needed to. I had attended one of the An Event Apart conferences where Luke presented the ideas the book is based on, and I followed him pretty closely on Twitter at the time, so most of what is in the book I’d learned through other means.

But it’s been seven years, and I’m introducing a new company to mobile design for the first time, so it was time for me to take a refresher course. This book was perfect for that task.

The goal of this book is to teach you what it means to design a website or application first from the mindset of a mobile design. It came about because, before mobile, we designed everything for the computer desktop, and after mobile, that sucked pretty badly all things considered. If you don’t remember the era of m-dot sites and dumbphone sites and total lack of iPhones, well, I envy you a little. (Also, go ask an old person about the Netscape browser wars.)

The book promises no code and to keep things short; it delivers on both promises. At the same time it delivers explanations of why mobile is important, how to think about mobile use cases beyond the idea that everyone is doing things “on the go” (they’re not), and a light but effective introduction to how to think about design elements such as touch areas, hover states, form elements, and page layout in a mobile context.

I hope that A Book Apart commissions a second edition, because the first edition is pushing close to 10 years old, and a lot has changed in the last 10 years. I’m not honestly confident that it will make as much sense to someone who just joined the industry as it does those of us who were hand-coding our Geocities sites back in the late 1990s. But regardless of the slightly dated statistics (and screenshots) and the assumption that none of us know what this “mobile” thing is, the theories and mindsets introduced are sound. It’s still a valuable read all these years later.

Update December 2018: The paperback is sold out at A Book Apart and I’m hoping that means there’s a new edition coming out! In the meantime, the e-book is a good deal.