A Design Thinking Facilitator’s Favorite Books

by Michelle R

Building the industry bookshelf one recommended read at a time

I love these books because they’re by people who have had pretty interesting lives in that they took personal or professional risks. Overall, they are all extremely observant and/or self-reflective people which resonates with me and also comes through in their writing.

The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

The legendary dancer offers up a different perspective on the topic of creativity, exploring what it means to others and most importantly how she cultivates it in her own life. Through daily/weekly habitual activities, she explains how sticking with these small moments nurtures a long-term creative practice. You may not be willing to get up at 5:30am like Twyla, but she does offer great advice on how to choreograph (pun-intended) creativity in your own life.

“Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature — all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan

Just as much about having an adventurous spirit as it is about obsessive passion and mindful awareness. A well-known writer for The New Yorker, Finnegan wrote this book about his own life traveling the world to find remote places to surf. His detail and passion for sport and water are equally impressive and infectious. This book showed me how passionate you can be just in the search for something even though you may not know what it is exactly yet, and the discovery of the self along the way.

“I wanted to learn new ways to be. I wanted to change, to feel less existentially alienated, to feel more at home in my skin, as they say, and in the world.”

Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Former CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, writes a great primer on human-centered design and the value of its application for creative problem-solving. Lots of varied case studies that demonstrate how his organization (and others) have used a design thinking methodology. It’s an accessible and enthusiastically written book for anyone that wants to know more about the subject. Personally, it’s a great read whenever I want to get re-centered on my design focus.

“Leaders should encourage experimentation and accept that there is nothing wrong with failure as long as it happens early and becomes a source of learning.”

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

A book to vindicate anyone who has felt shame (ie. me) for not easily operating a washing machine or microwave. This design book favorite is a nice primer on designing with humans in mind. Mr. Norman explores our behavioral and psychological motivations for creating and/or interacting with objects and experiences — especially the lack thereof. Why are certain buttons the way they are? Doors that say “Push” but have handles? And so on. It makes me contemplate my relationship to the things I surround myself with, and while many of the examples in the book have evolved since its publication, the pain points often remain the same.

“If designers and researchers do not sometimes fail, it is a sign that they are not trying hard enough — they are not thinking the great creative thoughts that will provide breakthroughs in how we do things.”

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